Hockey is be­com­ing more and more ex­pen­sive

Lethbridge Herald - - HERALD SPORTS TOP STORIES - Matt Weninger

It seems like ev­ery­one is settling into hockey sea­son. Or just be­ing forced to set­tle in as it seemed like ev­ery road into and out of south­ern Al­berta was closed ear­lier this week. I golfed in shorts two weeks ago and dug my car out of the snow last week — God love south­ern Al­berta.

One last re­minder for those look­ing to sign up for pro­grams and the Team Build­ing and Lead­er­ship Sem­i­nar. To sign up go to:

I have seen a few com­ments lately on the state of sport schools in Western Canada and the role they are play­ing in the de­vel­op­ment of hockey play­ers. When I played (not that long ago), the Cana­dian Sport School League didn’t ex­ist and there was only a few spo­radic acad­e­mies (Notre Dame in Wil­cox, Sask., and Edge in Cal­gary are the only two that come to mind). Now the CCSHL is a 13-team league in Ban­tam Prep and a 16-team league in Midge Prep.

I look at the list of play­ers who were named to the re­cent U16 Team Al­berta that will com­pete in the newly named WHL Cup; half of the team plays at acad­e­mies this sea­son. In the 2017 WHL Ban­tam Draft, 13 of the 22 first-round draft picks came from acad­e­mies. Yet, some­how it seems Leth­bridge and south­ern Al­berta are some­what im­mune to this phe­nom­e­non. Ri­d­ley Greig and Ro­nan See­ley are two of the play­ers who were drafted in the first round and who made the U16 Team Al­berta team who did not at­tend acad­e­mies and both are cur­rently play­ing AAA Midget in Leth­bridge. Leth­bridge isn’t com­pletely im­mune as some play­ers have cho­sen to leave for acad­e­mies, but com­pared to other ar­eas in Western Canada our city hasn’t been hit by the mass ex­o­dus of play­ers.

Let me make some­thing clear, I am not op­posed to the con­cept that th­ese sport schools of­fer. Typ­i­cally they do of­fer daily prac­tices, work­outs and elite coaches that some mi­nor hockey as­so­ci­a­tions sim­ply can’t of­fer. The AAA teams in Leth­bridge do prac­tise four times per week with ad­di­tional off-ice op­por­tu­ni­ties sim­i­lar to acad­e­mies. Typ­i­cally, the coaches at the AAA lev­els in Leth­bridge are ex­tremely qual­i­fied: Doug Pais­ley at the AAA Ban­tam level and Mike Dyck at the AAA Midget level are both prob­a­bly overqual­i­fied for the lev­els they are coach­ing. Those qual­i­fi­ca­tions and prac­tice times are prob­a­bly large in­flu­encers to the rea­sons that sport schools haven’t hit Leth­bridge as hard as other places.

The idea that hockey is an ex­pen­sive sport isn’t as myth. It is a re­al­ity. Between equip­ment, travel, fees and ad­di­tional train­ing a $10,000 bill for a sea­son of hockey would be quite con­ser­va­tive. Typ­i­cally a sport school will run the cost up three times that amount. The re­al­ity is that hockey is be­com­ing more and more a white-col­lar, elit­ist sport. The fre­quency of the bluecol­lar, small-town kid be­com­ing an elite player is be­com­ing less and less. The dol­lar fig­ure as­so­ci­ated with the game is be­com­ing too ob­struc­tive to the av­er­age fam­ily. The work­ing­class fam­ily, heck even the mid­dle-class fam­ily, sim­ply can’t af­ford a $30,000 bill for a sea­son of hockey.

The value many acad­e­mies of­fer to play­ers isn’t lost on me. There are great coaches and great train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties at the ma­jor­ity of th­ese acad­e­mies, not all of them, but the ma­jor­ity. For south­ern Al­berta on the male side, there isn’t a need for an academy. It is easy to see the suc­cess Leth­bridge Mi­nor Hockey has had at de­vel­op­ing play­ers the past few years and the re­al­ity that our AAA pro­grams of­fer the same de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties that the best acad­e­mies of­fer. The cost of mi­nor hockey is sig­nif­i­cant but the cost of an academy would cripple and ex­clude many fam­i­lies from par­tic­i­pa­tion. Our com­mu­nity is priv­i­leged for the op­por­tu­ni­ties that are pre­sented to our hockey play­ers and that our elite coaches are more qual­i­fied than the most well-paid academy coaches. It is great to see a not­for-profit as­so­ci­a­tion such as Leth­bridge Mi­nor Hockey have suc­cess as a de­vel­op­ment as­so­ci­a­tion in the face of so many pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions and pri­vate groups in­creas­ing the cost of our great sport.

This isn’t a rant against sport schools but more of a let­ter of sup­port for Leth­bridge Mi­nor Hockey and the elite vol­un­teer coaches such as Doug Pais­ley and Mike Dyck. The value th­ese peo­ple bring to hockey in our com­mu­nity in an ef­fort to de­velop play­ers and be as fi­nan­cially in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble to fam­i­lies to be a part of our great game. Look at the play­ers th­ese gen­tle­men have helped sup­port in the past sev­eral years, a list that is sim­ply un­ri­valled. If an academy were to come to our area of the prov­ince I would hope our ci­ti­zens would be able to see the rea­son our city has been so ef­fec­tive at pro­duc­ing play­ers and why play­ers from across the prov­ince want to be a part of our as­so­ci­a­tion. In the face of the nu­mer­ous acad­e­mies that con­tinue to run up the cost of hockey we con­tinue to be a model for suc­cess that no new pri­vate group could em­u­late.

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