On Kane and Crazy

by Ryan

Please read this before the Buffalo News’ archives sucks it out of the Internet forever. Don’t think about who wrote it, just consider the message it is sending out and the player giving the quotes. I know most people rarely like what Bucky Gleason has to say, but this one’s an interesting example of his work.

When you are dealing with a niche sport, the marketing buzzwords change completely. Hockey is one of those niche sports, and it’s clear that the NHL is no longer a part of the “Big Four” leagues. There is the Big Three (NFL, MLB, NBA) and then there is hockey, stuck in the middle of the sports that matter to almost everyone and the sports that matter to individual markets. The NHL matters in lots of markets and Canada, and that’s what puts it in between.

Anyway, one big buzzword with the NHL is “youth hockey”, and that’s why what Bucky is saying here is important. The thesis of his article is “calm the f#$k down, people”, and I admit he makes a good case for it. However, I think there is something to be said for the other side of the argument, which he seems to ignore. Let’s take what he says about youth hockey parents:

Are you one of them? Hockey parents for years have had a reputation for being over the top, but it appears to be getting worse. For all the good Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane brought to the region over the past two years, his success could very well be the worst thing to happen to a growing population of parents who think Little Johnny is the next one.

I’m not trying to squash the dreams of kids, who should pursue their goals so long as they’re enjoying the game. This is for parents who believe they serve breakfast to future Division I players or NHL prospects without having a clue what it takes to get there.

Exactly. Bucky’s main point is that hockey parents go way too far in pushing their kids. This is true of almost every youth sports parent, but with hockey it seems especially evident. There isn’t much research behind this, but it may have something to do with the temperature of rinks and the sticker shock of a Synergy. That’s a volatile combination, especially when your child is playing the team that takes more hacks than Adam Dunn.

Here’s where Bucky starts to lose track: the numbers.

Here’s an invitation to reality. Twenty-two players from Western New York are playing Division I hockey. It appears to be an impressive number, but is it?

It’s less than 1.5 percent, three of every 200. Basically, your kid needs to be one of the top players in his age group across the entire region to play D-I, assuming you didn’t suffocate his passion before high school. By the way, of the 22, many were given only partial scholarships, some none at all.

You think Little Johnny is going pro? Think again. High school players alone are in the minority, and less than one in 300 will be drafted by an NHL team. More than 200 players are selected every year in the draft, but only about 40 will ever reach the NHL.

All of the above is true. However, we’re already talked about some pretty impressive numbers when it comes to NHL talent coming from New York. Let’s go back to Mirtle’s original post here.

The rest are mainly from good ol’ Western New York, where the Sabres have made quite an impact and are a big, big part of the sporting landscape. Buffalonians in the NHL? Patrick Kane. Lee Stempniak. Todd Marchant, Patrick Kaleta and Nick Foligno.

Add in this stretch between Buffalo and Utica, and you’ve got a few more from the pipeline. Players from this 200-mile I-90 corridor (which I realize stretches outside of WNY) also include Robbie Schremp, Marty Reasoner, Jay Leach, Brian Gionta, Tim Connolly, Erik Cole, Ryan Callahan and Dustin Brown.

These days, there is a ton of high school hockey being played throughout New York, a relatively new development. Steve Manson, editor of the Western New York Hockey Magazine, recently called the state “the biggest and best kept secret in USA Hockey.”

Some credit the fact there are a lot of former Sabres settled in the area, working as coaches, while others point to the success of minor-league hockey in Binghamton, Syracuse, Rochester, etc.

Twenty years ago, New York born players made up just 4 per cent of the U.S. population in the NHL, and last season, that number hit 15 per cent.

This isn’t pitting the two sets of statistics up against each other, but rather looking at it from the other side. The few players that do make it to the NHL from Western New York is still a significant amount in the bigger picture, and each player that does make it is a marketing dream for the Sabres. Other than divisional games, which home games get more interest than games against teams with former players and homecomings for local boys?

Factor in those games with the “youth hockey” push and you have a bustling hockey market. Youth hockey has been cited as a big reason hockey works in Dallas. How much did we hear about youth hockey during All Star weekend in Dallas two years ago, and how often do we hear it cited as a reason hockey is struggling in Florida? Getting kids involved in a niche sport is something we hear about constantly, and while it may not always work for soccer, it seems to be a bit more effective for hockey. Getting kids on the ice instead of a basketball court means they grow up idolizing Derek Roy over LeBron, and makes them a hockey fan for life.

Rivet’s comments are spot on, the game should be about having fun. For everyone involved, hockey should be fun. It’s why I watch, and although I’ve never seriously played hockey I love playing pickup or even just the occasional skate. When I was little there was nothing I looked forward to more than turning on Empire at seven to watch the Sabres play. It was my way of getting involved in the game, but for some it takes playing it themselves.

I understand what Gleason is trying to say through the numbers and Rivet’s comments, but I think he’s missing the point of youth hockey just as much as some hockey parents do. There will always be people who take things too far, and every few months we hear of parents wreaking havoc down at the local rink; but that doesn’t outweigh the inherent good that youth hockey brings. For every parent that thinks their son or daughter is the next Thomas Vanek there are teams full of kids who just want to pretend to be him, if only for a few minutes.

For decades there have been overbearing parents trying to make their children superstars. I’m sure Little Suzy Saxophone’s parents aren’t worried about fun, either; and Bobby Basketball probably wants to see his friends, too. These parents aren’t going anywhere, and if they won’t listen to their own children when they ask for ice cream they certainly won’t listen to you preach.

It’s a solid article, but if these people really are crazy, what makes you think they are going to change? What’s the definition of insanity again? Right.

3 Comments

  1. bucky

    It’s the same with any youth activity, and always has been.. it’s just that now hockey has become more “mainstream” I guess you could say.. and Gleason running with a buzzword to make an article that’d get people talking. My own son who is almost 5 and takes part in a learn to skate right now, it’s crazy seeing parents yell at 4yr olds who are cold.. hungry.. aren’t holding the stick right.. so even if the article gets through to a few people it’d be ok.

    ps… my nickname isn’t based on Gleasons name.

  2. dani

    I almost linked to this article today and actually really liked it because its so right on. Watching my brothers hockey… I’m talking just in his HOUSE league, parents are rude. I’m staring at them like calm down mama crazy they’re just kids. Like Rivet said, they’re not all going to make it to the NHL. My parents are good about that stuff but I thinks its only because my brother is embarrassed by them…

    I blame it on the Starbucks. Coffee accessorizing maniacs!

  3. Motto

    Why do you use Buffalo to Utica?

    Utica is about 200 miles East. Might as well go the rest of the way to NYC if youre gonna do that.

    btw, Utica is mainly Rangers country. Thank god.