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It’s the start of the new school year and as usual the London Knights players of high school age have registered at Saunders Secondary School.

Here is my take on hockey. I know that my criticism of our Holy Grail, hockey, is not going to win me applause with most of the fans but before you penalize me, please consider the cost to our youth for pursuing a career in hockey.

Did you know that the Canadian Major Junior A Ice Hockey is the only sports league that drafts the majority of their players from the ranks of high school male teenagers? The vast majority of Canadian Football/National Football/Basketball professional teams recruit their prospects from college level players.

I spent six happy years counselling at Saunder’s Secondary School where the majority of the London Knights players who attend high school take their classes. They spoke to me of the reality of playing hockey in London. I remember asking a new arrival : “How he was doing?” He told for me to try to put myself in his shoes: “he was a seventeen year old from a small town who found himself away from home for the first time having to leave behind his parents, siblings, friends to attend a new school after being drafted by the Knights.

Long bus trips to Sudbury/Timmins are sure challenging with the players having to learn to catch a few nods on their way back home from a long hard bus trip. The regular Knight’s 2011/2012 season has a 68 game schedule with 35 road games away from London along with daily practices can take it’s toll.

The young OHL hockey players are like unto indentured servants who can be traded or cut like a deck of card by the coaches/ owners just before the mid term exams for the good of the team. Players are drafted with no choice of locations. Games are played during the week and on week-ends It is pretty hard to have good attendance and a meaningful education when you are supposed to balance your studies and play hockey.

The media have created a false pyramid scheme for these young men to chase the star of a Wayne Gretzky. The reality is that less then 1% of the 600,000 Junior Hockey players will make the pros.

Fighting seems to be a pervasive part of the make-up of Junior Hockey that can result in long term consequences. Dr Charles Tator, a respected neurosurgeon at Toronto’s University Health Network, has issued a dire warning to parents of the long term consequences of concussions for our athletes. “Multiple concussions can result in chronic long term brain injuries.”

My advise to parents who have nurtured a promising young male hockey player is to encourage him to do well/graduate from high school and to write his SAT’s (Scholastic Aptitude Test). He then can apply to an American university, i.e Michigan State. His hockey scholarship can help pay for his tuition, residence fees that can cover four years of a university education worth $100,000.

If a young hockey player has played for a Major Junior A team he is ineligible to play in the NCAA.

The emphasis in NCAA university hockey is on education with the teams playing thirty games a years on the week-ends. The players receive excellent professional coaching and there is no fear of being traded for the duration of their schooling. Players live in a school environments and room with their peers. Playing with/against players where education is the first priority. Fighting is not tolerated.

The stats according to the newspaper, “Lets Play Hockey”, show that in 2009 30% ( 285) of NCAA hockey players were playing in the National Hockey League. The university hockey players have had the advantage of being showcased Nation wide in front of thousands of fans who pack the arenas.

If your son is good enough to play in the pros the scouts will find him. If he doesn’t catch the golden brass elusive ring to professional hockey then he still has had a university education.

My friend, Dack Thomas, who has National Level Coaching accreditation reminds the parents: “please do not the consider hockey as a long term career option for your son. He needs to plan for his future after the final whistle has blown.”

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com