Is the NHL *always* the end game?

A GTA hockey parent wonders why the common belief that all hockey parents push their kids toward NHL aspirations.

In articles about minor hockey, there always seems to be an assertion that player parents are pushing their son towards the NHL.

In many cases, there seems to be an underlying tone of: Who do you think you are?!

Your son will never make it. You are deluded if you believe is possible.

When The New York Times ran a piece comparing the routes of two Americans playing in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), to the end-game of NHL hockey (“Top Prospects Decide if Path to N.H.L. Runs Through College”), I thought: Geezus. Really?

Okay, top prospects, yes, because the system runs on top round picks making teams and getting shots that other draftees don’t, but there are plenty of minor hockey players that just want to play for as long as they can, at the highest level they can, or until it’s no longer fun.

And sometimes that means striving for NCAA scholarship, or playing for a CHL team. And beyond.

Parents of rep hockey players are portrayed as crazed, nutbars

cloudAs a former minor hockey parent, I can see how it might seem as if some of the more ludicrous actions reported might lead non-hockey parents to believe this. However, I am still bothered by the perpetual belief that hockey parents are all single-minded, pushy people trying to live out unfulfilled dreams (read: dreams of fame and fortune).

If “the dream” is the NHL, why are others so quick to judged when hockey parents encourage their kids to achieve, to play at the highest level possible? Would we prefer them to aim low? To settle?

Supporting and encouraging our children when they show a penchant for academic endeavours, they are marked as “gifted” and moved up a grade, so that they might be challenged intellectually, but we pooh-pooh the talent and ability—or even a kid’s keen interest—in sports. Or, the arts, for that matter.

In part, I believe, because these career paths are not believed to culminate in “real jobs.”

I suppose some of the NHL-or-nothing belief is ignorance about the levels of competitive play beyond minor hockey.

Sure, I may be sensitive, I may feel judged. That’s because my kid plays hockey.

Our son has always wanted to play at the highest level he can. His father and I supported and encouraged it, even when our families and friends questioned our winter lifestyle, a schedule that was consumed by weekends and weeknights in arenas, travelling to games and practices in snowy and icy road conditions, fundraising, weekend tournaments out-of-town. Some may have criticized us. I dunno. For the most part, we were with other hockey parents whose kids loved the game as much as our son did.

Even within our Triple-A team, we referred to the super-intense ones AAA-type personalities. But friends and family, coworkers, didn’t really get our commitment.

Too often, the term “hockey mom” or “hockey parents” assumes the worst. They are derogatory like “soccer mom” and “single mom,” which are meant to disparage, to categorize, to generalize. It assumes the worst of me as a parent, and as an individual. And it grates on me.

So, we hockey parents only want our kids to play in the NHL and we are spending outrageous amounts of money, dedicating their extracurricular lives to a sport they have no chance of succeeding in, pushing them towards a dream that is really ours. Get the fuck out.

We held then, as we do now, a realistic view of his hockey future.

At the time of our son’s major junior draft, my husband and I held, and continue to hold, an objective and realistic view of his hockey future.

bigstockphoto_Hockey__305299That’s not to say that we were not hopeful he would make the team and crack the line-up, get a fair share of ice time. It is something he wanted, so we supported him in his summer training program as he prepared for rookie camp. We wanted him to continue to develop as a player, but we were not looking for financial compensation, or for a boat-load of perks, or — despite what some believe — an NHL entry-level contract. After all, players choose the major junior route to “enhance their changes of advancing to the professional level.”

We see advancement as a possibility, not as an sure thing.

I would never argue with anyone who states the mathematical improbability of a player making it beyond minor hockey to the NHL because it would be stupid to ignore fact, but I would never discourage anyone’s dream of playing at the highest level of competitive hockey he can, for as long as he can.

Why would I hammer him with statistics that discourage him? Why would I ever discourage my child from performing to the best of his ability, to set goals and strive to attain them?

Why must it the NHL be the end-game?

When he’s done with major junior, he can move on to university hockey at a Canadian university. Or, not.  Maybe he will get an opportunity to play a season, or two in the ECHL, or in the AHL. Who knows? All we as parents can do is support his decision to continue to play, or not.

I dunno, but one thing I am certain of is that he will somehow always be involved in competitive sport. That’s part of who he is. That’s why so many hockey parents live the Triple-A lifestyle. Because it’s the kid who wants it.

When they don’t want it anymore, the kids turn to other things. So do the parents.

I’ve taken a page from my father’s notebook. He played major junior hockey. He played in Europe. He came home, got a job, got married. Raised a family. He made a decision and never looked back.

And that’s what our son has: the freedom to chose to continue, despite the odds of playing at the next level, or leave the game.


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