Golden Opportunities or Grasping at Straws?
As I get further into the hockey parent journey -- cumulatively over 23 seasons now -- I've found that I'm a lot more selective when it comes to opportunities outside the regular season team.
It's a fine line too, like, I don't want to limit the opportunities my youngest son has just because, from experience with his older brothers, I know certain paths lead nowhere.
That's why he went to a Brick team tryout with him a few years ago...simply because his brothers had gone down that route...but we blew off the call back cause, well, experience.
Whether he made the pre-Brick year team or not would have zero impact on his hockey career. Zero.
There's been a very noticeable regression in how many programs we dabble in.
With my oldest, we took every opportunity and played for every single tournament team around.
Minimal vetting on my part, we were low hanging fruit, suckers really, that these bogus "Elite" tournament teams prey on. Just as soon as a parent wises up to how much of a waste it all is, there's a whole new crop of green parents to harvest with players a birth year younger.
My middle son hasn't done nearly as many of these extracurricular teams.
My youngest...barely any.
These days, our focus is a lot narrower.
If it doesn't have any connection at all or open doors that may lead to our end goal, we don't do it.
Plain and simple.
Four games with a bunch of kids we've never met, for a coach we've never met, and for a team where we pick up the jerseys the night before, and has never practiced together, doesn't make the player better.
And usually doesn't open up higher opportunities either.
The last tournament we played in over the summer, I was approached by what I assumed was the opposition's team manager. He wasn't a coach.
Seemed more of one of those dad's who's super involved, constantly milling about the locker room area trying way too hard to look important.
He came right up to me, asked if I was 38's father, and then all but offered and guaranteed my kid a spot on their regular season team as an alternate for next season.
Five years ago, I would have said -- "Yes!"
Immediately. Guilty as charged -- have the uniforms to prove it!
Three years ago, I would have said, "Yeah, I'll get back to you. Let's exchange contact info."
This time, I was way more terse.
"No thanks. Not interested."
Truth be told -- I saw the guy do the same thing to someone else the day prior.
Guy was one of those overzealous parents taking on the role of recruiter/salesman. You know the type.
Program is either super short on players, short on higher end players, or they're just adding players to the roster for the tuition revenue.
With very few exceptions, it's ALWAYS one of those three things...and usually the latter.
I was figuring this out on my own anyway but really put my foot down over the past couple years after I observed what a professional in the low minors was doing, and did, to get to where he is today.
In the low minors, FPHL to be specific, if you're playing really well, it's pretty routine to get offers from the SPHL and sometimes even the ECHL where you'll be playing alongside guys on NHL contracts.
For those not familiar with the levels of professional hockey in North America...this is the typical pecking order.
An ECHL opportunity to an FPHL player is a big jump and, at face value, a tough offer to refuse.
So, this guy, a goalie, seemingly said "Yes" to every offer that came about.
If you're super lucky, one of those call-ups could lead to something. Maybe. You never really know.
And, sure, it's super cool to say you're playing just one or two rungs down from the NHL but it usually only lasted a weekend before he'd be released and rejoin with his former team in the FPHL.
I've seen it countless times over the past two and a half decades. Really good players just bouncing around aimlessly, unable to stick.
During the season, he dressed, briefly, for three SPHL teams, two ECHL teams, one AHL team...as well as his FPHL team.
That's 7 teams across four leagues in a single season. Single season journeyman, right there.
All over the place physically and I'd imagine mentally too.
Not shockingly, not really having any sort of groove, when he returned in the playoffs for his regular team, his goals against was over 8.
Ouch. Yep -- mentally and physically exhausted.
The following season, the head coach and general manager, Billy McCreary, advised him NOT to accept every offer from the higher leagues.
Get your bearings, solidfy your game, and establish yourself here, at this level -- single A hockey.
Now, this might sound like a GM trying to handcuff a guy for his own benefit but this GM has a proven track record of moving guys up.
So, so, so important in hockey to seek coaches with a reputation of moving players up the ladder.
McCreary knows how it works and how to do it -- effectively.
So this goalie spent the next season in the FPHL, committed to a single team, and won a championship.
Not a stretch to say he carried the team on his back for multiple games during the season and certainly during the playoffs.
And I'm certain he had just as many offers and opportunities -- probably even more of them -- than he did the year prior since he was playing so well, consistently too, but he stayed the course.
This season, he started in the SPHL right out of the gate -- a level higher than the FPHL -- and just weeks into the season was loaned to an ECHL team where he's currently playing.
Not as a short term emergency backup for a road team over a single weekend, he's "on" the team.
He's a bonafide ECHL player now.
So, while my kids aren't pro...it's the same idea.
I used to say yes to every team that reached out. Never really led anywhere and certainly didn't make my kid a better player. Just another rando on the ice.
Lots of time and money wasted on my end. Lots of time wasted on my kid's end.
90% of those "side" teams didn't benefit my kids at all. We truly were grasping at straws.
And I know, in the moment, it feels like it could be a doorway to future success but the truth is, no one cares if the Boston Junior Whalers elite squirt team won the Pepsi Championships in 2019. No one.
Resist the temptation and focus on the player.
Focus on results.
Focus on where you want to go.
If it's not going to make your player better or widen a clear path to your goal...skip it.
If it's with a majority of your regular season teammates or with a coach or program you truly aim to play for, well, that's a different story.
That's an opportunity you should take advantage of. Those are exactly the supplemental teams you should seek.
Once you're beyond squirt level, narrow your focus and only latch on to things that are near guaranteed to lead to your specific end goal.
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Now, while we're talking about grasping at straws...
If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a paper straw...so if grasping at straws is your thing, you have my stamp of approval if you're grasping at the plastic straws at McDonald's.
I dread the day that plastic straws are as difficult to come across as Frankenberry cereal...
Oh, and this article absolutely contradicts something I wrote years ago where I said it was an absolute necessity to get your, and your player's, name out there beyond the program you play for.
Registering for a Brick team tryout or a regional summer tournament team as a mite or squirt is still a great idea.
It gets your name on a ton of mailing lists and the invitations will continue to roll in for years to come.
You want that.
Go to rival team tryouts -- make sure they know you exist early on. You never know...you could end up playing there in the future. Get that foot in the door.
But what you don't want is to be accepting each and every one of those invitations when your player is a peewee or bantam...unless it's a solid lead towards your end goal.
You need to step back and ask, "What's in it for me?"
If the answer is nothing...skip it.
Narrow your focus, stay the course, reach your goals.
» Training Aid Overload: Hockey Room Essentials
» The Worst Website for Youth Hockey...ever. MyHockeyRankings.com
» Review: Junior Bruins Training & Evaluation Camp
» Evaluating Your Child's Hockey Coach
» The Unearned Success or Unrecognized Talent Predicament
» An Alternative to Spring & Summer Tournament Hockey Teams
» When to re-tape a Hockey Stick
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