Did we really believe?
When USA Hockey first announced the National Team Development Program back in 1996, I was a bit skeptical, and there were many of us in that same mindset. Maybe it was the constant jabs, from the Canadian side of the family, that even brought a bit of shame for what USA Hockey was trying to do.
“That’s never going to work,” said one Alberta born uncle (pinnacle of his career was 16 games in a Senior A level league). “There’s only one way to develop great hockey players, and that’s our way.” Five World Junior and ten U18 championships later, it looks like USA Hockey is on to something. The real question is this, when will the rest of the hockey world take the same approach?
Major junior’s David Branch would jump off a bridge before entertaining the idea of a similar program operating in Canada. Unless he was given the keys and allowed to run it his way. The Canadian Hockey League could certainly profit from having the Red & White National Development Teams visiting every market once a year, while also giving each CHL team an annual pilgrimage to Toronto.
The real question is this. Why are we not taking the concept a step down to USA Hockey’s youth levels? The North American Hockey League could easily operate the under-15 & 16 teams within the structure of their organization. Let the 16s play within the NAHL while the 15s battle within the NA3HL. The teams would have to be self-sufficient (pay-to-play) but would certainly be an opportunity few families would pass on.
I’ve always been an advocate for younger prospects enhancing development at elevated levels of the game. The biggest hurdle for jumps to the junior levels has not been what’s happening on the ice; it’s been exposure to the behavior of the boys off of it. As a game, if we all took some responsibility and called a lot of those behaviors into question, parents of younger prospects would not be so hesitant to making the jump.
Thinking outside of the box is exactly what is needed to keep the game moving into the right direction.
What is that old uncle doing now? He’s still on the farm and still moving grain. “Writing about junior hockey is not a real job,” he said to me back in 2008. “That’s never going to work.”
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