“No question, no question at all,” said York. “Through the 80s and early-90s we were really producing some tremendous players. We still have some good players, but for some reason - and I really can’t put my finger on why - it’s not like it used to be. We see it at the college level and the pros see it at the next level.”
The article then identifies potential factors for a drop-off. However, the factors identified by those addressing the subject would seemingly apply everywhere in the U.S., and therefore not explain the decline in Massachusetts, but the rise in Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. For example, the Junior Bruins' Peter Masters refers to the parents' role in creating ego driven players unwilling to work as hard.
“Back then, parents would yell at their own kid, ‘Skate harder, move,’ ” he said. “Now the parents are yelling at the other players or the coaches or the refs. It’s everyone else’s fault. When you’re sending the wrong message for 10 years, that has to have an effect on players by the time they’re 16 or 17.”
NHL Scout Tom Songin focuses on hitting being allowed at a younger age:
“The contact is killing the development,” said Bruins New England amateur scout Tom Songin. “Massachusetts hockey is really in trouble. The last few years, I’ve seen the quality of play go way down. If they don’t fix this fast, in a few years there won’t be anyone around here for me to scout.
Finally, Bob Turow, the President of ProspectsTourney.com and the chief scout for the USHL, cites the starting talent pool:
For Turow, one simple fact is at the core of the apparent growing ability gap between the Mass. and Canadian youngsters:
“In Canada, our best athletes are playing hockey,” he said. “An awful lot of your best athletes down there typically are playing baseball or football or basketball. Those are the sports that are ingrained in the USA, and I don’t see it shifting to hockey in huge numbers.
Again, while the point may be valid, it applies equally to kids in Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. Yet, those areas are cranking out the Phil Kessels and Eric Johnson's of the world, both of whom will be going in the top 3 of the 2006 NHL draft, or Kyle Okposo, Peter Mueller or Michael Fortney who should go in the top 15. The development lag does not seem to be prevailant outside of Massachusetts.
Ultimately, the article concludes with the one real factor unique to the Massachusetts system: its "midget" system.
A city like Chicago has just four so-called youth teams at the AAA level - denoting the highest-quality of play. Pittsburgh has only two. Immediately around Boston, there are at least two dozen teams purporting to AAA status - and not nearly enough legitimately talented players to stock them. But youth hockey has become big business, with a single AAA team typically earning a team owner more than $30,000 - with rink owners also raking in thousands in ice rental costs.
This undoubtedly is true, as the New England development system remains entrenched in the school model, rather than hockey-affiliated bantam/midget teams. This distinguishes the Mass system from the Illinois and Michigan systems dominated by midget teams, but Minnesota also follows the school system, and they have flourished.
Moreover, if the development gap is caused by the lack of premier play at the midget stage, one would suspect that the development gap would become apparent at ages 16 through 18. Yet, checking the USA Select festivals, the drop off in Mass talent viz. the rest of the US already is manifested at the Select 14 and 15 festivals. At the 2004 Select 15 Festival for 1989s, for example, none of the top 20 scorers, and none of the top rated defensemen were from Massachusetts. At the 2005 Select 15 Festival for 1990s, only Torin Snyderman was among the top 20 scorers, and none of the Mass players were ranked among the top 15 forwards or top 10 defensemen as rated by USHR. Bear in mind, these are all players prior to any potential development issues created by a midget vs. HS argument.
So then, what is it? I would defer to others closer to the situation, but it does not seeem coincidental that the rise and drop in Mass talent correlates with the rise and fall of the role-models Boston Bruins. Back in 1981 to 1983, when Mass produced Bobby Carpenter, Tom Barrasso and the like, and routed the Minnesota All-Star teams during their March head-to-head competitions, everyone noted that the players born in 1963 to 1965, started playing in early 1970s when Bobby Orr lead the Bruins to the cup. Today's picks, born in 1988, started playing in the mid-1990s, a time when Jeremy Jacobs and Harry Sinden killed the Bruins. I wonder how many kids were lost to other sports rather than being forced to emulate Hall Gill? Of course, Hockey East is glad for the NY Rangers' 1994 cup, which helped spawn the New Jersey development curve and 2006 and 2007 NHL first rounders Bobby Saguinetti, Nick Petrecki, Kevin Shattenkirk and James Van Riemsdyk.