Atlantic Canada has produced some of the best hockey players in the world, but why is this region still a year behind the developmental curve?
Some QMJHL scouts and even NHL scouts have gone on record saying kids from the Atlantic Provinces are a half to a full year behind the rest of their peers stepping into the Q or the CHL.
That’s a massive problem that doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
I don’t have all the answers, a matter of fact my prime objective when coaching provincial teams back in the day was developing kids for the next level.
I was a firm believer that the winning would always take care of itself.
It would appear winning banners have clouded people’s philosophies on player development in the Atlantic Provinces.
What about population density or distribution?
What about the boundaries?
If we change the boundaries around that might help?
Of course it would help, but it would appear that would rock the boat too much or go against what the “board” would say.
We can ask questions until we are blue in the face, but the only questions that we should be trying to answer is why?
Why are kids from this region struggling at the next level?
Why are they a six to twelve months behind their peers?
Why are some leagues and organizations producing more players while some aren’t?
Why do some players and their families choose to leave the region to further their careers?
That’s an easy one they believe it’s the best opportunity for their son or daughter to develop.
It’s just that plain and simple.
Why must we constantly criticize families for making that choice?
It’s their decision to make not ours.
You see it all boils down to opportunity and development.
For all those stats people out there, which province in Atlantic Canada have produced the most players recently playing in the QMJHL or abroad?
Drum roll please, we don’t need one, it’s Nova Scotia.
Oh what about their population?
What about per capita?
Prince Edward Island continues to produce some great hockey players and the same can be said about all of the other provinces.
Nevertheless, when it boils right down to it why is Nova Scotia pumping out more players?
Is it coaching?
Is it developmental opportunities in the spring or summer months?
Is it the competition?
I don’t have the exact numbers, but I’ve seen some numbers based on organizational developmental proficiency.
Nova Scotia’s numbers are higher.
Obviously young players have been leaving the Rock for as long as I can remember.
It’s a sad reality that seemingly all the great young talent in NFLD have to leave their homes in order to pursue their hockey dreams.
In my time it was Terry Ryan.
I played against Ryan in Atlantics in Pee Wee AAA. He was dominant.
He was the best player I ever played against in my life.
Donald MacLean was a very close second.
I also played against Colin White and Jon Sim that same year.
Atlantic Canada is known for producing some outstanding talent and it continues to produce elite level players like Jared McIsaac, Drake Batherson, Alex Newhook, Jordan Spence, Dawson Mercer, Lukas Cormier and of course Noah Dobson.
Nonetheless, what could we be doing better to produce more players?
Every year we hear the player’s names and organizations they played for being called in the QMJHL and Junior A draft, but we don’t see all the hard work and dedication it takes these athletes to get to that point in their career.
We don’t see the sacrifices those players and their families have made.
There’s enough outstanding hockey minds in this region to develop great players.
There are tons of facilities.
There are a ton of developmental programs being offered in all four provinces.
However, one major hurdle in this region could be the financial barrier confronting some families.
Providing a level playing field for everyone is sadly difficult to achieve.
What about tradition?
Could that be holding this region back?
Is Atlantic Canada too stubborn? Are we too set to in our ways?
Have specific organizations across the region developed their own identity and are so focused on preserving their reputation that development takes a back seat to winning?
Everyone wants to be a winner, but what about truly developing kids?
What about trying to graduate as many kids to the next level as possible?
Perhaps the “funnel of development” as one hockey lifer described to me recently is getting to narrow to soon.
Based on sheer numbers alone, Nova Scotia has done a fantastic job creating a U-18 Minor system that is seeing a plethora of young talent getting drafted out of that league every season.
This also brings us back to boundaries.
Would Nova Scotia’s U-18 programs be even better if they went back to a boundary system to draw from?
Would New Brunswick’s Major U-18 programs be better if perhaps the Northern and Southeastern part of the province amalgamated to form two teams?
Is their enough players to create two teams in the Moncton region?
Obviously sheer participation numbers certainly dictate the number of programs being offered, but that doesn’t answer the developmental questions and concerns surrounding this region.
If all the hockey minds are in place, all the extracurricular programs are full, then why aren’t we producing more players?
Why are we still being left behind?
We can’t be content and settle for being this far behind the curve. We have to collectively work together to build stronger developmental programs throughout each level throughout the hockey season, not just within the spring and summer months.
We have to accept and understand why players leave, not hold that against them if and when they return.
We have to change the focus from winning at all cost to developing at all cost.
We can’t make empty promises to players in minor programs saying they are going to get a fair shake the following season and break those promises or tell them that they are going to get a chance to practice and play as an affiliate and call up Bantam aged kids instead.
That’s not development, that’s lying.
Every province needs to start sharing its developmental programs that’s the only way we can get caught up.
Share the good, the bad and ugly. Sharing is growing. Sharing is learning.
If we are going to close the gap we need all four provinces pulling together.
Let’s face it, if something doesn’t change soon the gap will become insurmountable.
At the end of the day by not properly developing players we are failing them and the game.
We need to get coaches to buy into teaching awareness, in game scenarios, the why, the where and thinking the game, not just systematic play.
We need more qualified coaches at the grassroots levels.
We need to rid the game of politics.
We need parents believing in the process, not stats and individual performance.
We need players from this this region to think the game, to skate like the wind, to be great teammates, because we all know what this region brings when it comes to character and the intangibles.
Now is the time to act.
Now is the time for change.
Now is the time for player development to take the lead.