Can you feel the draft?
Last Updated: September 30, 2008 6:12 PM
Don Power Point Shot
If you're like Canadians of my vintage and older - think vinyl records, two television channels and rotary dial phones (I know, ancient) - you've been to your share of wakes and funerals during your lifetime.
Perhaps wakes are different here in Newfoundland and Labrador, where I live, I don't know. But I do know that if there's one thing we Newfoundlanders can do at wakes is talk well of the deceased.
"He looks so good," you hear someone say as you look on. (It is one of the funniest comments I've ever heard about corpses at wakes. He can't look that good - he's dead.)
Yet when friends and family of the dearly departed gather, someone inevitably says what a great person the deceased was. He could have been the biggest SOB on two feet, but once he's in the casket, he's a saint.
Fog Devils and the Tangible Dream
That's probably going to be the way it is with the former St. John's Fog Devils, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team that died in Newfoundland and Labrador's capital city last spring.
The Fog Devils only spent three seasons in Newfoundland, and never really drew enough fans to make the venture successful - hence their departure - but the impact the club had on minor hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador was tremendous.
In just three years in St. John's, the Fog Devils had become The Dream. Well, not quite the dream, but The Tangible Dream.
Although kids in my province harbour the same goals and aspirations as kids in B.C., Saskatchewan, and P.E.I., the reality of the situation is they are not as attainable for Newfoundland and Labrador kids as are they are for those in central Canada.
Every child who ever picked up a hockey stick or laced up skates has dreamed of playing in the National Hockey League. Unfortunately for kids from here, it hasn't always been attainable. Despite constant chatter about the hockey world shrinking, Newfoundland is still as remote as Siberia.
For our kids, the NHL has, by and large, truly been out of reach. Lately however, players from my home province have started to arrive at the pinnacle. Stanley Cup champion Danny Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings, new Boston Bruin Michael Ryder, San Jose Shark Ryane Clowe and potential Los Angeles King Teddy Purcell represent the largest contingent of Newfoundlanders in the NHL ever.
The difference is those players - with the exception of Purcell, who took a long, circuitous route through Wilcox, Saskatchewan, Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Orono, Maine - all were forced to leave home to play major junior elsewhere in Canada.
Still, with just four NHLers, one could hardly say we're making inroads in the game.
However, the birth of the Fog Devils in St. John's meant a lot more. Suddenly, St. John's was a destination for scouts. Suddenly, our midget players were being seen. Suddenly, playing major junior hockey was a reach-out-and-touch-it dream.
Local kids sell tickets
There were a couple of factors playing in the favour of Newfoundland players. First, the Fog Devils drafted Newfoundland kids. The team always denied it was drafting local kids, but if the decision came down to two kids and one was local, the decision was simple.
Or so the team thought.
Second was the proliferation of junior scouts who visited Mile One Centre in St. John's but would also go to local rinks and check out midget or bantam players. Take a look at the drafts of other QMJHL teams in the past three years and you'll notice a number of Newfoundland kids selected.
The mere presence of the Fog Devils had a trickle down effect in this province. Minor hockey kids from all over would attend games in their jerseys, and realize that playing major junior was attainable.
At the 2005 QMJHL midget draft - the first for the Fog Devils - there were 14 Newfoundlanders selected. The next year, there were 12 locals.
In 2007 - the final year for the Q in SJ - 15 hopefuls were taken.
This June - after the Fog Devils had moved to Montreal - just four kids from my province were selected.
Granted, the Fog Devils drafted a lot of local kids, but not 11 every year. That's a huge drop.
Sadly, the Q has died in St. John's, and hockey fans have moved on. Unfortunately for the minor hockey players who still believe they can become pros, getting noticed has become a heck of a lot more difficult.