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Canadian kids aren't so much into hockey, eh?

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Native Ontarian Jack Kent Cooke, who brought the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings to life in the 1960s, thought he would have a strong fan base because of the estimated 500,000 Canadians who lived in southern California. When the Kings continued to struggle at the gate in the 1970s, Cooke groused those Canadians moved to Los Angeles “because they obviously wanted to get away from hockey.”

Times have changed. Not that Canadians in Los Angeles are more into hockey. It’s that Canadians in Canada are less into hockey.

Yes, a shocking development from the Great White North. According to a study from a Canadian professor, young Canucks are losing interest in the NHL. What’s next, Canadian teens turning up their noses at poutine and backbacon?


Poutine: the answer to the question, why does Canada need universal health care?

The study, by University of Lethbridge (Alberta) sociology professor Reginald Bibby, actually looked at Canadians teens’ interest in all pro sports, and finds it waning in a big way because of three factors: an enormous explosion in the number of entertaiment opportunities, a growing number of teens whose families emigrated to Canada from non-hockey playing regions, and the ineptitude of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Really, he said that about the Leafs, who since their 1967 Stanley Cup victory have had the resources of the New York Yankees and the management acumen of the Los Angeles Clippers.)

The results for hockey would have Canadian chauvinist and sartorial disaster area Don Cherry rolling over in his grave, if the coach-turned-broadcaster were dead.

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Don Cherry still thinks Russian hockey sucks.

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. (Thus, the effect of the Leafs.) 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). Programs such as Punjabi Sports have popped up in Canada to sate recent immigrants’ taste for coverage of such sports as kabaddi.

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The effort under way by Jim Balsillie, founder of Research in Motion, the makers of the Blackberry, to get a seventh NHL team in Canada is based on the idea that southern Ontario, his chosen locale, is full of hockey fans who would enthusiastically support the league. Bibby has a separate take: “These findings suggest the NHL needs to add teams in Canada in order that more Canadians – starting with young people – will fall in love with hockey.” (Emphasis is Bibby’s.)

This survey is interesting to me as a native Hoosier, what with Indiana rightly considered a place where basketball is practically in the DNA. Of couse, Indiana, whether it likes it or not, is subject to the same cultural trends as Canada, except that it’s the Indiana Pacers and Indiana University men’s basketball sucking instead of the Leafs.

In 2000, I drove my old high school buddy Mike Penn around Indiana as he reported a story for the Chicago Tribune about Indiana basketball tourism. One of the messages we got loud and clear was that Indiana high school basketball wasn’t what it used to be, and not just because the Indiana High School Athletic Association instituted class basketball in 1997.

In Anderson, the problem was that the demise of the auto industry had severed the connection between town and team, with the next generation no longer imbued in the necessity (or even around) to of fill a 9,000-seat gym, the nation’s second largest. (New Castle, Ind., is first, with 9,200 seats.) The coach said that every time he read the obituaries, there went another season-ticket holder.

In Huntingburg, Ind., a town of 5,500 with a 7,000-seat gym, a local sportswriter said the problem started with “girls’ basketball.” Beyond the crass sexism, his remark spoke to the fact that Indiana baskeball became big because it took hold in small, farm towns with nothing else to do. Once schools offered other sports and activities (heck, once cable television arrived), no longer was everything focused on boys’ basketball.

I would suspect that if Reginald Bibby polled the teens of Indiana, he might get similar results. A generation is growing up football fans, thanks to Peyton Manning, whose influence is so great he even has a children’s hospital named after him. High school basketball used to be a big deal only in Indiana, but now that so many are trying to track the top fifth-grader that someday might play for My Old U., it’s a bigger deal everywhere.

Plus, Indiana, for the first time since the Ku Klux Klan pulled the strings in the governor’s office in the 1920s (in an age where the Klan’s political influence was powerful nationwide), has had a major wave of immigration. More than 5,000 (and growing) Burmese refugees live in Fort Wayne, the highest concentration of such a population anywhere in the United States. Enough Latino immigrants have come to the state for a Mexican consulate to open in Indianapolis. Thanks to meatpacking operations and other industrial jobs, small cities like Logansport went from zero Hispanics in 1990 to having them represent more than 10 percent of the population 10 years later.

I’ve often wondered: would those new arrivals get involved in the basketball culture? Given this Canadian study, the answer appears to be, not likely.

Written by rkcookjr

August 9, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Business, Sports

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Crime and the NHL draft, the aftermath Part II

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The defendant, his attorneys and his family are certainly breathing a sigh of relief that the teenager convicted on manslaughter charges for killing a rugby opponent will not see a day in jail. Very likely, so are the New York Islanders.

The now 18-year-old defendant, 16 at the time of crime, got sentenced in Ontario to one year’s probation, 100 hours of community service and anger management counseling for the 2007 incident, in which he picked up Manny Castillo, 15, and slammed him on his head, pinching his spinal cord. Castillo died at a hospital a few days later. The sentence was what the attorney for the defense (or in Canada, the defence) had requested. From CTV:

The judge determined [the defendant]  “did not set out to commit a crime” but that his actions were the result of his “highly competitive instincts.”

“The tragic consequences went far beyond what could have been expected,” he said.

“In some cases, accountability is largely achieved by guilt and this is one of those cases,” he added. “I held him accountable when I found him guilty of manslaughter. It recognizes the harm done.”

Castillo’s family, in their victim’s statement, detailed how their lives have gone downhill since Manny’s death. His father said his wife and younger son cry themselves through sleepless nights, and that they can no longer celebrate special events. The only light is that five people have survived thanks to Manny’s organs.

Manuel Castillo did not comment on the sentence. But the Mexican immigrant took aim at Canada’s national sport outside the courtroom. He blamed hockey’s culture of fighting after the whistle for giving the defendant, an Ontario Hockey League major junior player, the idea that going after his son was OK. From the Toronto Star:

“This was not a hockey or rugby incident,” [Manuel Castillo] said outside of the courthouse. “It’s about some hockey coaches who don’t know how to teach kids.”

The defendant has never been identified, per Canada’s juvenile justice laws. But as I mentioned in previous posts about this case, it’s very easy to find the player’s name (and that the Islanders drafted him). Perhaps the judge is right that two or three years in custody, which the prosecution sought, would not do anyone any good. But prepare to barf in a few years if this player makes it to the NHL, and a gauzy story about him overcoming hardships airs during one of his games.

Written by rkcookjr

July 6, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Ain’t that a kick in the head

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If you’ve been watching the Detroit Red Wings-Chicago Blackhawks NHL Western Conference final series, your teeth might still be rattling over the hit Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall put on the Hawks’ Martin (or as everyone in Chicago calls him, Marty, because 90 percent of Chicago males are named either Marty or Mike) Havlat in game three. It’s why they coach hockey players to keep their heads up, lest you lose yours.

Havlat suffered a concussion (as far as we can guess, because the NHL won’t say). He was out cold for at least two minutes. And yet Chicago’s leading scorer suited up for game four. Concussion specialist Michael Czarnota, the neuropsychology consultant for the Canadian Hockey League, told he was “shocked” to see Havlat back.

But he shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s endemic in all levels of hockey, the sports Czarnota points to as having the most concussions, to have players come back after what is more than getting your bell rung — it’s a serious brain injury.

On May 27, three days after Havlat’s post-concussive return, a study by a Toronto physician found that youth coaches, parents and players knew little about concussions, including whether it is a good idea to return to the ice soon after having one. (The right answer: no.) Among the study’s findings, which I’ve taken from a press release:

Up to two-thirds of players had the mistaken impression that a player does not have to lose consciousness to have suffered a concussion. One quarter of adults and up to half of children could not identify any symptoms of a concussion or could name only one symptom of a concussion. About one-half of players and one-fifth of adults mistakenly believed concussions are treated with medication or physical therapy. About one-quarter of all players did not know if an athlete experiencing symptoms of a concussion should continue playing.

The study also found that in Canada, hockey players ages 5-17 “have about 2.8 concussions per 1,000 player-hours of ice hockey while university and elite amateur players sustain rates of 4.2 and 6.6 concussions per 1,000 player hours.”

The study was released only two weeks after Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill requiring any youth showing signs of a concussion to get clearance from a medical professional before playing again. That was inspired by Zackery Lystedt, who at 13 suffered a hard hit in a football game, went back in, and then was hit a second time and put into a coma for 30 days.

The Toronto study also was released the same day USA Today ran a story about former NHL star Keith Primeau pledging (along with 120 athletes) to donate his brain after his death to a medical study looking at chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That is a degenerative brain disease similar to Alzheimer’s, found in people who have had multiple concussions. Primeau warned of the risks of concussions — to the point he won’t let his kids play football:

Concussions can be very hard to detect since not everyone passes out. Nausea, blurry vision and confusion are other symptoms. Within the past several years, increased awareness about concussions and “post-concussion syndrome” has led most professional and college teams to start using computer-based programs that measure attention, memory, processing speed and reaction time to one-hundredth of a second.

It is too costly for most high schools and youth programs, where it could help coaches and trainers identify problems and sideline players. Concussions account for almost one in 10 sports injuries for people ages 15 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet nearly 41% of high school athletes return to action too soon after concussions.

Primeau endured a career of blows to his head but adds that he won’t forget one that knocked him out:

“I spent the night in the hospital, flew the next day and was back in the lineup that day. That was the beginning of my demise.”

He now knows resting — and not playing until the concussion is healed — can help prevent long-term damage. He has started to use tests to determine if his athletes have concussions and has made decisions to keep kids off the ice.

“I can tell when a child has suffered a concussion,” he says. “I do not put them back on the ice. I’ve told parents I’m not putting their child back in. And I’ve actually had instances where parents will want to go in a different direction and the kids will go out on the ice and get sick.”

And other times, players are not honest. That was true of Primeau’s oldest son, Correy, who plays club-level hockey for Neumann College in Aston, Pa., and respects his father’s concerns.

“I played once with a concussion last year,” Correy says. “I wouldn’t do it again. I had trouble afterward for about a week, but I just didn’t want to let my team down at the time.”

As for Martin Havlat, who left game four after eight minutes when he took another hard hit, other hockey players are saying he was crazy — and a bad influence — for suiting up again. From the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Under the NHL’s absurd don’t-ask/don’t-tell policy governing injury disclosure in the postseason, no one will say for sure if Havlat was concussed. So it was left for media voices to speculate. Speaking on The Fan 590 in Toronto, former NHL defenceman Jeff Beukeboom– whose career was ended by severe post-concussion symptoms– decried Havlat’s rapid return.

“I think it sets a very bad example for the kids,” said Beukeboom, who feels players will be vulnerable to coercion by teams if there’s the false impression of a quick remedy after a concussion.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie– whose son has battled post-concussion syndrome from a hockey incident– was vocal on both radio and TV questioning … Havlat rushing back into play.

“The seven-day rule is actually from when the athlete is symptom-free,” McKenzie [said]. “But if he has a headache for three days after being hit, he’s supposed to wait seven days from the time he was symptom-free, not from when he was hit in the head.

“All of this is aimed at protecting the brain, which doesn’t respond well to second impact. In fact, there’s a condition called, I think, second-impact syndrome. If a concussed athlete, say Havlat, goes back into game action when his brain is concussed, if the brain gets a second contact directly on the same part of the brain, death can be instantaneous.”

Expect the debate to continue in the media so long as the NHL remains in denial about head shots.