While any changes to the AAA hockey program won’t be known until 2019, Jack Lee, president of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL), got what he was looking for.
During its AGM Sept. 14, HNL held a public session and called for feedback from some 150 minor hockey delegates to hear the concerns in delivering AAA hockey programs for male and female players in the 11-17 age groups.
The program was originally established to provide high-skill players the chance to play the best in their respective categories, but because of geographic challenges and declining populations, many felt the programs aren’t living up to their potential – and enrollment is declining as a result.
While Lee called the session informative, he said HNL has been familiar with the concerns for some time, as it was the subject of a 2015 consultant’s report.
“We knew at that time, in the future, which is now, that we would have challenges in certain parts of the province in having enough people to play because the population wouldn’t be growing,” he said.
The outcome of the report wasn’t a high priority issue for HNL at the time.
“It’s not that we ignored it, we couldn’t get the minor hockey association to buy into it,” he said. “One of the recommendations was to merge associations together for one council, which is happening now … but when we brought the recommendation forward (originally), associations didn’t like the idea.
“For us moving forward, the report is going to implement itself because it’s starting to play out in real life.”
A broad spectrum of topics was covered throughout the more than two-hour session.
While the HNL highlighted its own concerns – from qualified coaches to demographics – the biggest issue raised was parity between the AAA league teams.
Jack Brenton, with Marystown Minor Hockey, summed up the thoughts of many in attendance.
“We have to sit back as a group and ask, are we in this for the majority of the population, or are we in this as a whole for minor hockey in the province?”
Having to travel from his region to attend a AAA practice or game requires three hours of travel each way, resulting in overnight stays or long hours driving.
This, Brenton said, takes away from family, friends, school and other important events.
He feels it dissuades hockey players and parents from taking part in AAA programs.
“What everybody here has neglected to see is the social aspect,” he said.
Brenton said it’s hard to see that impact because while it’s a very real issue throughout the province, the Avalon has quick access to rinks and a much larger selection of skilled players.
Because of this, he said, equality between teams can never exist in the province.
“We have to sit back as a group and ask, are we in this for the majority of the population, or are we in this as a whole for minor hockey in the province?” he said.
Gander resident Rod Feltham agreed there are parity issues in the province.
He circled around to an earlier comment in the session about opening AAA programs to a draft selection process. This would ensure the requirements of all would be presented in a fairer format.
“I think over time, with the discussions we are engaged in, you will see a little more parity. But at the end of the day, we can’t stop the fact that there are 200,000 people in the St. John’s and surrounding area, and there aren’t that many in central, western and other areas.”
-Jack Lee, president of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador
“The people from St. John’s aren’t going to like me for saying this, but they are going to have to open their wallets and travel,” he said. “In St. John’s, half hour you’re at six different stadiums … but we spend more time and more money in practice than the people in St. John’s spend all year travelling for tournaments.”
Furthermore, Feltham said, the draft process would allow for rounded-out teams.
“If you really want the best to play the best, let’s get a league where there’s parity on all teams,” he said.
Lee agreed that beyond the overpass there are challenges, but was unsure if a draft system is the answer.
Without going into HNL’s plans, he said, “I think over time, with the discussions we are engaged in, you will see a little more parity.
“But at the end of the day, we can’t stop the fact that there are 200,000 people in the St. John’s and surrounding area, and there aren’t that many in central, western and other areas.”
HNL has stated opinions expressed during the session have been documented and any changes to AAA programming will be announced during the 2019 annual general meeting.
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