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DAILY DISH: My USA Hockey Wish List Junior Hockey News

Published: Tuesday, 17 May 2016  
By: Stephen Heisler,

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 bargain.

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.

Author: Stephen Heisler from
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.

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