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Cold Hard Rants

A Junior League with a Major Problem

Last week, when Theoren Fleury confirmed what was widely suspected, that he had been victimized by the pervert Graham James, the typical gnashing of teeth was almost immediately underway by the various punditries prevalent in today’s media. While I tended to agree with what most of the commentators had to say, what I found particularly galling was that there was an absence of voices calling for an overhaul to Tier One Junior A hockey, better known as the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). That ends here.

As a country that is so singularly fanatic about our hockey, it is only natural and appropriate that there be a hockey league whose sole purpose is to nurture and develop the next generation of hockey players. However, the need for this developmental league needs to be balanced against the developmental needs of maturing teenagers, of the young players it relies on. Currently, the CHL accepts players between the ages of sixteen and twenty. Each team also plays a minimum of sixty eight games, not including playoffs. When you are playing that many games, and when you factor in the long hours of travel often involved moving from one small town to another, something has to give. Unfortunately, when your sole purpose for doing all this travelling is to play hockey, the sacrifice you make is usually school work and assorted other “coming of age” moments the typical teenager experiences, and eventually cherishes. It is a sad state of affairs that the coming of age moments involving junior hockey often refer to players’ first group sex experience.

With the legal age of consent eighteen, I begrudgingly admit nothing can be done, or should be done regarding players who have reached that threshold. They are, in the eyes of the law free to mortgage their future in the hopes of achieving a professional hockey career to their heart’s content. It is the sixteen and seventeen year olds who demand attention at this crucial juncture. In the case of Theoren Fleury, he went to Winnipeg with Graham James leaving behind him what could charitably be described as a dysfunctional family, with an alcoholic father and a mother in a prescription-drug induced haze. He had the weight of his family’s future upon his shoulders, so it’s no wonder he was susceptible to the evil that Graham James inflicted upon him. While the horrors that Theoren Fleury faced occur in only the smallest of cases, you cannot tell me that junior hockey players who are sixteen and seventeen are getting the appropriate nurture that they require to develop into well rounded mature adults.

Unfortunately, as with most difficult situations, there are no easy answers. However, that fact doesn’t excuse us from doing nothing to rectify this situation. To begin with, a reduced hockey season and some increased mechanism of supervision on a team-by-team basis is a must. This person must be from an outside agency/organisation, which have the skill and expertise to properly a monitor a situation of this nature. When dealing with issues of minors, respective Child and Family Services agencies must take a more active role, as they do in all other avenues involving youth at risk. It cannot be a rooster watching the hen house situation. It must not be. We cannot have more Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy situations emerge now that our eyes are wide open. Junior hockey must change.

For Illegal Curve, I am Drew Mindell.

Do you think anything should be done regarding junior hockey or is it all hunky-dory? Please join the discussion below. Your comments are always welcome.

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