It has been said it before and I will say it again; the point of junior hockey is to raise each player's individual level of skill in preparation for college or professional hockey.
We have seen way too many players actually lower their level of play over the course of their junior careers. That happens when less time is being spent improving their game or continuing to compete at a level of play that is below their level of skill.
I am going to use National Hockey League veteran Scott Gomez as an example here. Gomez made a mockery out of Alaska High School hockey back in the 90's. He left Alaska for a season with the British Columbia Hockey League's Surrey Eagles where he again tore up the league. The next two seasons were spent with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League before joining the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000.
Gomez was a phenomenal player for both East Anchorage High School and the Alaska All-Stars Midget team that captured the 1996 USA Hockey National Championship. But the fact is, he should never have been there, his level of skill was much higher than the level of play. Gomez rewrote the record book during his last season before going to junior hockey. What could he have done in the United States Hockey League that season instead of staying home in Alaska?
I can't help but believe that his individual level of play would have been enhanced by playing under a coach like Mike Hastings who was in Omaha and very interested in Gomez. Nothing against the coaches in Alaska, but midget and high school hockey is no comparison to the USHL.
We see it all the time; players get comfortable at a certain level and that ends up being the peak of their career. Maybe there's a girl involved, a job, or they sometimes just fall in love with the community.
For Gomez, that last season was a tremendous amount of fun, and really the last chance to play with his boys. That was a talented group of players (on both teams) that his presence made all but invincible.
The problem is this; yes it was a ton of fun (and enjoyable to witness!), but the development was the equivalent of putting a running Ferrari up on blocks until it runs out of gas. Yes, its a lot of impressive noise, but it didn't go anywhere.
The NHL veteran played nearly 1,100 games, so I am not going to second guess his overall development; I am just saying that there is no room in any hockey career for a lost season of development.
We see a lot of this happening today; prospects get way to comfortable while finding pleasure earning one of the coveted back seats on the bus. Veterans get benefits. The problem is that they also get left behind.
"Once the prospect gets to juniors, he should be playing at the highest level possible with quality ice time," JuniorHockey.com Discussion Group's Patrick Price said Thursday. "Anything else is a waste of time."
Players have to strive to get better and do whatever it takes to get better on the ice, in the classroom, and between the ears. This is YOUR time to make the adjustments needed to climb the next rung up the ladder.