Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sutter Said What Many Are Thinking: Change Is Needed

Brent Sutter is right, absolutely 100% right.

His comments about grassroots hockey in our country, which were spat on by Don Cherry, are right on the mark.

Sutter’s contention is that our current focus when it comes to building hockey players is off the mark.

“There’s too much focus on winning and losing at such a young age, and not enough about the skill part of it,” Sutter said in articles published nationally over the weekend. “That’s truly where it starts. At 16, 17 when they hit the Canadian Hockey League, there should already be a standard of skill already in place.”

Brent has hit the nail on the head.

Disclaimer: I am not currently directly involved in minor hockey in anyway. I have no kids who play, I am not a coach and I no longer serve as a minor hockey official as I once did for 13 years. My thoughts on these matters come strictly from the point of view of an observer.

That being said, my opinion is based from listening to and chatting with people over the past few months who know more about hockey and sports science then I could ever hope to. Their findings, opinions and theories have helped form my “outsider’s opinions.”

If Brent were on an island when it comes to his thoughts, Cherry might have more ground to stand on when it comes to throwing poop at them. He’s not on an island. There are many who agree with him.

One of the sessions I was fortunate enough to moderate at last summer’s Alberta Hockey Summit in Banff focused on the “Dynamic Future of Hockey.” The keynote speaker for the session, George Kingston, gave an eye-opening comparison between how minor hockey players are developed in Canada and abroad. You can read an overview of his presentation by visiting Hockey Alberta’s website [HA will also soon be releasing a full report and action plan based on the outcomes of the Summit in the very near future].

George also joined me as an intermission guest on our Rebels vs. Hurricanes broadcast on December 14. You can listen to the full interview here.

“I think that we, in Canada, play too many games,” Kingston said, echoing Sutter’s sentiments. “We do not practice enough. The practices are something that the Europeans do much more than we do [the ratio of practices to games] and as a result the skill level is there.”

I wonder if Cherry, upon hearing these comments, would also accuse Kingston of throwing minor hockey coaches under the bus as he did Sutter.

Another one of the keynote speakers at the Alberta Hockey Summit, Dr. Steve Norris, also echoed some of Sutter’s thoughts during his presentation on long-term player development. Dr. Norris lamented the fact that one of the metrics stressed in minor hockey [coaches, parents, minor hockey associations, et al] has become “winning meaningless games” as opposed to developing the player. He expressed his concern over seeing 8-10 year old players doing relentless, difficult training exercises. Dr. Norris also made an interesting comparison between player development and Lego, saying both have gone from being very general and open to creativity to being specialized

A panelist at the Summit, Richard Monnette with, expressed his support for Brent’s comments in a blog post of his own this week.

Sorry, Grapes. The list of people who see flaws in how minor hockey develops players in Canada right now is longer than just Brent Sutter. Are the two hockey dads I work also throwing dirt by agreeing with him also?

In the end, even Cherry’s claim that Brent “Doesn’t sound like a Sutter” is wrong.

Sutter’s care about what’s best for the game hockey and have unwavering passion for the sport. Brent’s comments reflect just that.

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