Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Losing Perspective

I was doing some reading tonight when I came across someone who mentioned a website called Youth Hockey Hub. The discussion was around the ranking system that the site uses to rank youth hockey teams at various levels from around the states of Minnesota and Colorado, and I found this curious because I didn't recall there every being a ranking system for hockey at the bantam, peewee, or squirt ages when I was growing up. Hockey was all about having fun, learning fundamentals, and being part of a team at those ages, and, while there were obviously kids who stood out from the pack, I can't recall there ever being rankings for non-committed players when it came to their future hockey days as well.

While it's always encouraging for kids to see their name or their teams' names up on websites with scores and analysis, I'm also in the camp that it really shouldn't be used for anything more than entertainment, especially when it comes to putting unnecessary pressure on kids to perform to maintain their team's ranking. In my beliefs, hockey at anything below the CHL and USHL should be focused on developing good hockey players where they have the skills and talents to move on if they choose to follow that path. Winning and losing are parts of the game that one needs to process, but until it becomes a full-time job outside of school, bantam hockey players shouldn't have to worry about a loss in February that drops them down the rankings.

In an article written by Blake Harper on December 18, 2018 on, he states,
Another one of the most popular features is the Now Rankings, where teams in Minnesota and the larger United States are ranked on the site. According to the site, the Now Rankings are "a combination of a team's winning percentage, their opponent's winning percentage, their opponent's opponents winning percentage, average goals differential, and how recent the games were played (i.e. games in October weigh less in February than the games played in February)." For now, readers can find rankings in Minnesota, Colorado, and the wider US rankings. You can also view historical rankings to look back on previous years and see who dominated in the past. The rankings range from Bantam AA to Boys High School A, which means that the dominant teams of all age ranges will be carefully tracked.

Along with keeping track of tournament scoring and rankings, Youth Hockey Hub also keeps up with young hockey players who may one day be playing in the NHL. In fact, the site tracks the top potential prospects by year all the way up to 2023. However, in order to see these future stars, you have to sign up for the Youth Hockey Hub Premium Subscription, which costs $6.95 per month or $19.95 for a whole year. Along with exclusive access to these top prospects, Premium members also get access to "Exclusive YHH Stories."
Is he serious - "young hockey players who may one day be playing in the NHL"? Look, I get the notion that Minnesota is the hockey hotbed in America and that there are a lot of Minnesota-born players who do end up playing at higher levels of hockey including the NHL. The issue I take with this is that these bantam players are 13 and 14 years-old. They still have their whole lives ahead of them when it comes to doing anything they want, and the vast majority of them won't see the NHL. Stop putting this kind of craziness on kids at that age!

As of 2017-18, there were 37 Minnesotans on NHL rosters. Of 713 total NHL roster spots at any time, those 37 players represent 5.2% of the total population of the NHL. While the likelihood of these bantam, squirt, peewee, and high school players going on to play NCAA, USHL, or some other higher level of hockey is greater, 37 NHL players is a tiny segment of the total number of players from age 10-14 in Minnesota (squirt to bantam).

In June 2018 as per this article, there were "18,839 8U players in Minnesota". Assuming that the 14,030 boys registered for hockey at age 8 remained in the game through to the squirt level, the 37 NHLers represent a whopping 0.26% of the total number of boys registered at the squirt level - a level that Youth Hockey Hub tracks for rankings.

At eight years of age. Eight. EIGHT. YEARS. OLD.

I get that hockey has become ultra-competitive at the top levels to the point where players are tested on everything from fitness to skills to interviews. Somewhere down the line, though, this has gotten out of hand. The top 14 year-old that I played with never even played hockey at the university level. I feel like we're asking kids to become professional hockey players long before they've learned how to properly setup a one-timer or stopped losing baby teeth. At what point can we just say "have fun, play the game" without having to be judged for how good a player or team is?

Maybe I'm the crazy person for thinking this?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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