Friday, July 28, 2006

More on Mass hockey

I've had a college coach chime in with his insight on the issues confronting the lack of player development in Massachusetts. Below was his input, followed by my response:

I think the decline has to do with the state of high school hockey in Massachusetts. I grew up in Massachusetts and played youth and high school hockey there. I was neither the best player ever to skate for my high school team nor the worst, however much like my friends and teammates, I bled the school colors. And the reason for this love is clear to me. There is a sense of belonging and identity in growing up playing youth hockey on successful town teams; its almost like you are in the farm system of the big club, and that hopefully you'll get called up for a chance at the apple. We all wanted to taste it, the crowd, the prestige, the win.

The state of professional hockey in Boston did not have much influence on the development of my friends and me, and although we dreamed of growing up and playing in the NHL our true heroes were on the high school team. If you ask any of us who graduated around 1990 about our fondest memories watching hockey, they will most likely take place in a packed home rink during high school games against our rivals, at The Garden or in State Championship games.

Our idols and heroes would be the alums at our high school who had successfully moved on to college. For some, the goal after high school was to play college hockey. The route to college hockey was clear as well. Massachusetts high school kids were not leaving for prep-schools and juniors until maybe after their senior year. There was pressure from both sides where high school coaches could promote their talent to colleges and your teammates growing up saw it as a betrayal for leaving the town team. I think that familiarity is gone, with it the desire, and players today might not know what it takes because the path is not clear and lay out in front of them. The goal isn't there every winter weekend for them to feel, hear and see. The passion in those high school games was electric and moving. A sense of pride and respect for the town, the high school players and coaches was created by the local climate you grew up in. The rivalries that exist between different towns stem deep throughout the entire youth hockey system and all school sports. You grow up despising talented kids from other towns and will do anything to beat them in a game. All the moves you make coming up have a major influence on the way the coaches and players view your talent and commitment level when you get to high school. Peter Masters comment as he "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,' now the parents are yelling at the other players or the coaches or the refs" in some ways reflects my opinion. If you were lazy or bad kid, the word spread throughout the whole system all the way to the top, which was the varsity coach. You learn to take what coaches dealt; to get tough, to skate all day, because you had to, there was nothing else. That's what made kids better. Now the kid will just go to another team, which isn't that big a deal because it works for others. Now the coach has no control.

Kids have so many avenues now, that the focus is sometimes gone. It used to be hard for a freshman to make our high school varsity team, almost all played junior varsity. It was a right of passage. God, there were seniors on the j.v.. Now you see tons of freshmen on their varsity teams, because the better developed older players have most likely left. Look at high school hockey in states like Minnesota, and combine it with your comment of "Well, Minnesota did not send its players to the Select 14 festival." Why? They have the protection of the high schools still being the big show (packing the State Tourney), they don't have all the prep schools to worry about, most of their early departures go to the USHL (without all the Junior A, B and C teams that exist out east), they have their own junior elite league which actually promotes the high school hockey culture, the player pool is more condensed and the competition is greater, and because they don't want to turn into Massachusetts. I think that in order for Massachusetts hockey to improve from the bottom up, it would have to change at the top first.

My response on this issue:

You're probably right that this is a factor for many kids, but I still question how much it plays into the issue for the elite kids. No doubt the average hockey player will be more motivated by the prospect of playing HS, but my question focuses more on the lack of elite kids in Mass/NE. As you know, those kids usually hit the radar as early as age 14, as freshmen in HS. But looking at the tourney results for that age bracket, the Mass kids already are behind the curve. There are few Carpenters, Ryan Whitneys, etc. out there, and this is before the impact of their high school coaching or junior hockey. Its not a case of Mass having elite 13 or 14 year olds, but their skills stagnating from 14-18. So the issue to me is whether (1) the kids in Mass no longer have the skills (in comparison to Minn, Mich, etc.), or (2) the Mass. kids with those athletic skills are going into other sports, because they play baskeball/baseball instead of stick hockey at ages 8-13. My sense is that kids in Mass no longer play pond hockey, as hockey in the metro area is all finding a rink, which restricts access to playing (in comparison to the Land of 10,000 lakes, where the culture still has them playing pond hockey). Without the social "pressure" of it being the thing to do (created to a large degree by whether Boston is a hockey town), kids or their parents are less inclined to plunk down hundreds of dollars for ice time during the formative years. Hence, the smaller talent pool manifesting itself as early as age 13.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mass Development Issues, Redoux

When the top '92 players gathered last week at Rochester, NY for the USA Select 14 festival, it represented further evidence of how far behind Massachusetts has fallen in developing talent. Charles Bando, who finished second in tourney scoring, was the only Massachusetts native to finish in the top 44 scoring. Of course, it would be wrong to read too much into the pure scoring statistics except that these results are consistent with the overall decline that we've seen among Massachusetts prospects.

So, where are the top scorers coming from? Well, Minnesota did not send its players to the Select 14 festival. Leaving aside Michigan and Illinois, which had their now usual strong showings, Pennsylvania had 6 players among the top 44 scorers, and California produced 3. Say, did the Penguins or LA Kings do something in the mid-90s to rejeuvinate the hockey community in the way Bobby Orr did to Massachusetts in the mid-70s? Texas also had 3 players (correlating to the arrival of the Dallas Stars). And, while we're at it, did Jeremy Jacobs do something to the Bruins in the mid-90s that correlates to the decline in interest among Massachusetts kids?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Here come the 91s

Today brings word that the second '91 -- and perhaps the highest one out there -- has committed to the college route. Central Ontario (up north near Sudbury) center Matt Duchene gave his word to the Michigan State Spartans that he intends to enroll in the fall of 2009. The International Scouting Service rankings (ok, crystal ball) for the 2009 draft has him fourth for the draft, meaning that he's a top-end 91. Duchene is the second 91 to commit, after Ferris State's April commitment of Beau Schmitz, and the fourth commitment for 2009, as Nebraska-Omaha already had secured Norweigan center Fredrik Csisar and Wisconsin has Nick Pryor for that fall. Of course, Saskatchewan '91 defenseman Jared Cowen expressed unhappiness with being selected by the Spokane Chiefs first overall in the WHL bantam draft, and already has expressed an interest in college programs such as Michigan.

Bear in mind, that all such commitments from 15 year olds are tenuous as the kids grow and change their perspective - moreso when the OHL plans get more specific after the OHL draft. State needs look no further than over to Ann Arbor to see what happened to A.J. Jenks, one of the first 90s to commit.


USA HOOCKEY announced its' Select 18 team that will travel to the Czech Republic.

No Name Ht (cm) Wt (kg) Birthdate S/C Hometown 2005-06 Team
1 Dayn Belfour 6-0 (183) 195 (88) 5/27/89 L Toronto, Ontario Victory Honda (Mich.) (midget)
30 Jeremy Smith 6-2 (188) 160 (73) 4/13/89 L Brownstown, Mich. Plymouth Whalers (OHL)

2 Jonathon Blum 6-1 (185) 170 (77) 1/30/89 R Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. Vancouver Giants (WHL)
3 David Carle 5-11 (180) 170 (77) 11/9/89 L Anchorage, Alaska Shattuck-St. Mary’s (Minn.) (prep school)
4 Tommy Cross 6-3 (191) 195 (88) 9/12/89 L Simsbury, Conn. Simsbury (Conn.) (high school)
5 Vincent LoVerde 6-0 (183) 205 (93) 4/14/89 R Chicago, Ill. Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL)
6 Ryan McDonagh 6-1 (185) 195 (88) 6/13/89 L Arden Hills, Minn. Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.) (high school)
7 Nick Petrecki 6-3 (191) 215 (98) 7/11/89 L Clifton Park, N.Y. Omaha Lancers (USHL)
8 Matt Tomassoni 5-10 (178) 160 (73) 7/30/89 R Carol Stream, Ill. Chicago Mission (midget)

9 Cam Atkinson 5-7 (170) 155 (70) 6/5/89 R Riverside, Conn. Avon Old Farms (prep school)
10 David Brownschidle 6-1 (185) 185 (84) 5/23/89 R Lawrenceville, N.J. Tri-City Storm (USHL)
11 Brett Bruneteau 5-11 (180) 183 (83) 1/5/89 L Omaha, Neb. Omaha Lancers (USHL)
12 Joe Diamond 5-6 (168) 152 (69) 6/16/89 L Long Beach, N.Y. New York Apple Core (EJHL)
14 Shane Harper 5-10 (178) 178 (81) 2/1/89 R Valencia, Calif. Everett Silvertips (WHL)
15 Jimmy Hayes 6-5 (196) 210 (95) 11/21/89 R Dorchester, Mass. Noble & Greenough (prep school)
16 Mike Hoeffel 6-2 (188) 185 (84) 4/9/89 L North Oaks, Minn. Hill-Murray (Minn.) (high school)
17 Tyler Johnson 5-9 (175) 155 (70) 1/4/89 R Cloquet, Minn. Cloquet (Minn.) (high school)
18 Eddie Olczyk 5-11 (180) 172 (78) 6/17/89 R Long Grove, Ill. Pittsburgh Predators (midget)
19 Nico Sacchetti 5-11 (180) 185 (84) 8/21/89 R Virginia, Minn. Virginia (Minn.) (high school)
20 Thomas Serratore 6-0 (183) 170 (77) 7/16/89 L Colorado Springs, Colo. Colorado Thunderbirds (midget)
21 Matt Thurber 5-10 (178) 185 (84) 10/2/89 R Beaver Dam, Wis. Omaha Lancers (USHL)
22 Patrick White 6-1 (185) 190 (86) 1/20/89 R Grand Rapids, Minn. Grand Rapids (Minn.) (high school)