With USA Hockey’s
Annual Congress coming up in a few weeks (June 8-11, Colorado Springs) I have
been building a wish list of changes I’d like to see the Junior Council
consider for future legislation.
It’s no secret that I’ve
always been an advocate for the players so what I’m about to say should not
come as a surprise. With that said, I also feel that coaches deserve some level
of the same type of protections as well.
1- Player Agreements have a tendency to be
completely one-sided. It’s
frustrating to see that many tier III teams will say just about anything to entice
players into signing binding agreements. The problem with the system is that
teams can sign 50 players despite only having 25 roster spots. Players deciding
to seek opportunities at the Tier I or II levels are still on the hook for up
to 50% of the player fee. Player agreements should not go into effect until the
first time the player actually plays in a game. This would give players ample
opportunity to see first-hand if the team is the right situation for them. A
card system may also be the way to keep teams from abusing the system by
limiting the number of players that can be signed for each team.
2- Tuition Refund policy as written are
also heavily slanted towards the teams. Unfortunately, there is very limited
recourse for players that are stuck in hopeless situations. Players are being
held to the fire while teams are able to short change their customers when it
comes to playing time, amenities, and even what was supposed to be provided by
team per the player agreement. Pay-to-play operators should be forced to dress
and play each healthy skater in a minimum of 75% of games (50% for goalies).
3- Teams with too few players are becoming
an epidemic. There should also be legislation in place for players to get out of
agreements when certain roster parameters have not been met. It’s simply not
safe to play a junior game with less than ten skaters and a backup goalie. Players
stuck on teams with less than 14 players on a roster should be able to obtain
an outright release.
4- Tier Standards are in place for what
reason? There is an expectation that USA Hockey will make sure minimum
standards are being maintained. We are hearing about situations where Tier II
teams (Kenai River), are making players pay ridicules fines, refusing to provide adequate sticks and sometimes
even meals on the road. Then there are Tier III teams that have simply
overlooked the concept of safe transportation, road hotels, and safety
requirements. I would volunteer to serve as the Standards Compliance Officer
for USA Hockey…because somebody has to do it.
5- Coaches are employees if their services
are exclusive. Coaches should all have standard employment agreements that are
approved by USA Hockey. Teams that try to file 1099 tax forms for coaches as
contractors should be removed from the level of play. Operations that can’t
afford to properly process payroll taxes should get into another field of
business. Teams that refuse to honor their end of the coach’s employment
agreement should be forced from the level of play. These guys have families to
feed too. I’m dead tired of hearing about bogus operators putting pressure on
coaches to “sign anybody” if they want to get paid. What a pile of crap.
6- Cash Deposits or Performance Bonds
might be an excellent way to keep some of the riff raff out of the game. I can’t
be the only one sick of hearing about teams that can’t pay fees or
continue to fall short on the budgets. There are two really good reasons why
any business can’t attract enough customers. The business is undercapitalized
and does not have the inability to deliver promised value. There is nothing
like a $150,000 deposit or bond to inspire operators to keep up their end of the
It’s time for the players to have a strong and representative presence
at these meetings. This is why we have committed to making our presence known
at each. We are there for all of you.
This wishlist is a good start but I would love to hear some of your
ideas as well!
Stephen Heisler has
spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Now semi-retired and working with
individual teams, coaches, and players as a consultant, he spends most of his
time in Florida with his family.
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