A Jack of all trades?

Some contend Lee's positions as HNL president and private hockey school owner cross the line

Kenn Oliver koliver@thetelegram.com
Published on September 21, 2013
Jack Lee isn't just the president of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador, he's also the owner and operator of one of the most successful private hockey enterprises on the island. There are some, including Xtreme Hockey co-owner and operator Randy Pearcey, who believe Lee wearing both hats represents a conflict of interest.
Telegram file photo

“The crap’s going to hit the fan with this conflict of interest between Jack Lee and Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador,” insists Randy Pearcey, co-owner of Xtreme Hockey, a private hockey school operating in St. John’s that’s in direct competition with Lee’s Newfoundland Blizzard Dogs Hockey.
Lee is also the president of HNL, the governing body for hockey in Newfoundland.

“The crap’s going to hit the fan with this conflict of interest between Jack Lee and Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador,” insists Randy Pearcey, co-owner of Xtreme Hockey, a private hockey school operating in St. John’s that’s in direct competition with Lee’s Newfoundland Blizzard Dogs Hockey.

Lee is also the president of HNL, the governing body for hockey in Newfoundland.

“I have never in my life seen such a conflict, and anyone in their right mind would have to see it the same way,” Pearcey says.

For Lee’s part, he’s had enough conversations with critics and heard enough through hockey channels to be well aware that a sentiment of injustice exists.

“You’re goddamn right it has come up,” says Lee, who insists he was up front with the voting delegates when he first threw his hat into the ring four years ago seeking to become chair of HNL’s minor council.

“I told people straight up in my speech that I’m not going to apologize because of what I do for a living.

“I’m proud of my business. I’m proud of the people who came through my program and went on to play at elite levels. And I’m proud of what I’ve done the last two years as the president, and hopefully the next two years we’ll grow on what we started, and hopefully when I finish my role as president that my business will still be successful.”

Lee maintains some folks, including the Hockey Canada brass, are not accustomed to branch officials also making a career offering instruction to minor hockey players above and beyond that which is available from a given athlete’s respective minor hockey association.

It’s a trend he only sees continuing.

“Because the majority of people who are quality coaches are working in the private hockey business because they’re getting paid to do it,” he said.

Lee says his presidency hasn’t made his business more profitable. In fact, in some cases he thinks it might actually be hurting it.

“My business hasn’t grown any more since I became the president. I’m exactly where I am, with the people who patronize my business, as I was when I became involved.”

Pearcey, however, wholeheartedly disagrees, and he’s heard as much from the parents.

“Parents have called me and said, ‘I have no choice, if I don’t put him over there when the all-star selections come next fall, he isn’t going to be picked.’ And you know something? They’re right, they don’t get picked.

“That’s the sad part.”

A letter to the Telegram’s sports department from a concerned parent who asked not to be named suggested the same. The parent wrote, “there is too much potential for bias” when private hockey owners are making decisions that affect minor hockey selections.

“When it comes to picking the player for the last roster position and you are down to two players — one who is part of your private hockey program and is paying over $1,000 a year, and the other player is not part of your private hockey program — which player do you pick?

“I can tell you from what I’ve seen countless times, the player that is getting picked is the customer of the private hockey program.”

According to the author, even the young players are acutely aware of the bias shown towards others.

Lee has heard it before, but contends it’s not as black and white as what the critics suggest.

When it comes to picking elite level teams of, say, 20 players, it’s well known that the first 10 to 15 are the easiest to pick simply because the best players are easily identified at any given camp.

“The last five selections are tough, so you have to give some accessibility to persons to make the decision on kids who make these teams.”

Lee says, “anybody who suggests Wally Bray is going to take a kid that’s in our program over some kid from another private hockey program or across Newfoundland is absolutely wrong.”

He goes on to suggest that like any coach appointed to head up a provincial age group teams, Bray — Lee’s hockey business partner, who also serves as technical director for the St. John’s Caps Minor Hockey Association — is picking a provincial under-14 team capable of winning, not one that will maintain or increase the profit margins at their respective private operations.

“He wants to come back from Moncton in October and say ‘We won,’” Lee says. “He doesn’t care who the kids’ parents are, how much money they have or what program they went through.”

“It’s not just Wally Bray picking the team by himself.”

That’s precisely where some, including Pearcey, suggest the conflict of interest becomes more evident and far more controversial.

Joining Bray on the provincial under-14 coaching staff, for instance, are Todd Budgell and Lee’s son, Mike, both part of the Newfoundland Blizzard staff.

Pearcey says more qualified coaches, such as Darren Halloran and his Xtreme Hockey partner, Andrew McKim, were passed over. And it’s not the first time.

“McKim applies for everything, but they won’t give him a thing. They’re intimidated. They’re afraid he’ll get the kids to come to Xtreme,” Pearcey alleges.

“They turned around and hand him director of operations. You know what that position is? That’s a flunky job.”

But Lee is steadfast in his defence of HNL’s coaching selections.

“I don’t select who coaches our high performance teams. There’s a committee which does that.

“So am I going to influence five other people to take my coach over some other coach? How long would I last? Where would my credibility be if I was stepping in there all the time doing that stuff?”

 

koliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter@telykenn