For years hockey players have played the game because they love the sport. Most have a dream of playing in the NHL, but the majority realize that will never happen. They just want to play the game at the highest level and see what happens from there.
With the support and encouragement of their parents and family, they move away and sacrifice years at home and put their trust in their new “family” -- the team that will train them and prepare them for the next step on the hockey ladder.
Management and staff of all teams accept this responsibility and provide a positive atmosphere that includes welcoming billets, good schools and in some cases part-time jobs. They are treated with respect and become role models in the community that they have chosen to call home.
The Graham James situation certainly tarnished this picture, but if anything, it made the teams more aware of how important it is for these young players to be treated properly.
That is why this sudden interest in forming a player’s union surprises me.
Unions are put in place to ensure that members are treated fairly and that their safety is paramount. From everything I have gathered from junior hockey over the years, those issues are already dealt with.
This fledgling union states that they want to bring more scholarship opportunities to the players and also to see that they are paid for what they do for their respective teams.
Without even doing any investigating, that mission is unattainable as American universities will not grant scholarships to players who have received payment for playing the sport at any level. That is why major junior players are ineligible for NCAA scholarships because they receive a small stipend for playing the game.
Plus there is the way this new union came into being. Out of nowhere it was announced there was to be the formation of this organization because 98 per cent of the players were in favour of it. Yet, from all reports, the players never even heard of this group.
Then there were the lawsuits being filed for unfair labour practices in Alberta and down east citing that members were not allowed to meet to discuss their options. Again, the players were unaware of the union so where did this come from.
Almost every team in the Western Hockey League, when contacted by a member of the media, said they were treated so well by their respective club why would they want to ruin that. The Prince Albert Raiders are included in that list.
One has to remember that these are young men and that at this level it is not a job, but an opportunity. They are not playing the game to get rich, but rather to develop as a player and a person and if all the processes are in place to achieve that then why try and fix something that isn’t broken.
I’ve belonged to unions before, even served on the executive of one for a year, and from my experience there are some benefits, but there are also some drawbacks. Yes, these players are the commodity that people pay money to come and see, but that comes with the territory of wanting to advance their career.
Just last week it was released that 301 scholarships were given to former WHL players for the current school year. That’s a pretty remarkable statistic and obvious proof that the league and member teams live up to their promises.
The Raiders alone spent over $100,000 on scholarships last year. This is from a non-profit, community-owned team!
Let the players play and not have to worry about outside influences. Their parents are their union representatives. There is already so much scrutiny of junior hockey teams because of what happened in Swift Current a couple of decades ago, the players should be allowed to do what so many before them were allowed to do; play the game for the love of the game and not have some upstart organization come in and try and make money off them.
Dave Leaderhouse is a reporter with the Prince Albert Daily Herald.