Canadian hockey roulette


First aired on Q (25/01/13) 

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Hockey has become too important in Canadian culture, says Ken Campbell -- a man who makes his living from writing about the sport for the Hockey News.

He recently co-authored Selling the Dream, and many who have read his book about how Canada's parents and kids are paying a steep price for a chance at the NHL dream are calling it troubling and scary.

"I suppose that's a good thing," Campbell told Q's Jian Ghomeshi. "I really want this to be kind of a wake-up call or at least ... something to tell people maybe we have to dial things down a little bit and have a little bit of perspective."

He says minor elite hockey is becoming a class-based system where rich parents funnel their kids into special hockey academies that can cost around $30,000 a year and spend another couple grand on extras that are becoming the norm, such as:

  • One-on-one instruction.
  • Dry-land training.
  • Spring and summer hockey.
  • Sports psychologists.
  • Nutritionists.
  • Matching team jackets, bags and other equipment.
  • Tournament travel costs, sometimes as far as Europe.

"I would expect that there's not a chance you're going to find an NHL player under the age of 25 or 30 ... whose family hasn't, you know, had to pay for [these types of things]," he said.

Matt Duchene is a 22-year-old centre for the Colorado Avalanche. Campbell says Duchene's parents probably spent about $300,000 to help their son realize his dream. Since Duchene could make up to $50 million US before his hockey career is over, many might say his folks made a great investment. 

SellingtheDream2.jpgBut, Campbell warns parents against that kind of thinking. Hockey should be about the experience, he said, and parents shouldn't view it as an investment, thinking that their child will win a coveted university athletic scholarship.

"I think people sometimes think that they give these things out like, you know, out of a Pez dispenser," he said. "I mean, there are not a lot of players that end up getting through this bottleneck."

In his book, he tells the story of one Pittsburgh family that moved to Toronto so their young son could play in the Greater Toronto hockey league, which is Canada's largest minor hockey league and known to produce NHL-worthy players. The parents sold their house and moved into a boat the father had built.

"They came lock, stock and barrel up to the Port Credit harbour," he said, "and basically lived on that boat for three years in a living space of about 200 square feet."

Campbell reminds hockey parents that Duchene is one of very few players who graduate to the NHL after elite minor hockey. Campbell even tells his son -- whose house league team he coaches -- that he will most likely not play professional hockey in the future. He tries to put things in perspective for his son, saying that he and most of the elite players his age now will all be playing beer league hockey together in the future.

Still, Campbell worries what this class-based system means for the future of hockey in Canada.

"Where's the next generation of beer leaguers if a kid is being told at the age of ten years old that he's already being left behind?"

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