A couple of interesting conversations in the last few weeks have had me thinking about the state of certain sports in this area and actually it is a cause for concern.
The one conversation surrounded minor football in Prince Albert. Last week while at the bantam River Riders game I noticed that Prince Albert had just 21 players dressed for the game. With 12 being required on offense and another 12 on defence it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that some players were seeing action on both sides of the ball.
When I asked why so few players were available I was told that injuries played a part, but also, there were not enough players registered for the team. That surprised me as it was not too long ago I was told that the interest in football in Prince Albert was on the rise. After further inquiries I was told that the junior programs at both high schools -- Carlton and St. Mary -- had players that could have been with the River Riders, but chose the school route instead.
I have no problem with the high schools having junior football programs, but what do they play each year -- a couple of games along with regular practices? Sure they got to go to Mosaic Stadium in Regina and play a game where the big boys play, but couldn’t all that have been scheduled around a commitment to playing with the River Riders too?
The bantam River Riders have played seven games and won just once. They have been badly beaten in five of those setbacks so who would want to sign up for a team that is going to get their butts kicked on a regular basis? It isn’t just about wins and losses, but developing the players is what the River Riders program is all about and being competitive certainly adds an intangible for when the players do move on to the high school level doesn’t it?
I think the powers that be at all levels of the game have to get together and realize that there is a purpose for both minor football and junior teams at the high school level and a schedule could be drawn up so that players that are eligible could participate at both. Right now what we are doing is shooting ourselves in the foot with no one getting anything out of either program from what I can see.
The same can be said about hockey.
Ever since minor hockey added a third year of eligibility to the midget level, the game at the Junior “A” and Junior “B” levels has diminished.
Back in the day, the Junior “B” circuit was a great feeder program for the Junior “A” teams and those talented enough moved on to major junior hockey.
With so many teams these days there isn’t enough talent to stock all of the teams properly and with midget teams having players until they are 17 years old, the Junior “A” and Junior “B” teams are that much older.
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, for example, allows eight 20-year-olds on each roster. Most teams have one, maybe two, players under the age of 18. Rarely is there a 17-year-old in Junior “B”. A lot of the talented graduating players from Midget AAA move to other provinces because those teams welcome younger players.
I’m not saying the SJHL wouldn’t welcome them, but for some reason the players just don’t feel it is an option open to them.
What we have to do is get midget back down to 16 years old as a maximum and then when the players are 17 they can move to the SJHL or even get a year under their belt at Junior “B”. The exceptional players will still try out for the major junior team that holds their playing rights, but all leagues will benefit and the players will develop at a different rate too.
I know there are going to be a lot of people who want to argue with me on this, but I still think back to the days when guys like Dave Tippett and Mark Odnokon and the likes played a year of Junior “B” in Melfort with the TMs before moving on to the Prince Albert Raiders. By the time they were with the Raiders they were major forces in the league because they had played against older players for a year prior to making the move.
I don’t disagree with the number of 20-year-olds, what I do question is the number of younger players playing at a higher level, and closer to home, not in another province.
Getting back to developing players, whether in football or hockey, should be paramount. Not winning at all costs.
Dave Leaderhouse is a reporter with the Prince Albert Daily Herald.