As I found myself
suckered into a no-win conversation the other day regarding Tier III junior
hockey, really my own fault, several things began to occur to me; some I’ve
thought about for years and some that perhaps I had not prior.
I have long
been a player advocate. No matter where I’ve found myself coaching or what age
group, my players came before anything else, including my own career. I have
been fortunate, yes fortunate, to be able to coach at the Tier III junior level
going into my seventh season now and coaching youth hockey overall over 20
But no level
I’ve coached at has had the same level of scrutiny, debate or negativity of
Tier III juniors. So, as I found myself going back and forth on a forum the
other day arguing about the comparison of leagues, something kind of snapped
with me and I found myself getting as upset about this whole Tier III debate as
I have in many years.
with this, stop comparing leagues. It is, without question, the #1 question I
get from players and parents during the recruiting season.
your league compare to ‘insert league here’?”
is always that I refuse to compare leagues because there is not tried and true
answer to that question. Every league, EVERY LEAGUE, has positives and
negatives. Every league has quality programs and not so quality programs. Every
league has high-character coaches/operators and shady coaches/operators.
I have had
the fortune, yup said it again, to have coached in the WSHL, MnJHL (RIP), USPHL
and now NA3HL, so I’ve seen what each league has to offer, good and bad (have
worked for both in fact). I also have very good friends who currently coach in
all those leagues, plus the EHL and the upper-echelon leagues of the NAHL, BCHL
There is no cookie-cutter
approach to finding the right Tier III home for your son. I wish there was, my
life and the lives of my colleagues would be so much easier.
There is no
tougher time of year for hockey families looking at junior hockey than right
now. And here’s a newsflash, there is also NO tougher time of year for junior
hockey coaches than RIGHT NOW. Recruiting season over the past 5-7 years has become
a massive meat-market and the negative recruiting has put a dark cloud over
Tier III hockey that some just won’t except will ever change.
With over 200
Tier III teams, you heard that right over 200, it’s a question of numbers now
more than ever. I can’t give you the exact number of teams currently as that number
seems to fluctuate by the day. Too many teams in Tier III juniors is something
EVERYONE agrees on and yet little to nothing is being done about it.
I’ve been one
of those who don’t see a change on the horizon, but deep down there is still a
slight bit of optimism that someone in power can make the changes needed.
If that’s you,
please step up!
of the negativity. Because as I continued with the conversation with the
gentleman on the forum the other day and whether he realized it or not, I think
not, we actually agreed on most things save for the league comparison issue, I
was reminded as to why Tier III junior hockey is still important.
Some of you
out there forget, it’s about the kids. It’s not about the adults in the room.
It’s not about me as a coach and GM, it’s not about owners or commissioners,
etc. These kids are what makes this all work and their passion to fulfill their
And it’s what
makes junior hockey at ANY level, fun.
nothing that makes me happier than seeing a player’s face or getting a phone
call from a player saying, “hey coach, guess what, I made the team!” or “hey coach
I graduated!” I had a few of those calls just this past month in fact and it’s
a reminder on those awful days of recruiting why we love what we do and do what
me to my final point and whether that gentleman on the forum meant to or not,
based on some of his comments I started to get the idea that he felt I should
feel ashamed to be coaching at this level.
I am not ashamed;
I am proud to coach at this level and proud to have coached in all those
Are there hard
days? LOTS, especially this time of year.
success stories with these young men, whether that’s hockey-related or more
importantly life-related make all those tough days worthwhile.
“For me success
as a coach is defined by how many graduations and weddings I’m invited to by
former players not by wins and losses,” now that wasn’t quoted verbatim. Try as
I might I just couldn’t find the original quote or who said it, but the
sentiment is what I live by as a junior hockey coach (maybe someone out there can
help me find the original quote).
Sure, I made
a lot of this about me, which is ironic considering what I said just about six
paragraphs ago, but as I’ve talked to my buddies around the coaching world and
discussed the state of affairs right now, I was reminded as to why we do this.
writing this I talked to a great friend of mine (who happens to coach in the
USPHL by the way, don’t tell anyone, I don’t think our leagues are supposed to
mingle, haha) about wanting to sit down and write this, but didn’t know if I
should and he said absolutely I should.
was making this too personal but having talked to so many of my coaching
buddies, this is about all of us and more importantly about the kids and how,
at the end of the day, all the negativity effects them more than any of us. We
can be stressed, we can be frustrated, but these kids are just starting their
hockey and collegiate lives. It’s up to us to provide the positive platform,
whatever level of juniors that might be, to help them continue to chase that
I implore all
of us, coaches, general managers, owners, commissioners, etc to remember why we
are here and if we see the negativity and bad situations around us, either try
and help solve the problem or do what we can to rid Tier III of the problem.
We can all be
better. It’s more than a game.