Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘National Hockey League

Canadian kids don't care their hockey team lost

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With all the alleged gnashing of teeth and rending of sweaters in Canada over its Olympic hockey team’s 5-3 loss to the United States on home ice in Vancouver Sunday night, I would like to take you back to a post of mine from August 2009 about a study showing that Canadian kids care less and less about the presumed national sport.

To be so self-referential I’m going to get inside my own mind like John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich,” here is what I wrote earlier about Canadian youth and their relationship with hockey. The survey, by University of Lethbridge (Alberta) sociology professor Reginald Bibby, was done in the context of the possibility of southern Ontario becoming the seventh Canadian market for the National Hockey League.

According to Bibby’s survey of 5,500 Canadian teens, the interest in the NHL fell to 35 percent in 2008 from 45 percent in 1992. The decline in Ontario was 40 to 28, with only 20 percent of Toronto teens following the league. …  Of those teens whose parents, and themselves, were born in Canada, 40 percent followed the NHL. Of those teens who were born (and whose parents were born) outside of Canada, only 20 percent were interested in the NHL. Those non-native born teens were mostly likely to follow the NBA (31 percent) and soccer (30 percent).

Blake Lambert of the Faster Times cited Bibby’s research in creating his own reaction to Canada’s Olympic loss: “Canada Loses in Hockey. So What?”

In my corner of downtown Toronto, which is home to immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, I have yet to see a single child play street hockey. At the middle school up the street, basketball and soccer are fashionable; cricket is even a summertime pursuit at a park northeast of my home.

In the Toronto area — not just the city, but the suburbs, too — 45.7 percent of all residents are foreign-born as of the 2007 Canadian census, up from 43.7 percent five years previously. In Vancouver, where fans are presumably feeling the pain a little more because the last American goal was scored by Vancouver Canuck Ryan Kesler, 39.6 percent of all residents are foreign-born. English is the primary household language of 54.1 percent of Canadians, while the other official language, French, is at only 1.2 percent. Outdistancing the francophones are Chinese (all dialects), 8.1 percent, Italian, 3.7 percent, and Punjabi, 2.6 percent.

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A Punjabi sports show, based in Vancouver.

In the whole of Canada, 20 percent — one out of five — residents was born somewhere other than under the Maple Leaf flag. The government itself says Canada’s growth is almost wholly reliant on immigration. By comparison, the United States has a foreign-born population of 12.6 percent.

Certainly it would be ridiculous to dismiss out-of-hand the agony many Canadians feel over their loss to the United States. However, by the numbers, it looks like hockey in Canada is going to evolve culturally like basketball in my native Indiana.

The sport will always be a strong part of the culture. But as time goes on, as the population changes, and as children are given more choices for sports and activities than their forebears, the intensity of the pain of having a loser in “our” game will be lesser for youth than it is for middle-agers, who remember the glory days when a single sport was everything.

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Written by rkcookjr

February 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm

In Theoron Fleury, the Graham James sexual abuse story lives on

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When NHL player Sheldon Kennedy in 1996 came forward to say he was sexually abused by his Canadian junior hockey coach, Graham James, there was speculation that at least one other professional player had been victimized. When James in 1997 was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for his crimes, he was convicted for abusing Kennedy and “one unnamed junior hockey player.”

With his new book, retired 16-year veteran Theoron Fleury confirms that player was him.

From Maclean’s:

Retired hockey star Theoren Fleury has at long last confirmed that he was sexually abused by his junior coach, Graham James, a trauma he says drove him to alcohol, drugs and promiscuity throughout his otherwise impressive 16-year NHL career. “The direct result of my being abused was that I became a f—ing raging, alcoholic lunatic,” he writes in Playing with Fire, an autobiography to be released this week, and provided in advance to Maclean’s. “[James] destroyed my belief system. The most influential adult in my life at the time was telling me that what I thought was wrong was right.

“I no longer had faith in myself or my own judgment. And when you come down to it, that’s all a person has. Once it’s gone, how do you get it back?”

It is an account the hockey world has long waited to hear, as Fleury’s career had been one of the most spectacularly troubled in NHL history. For years, the spark-plug forward has stone-walled questions about his time with James, even as his violent outbursts on the ice and binges off it pointed to something terrible in his past. Until the book, former Boston Bruin Sheldon Kennedy had been the only player to go public about being abused by James. He was hailed as a hero for coming forward, and said at the time one other NHL player had been abused. He did not name the player, and while speculation quickly enveloped Fleury, it died off when it became clear the player had no intention of addressing the issue.

In his book, however, Fleury lifts the lid on the entire harrowing tale, beginning when the Manitoba coach recruited him at 13 from his minor hockey team in Russell, Man., to play junior in Winnipeg. “Graham was on me once or twice a week for the next two years,” Fleury writes of the assaults, whose memories remain vivid to him. “An absolute nightmare, every day of my life.” James required him to sleep two nights a week at the coach’s house, rather than with the woman with whom he’d been billetted. He tried to fight off the coach at first, wrapping himself in blankets each night and pretending to sleep as James attempted to masturbate him and give him oral sex. But the fear of James’s advances left him sleepless, and exhaustion broke him down, he writes; so too did James’s frequent warnings that, without his coach’s support, he stood little chance of playing professional hockey.

Like Kennedy, Fleury was a young boy from a troubled home who was completely tossed into the whirlwind life of junior hockey without any parental figure back home to guide him. And like Kennedy, that abuse sent Fleury down a road of alcohol and drug abuse. Fleury went from toast of the town as the fiery little guy who lead Calgary to its only Stanley Cup title in 1988 to burning through $50 million in drugs, strippers and whores by the time he retired.

Since Kennedy’s public accusation of James, Canadian junior hockey coaches’ image has become the equivalent of the American Catholic priest — an all-powerful figure, particularly for troubled boys, who used that power to commit unspeakable acts that finally could be unspoken no more. Like the good Catholic priest, the good Canadian junior hockey coach is unfairly under more suspicion because of sins committed by others. No matter, though. The lesson, as always, is that no parent can blindly turn their child over to another adult authority with the message that you do what that person says — and we won’t believe a bad word you say.

After all, James hasn’t been the only case where a Canadian junior hockey coach has gone to trial over sexual crimes. In November 2008, an Ontario court acquitted former junior coach and player agent David Frost of sexual exploitation of minors, but the stories told of Frost-led sexcapades involving players led the judge in the case to call such goings-on at the junior level “a dark and very unhealthy side of hockey.”

Hopefully the book and the admission will set Fleury pack on the right path. As Kennedy could tell him, given some of his own slip-ups between 1996 and now, it won’t be easy.

By the way, what of James? He hasn’t commented on Fleury’s accusation. Last anyone heard, aAfter prison he left Canada for Europe — where he coached youth hockey. The Calgary Sun reports that James is now believed to be living outside of Montreal. It also said that after his conviction, James told the paper, when it asked if there were any more victims, that he “loved many people.”

Crime and the NHL draft, the aftermath part I

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The other day I wrote about a player in the mix for the NHL draft who is awaiting a July 6 sentencing in Ontario on a manslaughter charge. The player, who can’t be named under Canada’s juvenile court laws, was found to have thrown an opposing high school rugby player onto his head after a match, pinching his spinal cord. The injured player died a few days later.

I haven’t given the player’s name, though it’s easily available to find through a search. However, I will say the player whose name popped up did get drafted — by the New York Islanders. The Islanders beat reporters haven’t picked up anything on this yet, understandable because the focus is on John Tavares, the team’s first pick and the No. 1 pick overall. However, I would expect that after the sentencing, the New York papers are likely to be all over this. Hence, why this post is the aftermath, part I.

Written by rkcookjr

June 27, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Crime and the NHL draft

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Scouts are buzzing about a particular second-year Ontario Hockey League player, putting the 18-year-old in the top 100 North American players available for the NHL draft Friday. Mike Brophy of Sportsnet.ca got one prominent talent evaluator on the record:

“I like him,” said E.J. McGuire, the head of NHL Central Scouting. “There are nights when he controls the game and then there are other nights you watch him and you say to yourself, ‘Come on kid, grab the puck and go with it.’ He has (Patrick) Kane-like skill and size isn’t an issue, but he needs to work on his consistency. Maybe that will come with time and maturity. [Editor’s note: Kane was the No. 1 pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2007 NHL draft.]

“You worry about what happened hanging over his head and wonder how big that dark cloud is. On the other hand, with what he has had to deal with, maybe it will make him more resilient. Jeremy Roenick said one of the San Jose Sharks‘ problems was they didn’t hit any big bumps in the road this season and when they lost a couple of games in the playoffs they weren’t prepared to handle adversity. This kid has handled adversity. “

The adversity? His manslaughter conviction in May for killing an opponent after a high school rugby game.

The player, now 18, picked up 15-year-old Manny Castillo and slammed him on his head after a 2007 game, pinching his spinal cord. Castillo died two days after the incident.

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The judge in the case called the play a “sucker tackle” and rejected the defense’s contention that no crime was committed because a player takes a risk of injury any time he or she steps onto a field. From the (Toronto) Globe and Mail:

“The playing field is not a criminal law-free zone,” Judge [Bruce] Duncan said. “The laws of the land apply in the same way as they do elsewhere … There was no justification in self defence. Accordingly, the defendant committed an assault, an unlawful act. That unlawful act caused death.”

“The force applied by the defendant was not within the rules of the game …” the judge said. “… dangerous play inside or outside of the rules is not acceptable … The defendant intentionally applied force that was outside the rules of the game or any standard by which the game is played. Manny did not explicitly consent to that force, and I am satisfied beyond any doubt that no such consent can be implied.”

(Marty McSorley and Todd Bertuzzi can tell you Canadian authorities are not afraid to prosecute overly violent behavior in sports.)

The offending player is not being identified because under Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act, it would violate the law to do so. Not for me, because I’m in the United States. However, I’ll refrain from identifying the player, even though it doesn’t take a lot of searching to figure out his name. I don’t want to risk that I, and people on message boards who have identified him, are wrong.

I wouldn’t blame you for finding it sickening that NHL talent evaluators and the player’s seem to be finding ways to, if not excuse what happened, do a little too much to bury it in the past. From Brophy’s story:

The young man does not plan to attend the NHL draft, which will be held June 26-27 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Those who know him well believe he has a promising future as a pro hockey player.

“First and foremost he’s a terrific young man; a kid who made a mistake,” his coach said. “He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s not an angry kid; not a kid on the edge. He’s an unbelievable young man.

“As an underage player two years ago he was unbelievable. Last year I think his situation got the better of him and he had a bit of an off year. He was also injured and missed considerable time. But I will say he’s the kind of kid who, even when he was injured, sat in the stands for every practice and encouraged his teammates. And he was always there to help them tape their sticks or lace their skates, too.”

“He is very skilled and ultra-competitive,” Dallas Stars scout Jim Johnston said. “He is a deceptive skater who sees the ice very well. He had an excellent playoff this year so many believe that will help him in the draft.”

“If this hadn’t happened I think he’d be ranked in the first or second round,” the general manager of another major junior team said.

The player’s agent said his client is doing his best to pick up the pieces of his life, but is remorseful about what happened and added, “not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about the other boy.”

His agent added: “He is a very approachable young man and is considered a wonderful role model to younger children. He is a winner.”

Brophy himself notes that “even Manny Castillo’s family didn’t want him charged on the grounds that ruining another boy’s life only added to the damage suffered by their son.” However, that is in dispute — one uncle said that’s what the family wanted, while another uncle read a statement outside Castillo’s funeral saying that was certainly not the case.

The question always arises in these cases: should a player with such a history be allowed to play pro sports? The NHL suspended McSorley and Bertuzzi for violent acts on-ice; the NFL just suspended Donte Stallworth upon his DUI manslaughter conviction. The difference between this unnamed youth and these players is that the youth is, well, a youth, and that he did nothing while in the employ of a league. Pro sports leagues are like any other employer — if you’re good enough and your problems don’t overshadow the organization, there will be a place for you.

However, I’m sure that once this player is drafted, the controversy is going to swirl. The team that takes him better have a PR offensive ready, because there are going to be people upset. However, that doesn’t seem to be the main reason his draft value isn’ t as high as it otherwise would be. The main reason is that the player is going to be sentenced July 6 — after the draft. A team doesn’t like the idea of wasting a draft pick on a player who might not be available for a few years.

Written by rkcookjr

June 25, 2009 at 3:10 pm