Category Archives: Other

Gallery: Concordia Stingers vs. McGill Redmen Playoffs Round 1

A gallery of photos from the Concordia Stingers and McGill Redmen playoff round. The Redmen took the series 2 games to 1.

Hockey, Haki, Hóquei, Qūgùnqiú: Hockey’s development throughout the world

Hockey has developed very effectively in Canada, the United States, Russia and other Northern European countries, but how is the game developing throughout the rest of the world? (Photo Andrew Davis)

Hockey has developed very effectively in Canada, the United States, Russia and other Northern European countries, but how is the game developing throughout the rest of the world? (Photo Andrew Davis)

It comes as no surprise to anyone living in Canada that hockey reigns supreme. Throughout the cooler seasons, arenas all over the country are filled with hockey teams for tournaments and games. Those same arenas can be found with beer league games for adults almost nightly. As soon as temperatures fall below freezing and our soccer fields become skating rinks, children fill the rinks from the minute school ends to the second dinner is ready. Even during the summer months, kids set up pick-up games on dead-end roads so that they won’t be moving the nets for cars too often. Arenas stay open year round, and throughout the summer one can find both young and old hockey players preparing for next year’s seasons. With all due respect to lacrosse, hockey is without question Canada’s game.

But what about the rest of the world? Generally speaking, we know that Russia, the United States, and the Scandinavian countries have also been bitten by the hockey bug. Are there other countries that are catching on to the sport?

I had the opportunity to sit down with Frank Gonzalez, a Council Member for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the President of the Spanish Ice Sports Federations (FEDH). Gonzalez explained that although the IIHF hosts about 32 World Championships every year, it is not the sole purpose of the Federation.

“Our main objective is for ice hockey to develop all over the world. We are the only international federation that puts a lot of money into development. [We focus on] developing all of our countries, as we are a global organization. We have 75 nations as members, and we could have pretty close to 100 very soon.”

It may come as a surprise to some that there are 75 countries around the world that play hockey at any level. Europe has the biggest grouping of hockey-playing countries, but what other countries are playing?

“We have many countries in the Asian continent, and also South America that want to come into the organization, but we do have a criteria to accept members. They can be an associate member or a member with a right to vote. To be able to vote, you have to take part in the world championships, and to participate you have to meet the criteria.”

Gonzalez has been serving as the Spanish delegate to IIHF congresses since 1991, and has been on the IIHF council since 2003. Being part of the Federation for so long, he has an idea of which hockey regions are developing at high speeds.

“I think Asia is number one. Right now, we have many teams in Asia that are preparing to take the step to be able to compete in our Championship program. They are investing a lot of money, and China wants to get the Winter Olympics of 2020 as well, and I think that will be a strong step for Asia, especially China, to prepare for that event. Just like South Korea, who are ready to compete, but they really have to step up and build up their programs.”

As he is representing Spain, Gonzalez knows very well how well hockey is developing in Spain and surrounding European countries.

“On the European side, there are many countries that want to make that step, but cannot move forward because of financial issues. Take Spain, for example. We lack the culture and tradition, but we have many players who are leaving the country to study in Canada, the US, and European countries where hockey is the number one sport. This year we have about 10 players who will come back and join our National team, who are all the age of 20 and 21, so we will have a very young team.”

Pol Gonzalez is one of 10 players studying abroad who will represent Spain at this year's Division 2A World Championship in Iceland (Photo credit Spanish Ice Sports Federation

Pol Gonzalez is one of 10 players studying abroad who will represent Spain at this year’s Division 2A World Championships in Iceland (Photo credit Spanish Ice Sports Federation).

Spain has been bouncing back and forth from Division 2A and 2B while participating in World Championships, and Gonzalez has high hopes for the future of hockey in Spain.

“We started a development program in Spain in 2007. From 2007 to 2014, we have been scaling the world ranking from number 36 to 30, so we have been developing quite nicely. Last year we won Division 2B, and this year we will be competing in Division 2A Championship in Iceland. All of our other teams, including our Women’s team, are in Division 2B.”

In a country where soccer, basketball, European handball and water polo all reign supreme, promoting a different sport is an uphill battle, but Gonzalez feels that it is a challenge worth pursuing.

“I think we’re in the right process, because we have noticed a change over the last five years in players as young as 15. They have better skills, and they are getting faster and stronger. Our main goal is to get to Division 1 in the next two years. I think we need time, and we need the money. We are currently in an economic crisis, but we are still there. I would say a big jump will come in the next five years.”

Gonzalez’s son, Pol, left Barcelona to play hockey in Ontario, and is currently studying at Concordia University while playing on the Concordia Stingers Men’s Varsity hockey team. He will be one of 10 players studying abroad who will return to represent Spain in this year’s Division 2A World Championships. Frank is hoping that in the future, players will be able to continue developing their hockey skills without having to leave Spain.

“The goal is to make it so players don’t have to leave the country to develop. This will happen when we have the facilities, and that our tradition and culture changes a bit. We are still a nation in a warm climate that still cater to the soccer players and basketball players. I think it’s good. Our players get a feel for what hockey really is, especially in countries like Canada, Finland and Sweden.

“The seed is there, we just have to move slowly about it to make sure we don’t lose the teams we already have, as well as the arenas that we have. That’s the problem we have in Spain; they will be changed to a bowling alley.”

Hockey is a game that is still rapidly developing in regions all over the world. The IIHF’s goal is to make sure that countries interested in playing hockey have all the resources and assistance available to promote the game.

“The IIHF is a hockey family, and that includes the NHL, KHL and other organizations. Hockey is now a small world; wherever we go, as far as New Zealand or Malaysia, there is hockey being played that nobody has heard of. Even Mexico and Argentina are playing hockey.”

Although hockey is still developing in other countries, Gonzalez has no doubts about where hockey stands in Canada.

“Hockey is the game of Canada. For everything they do, how they love the game, how their culture is really embedded in their tradition. I think hockey will continue to grow in Canada, and that is the main objective for the IIHF. We are looking for continued grown, and the more youngsters that get into the game, the better it is for our game and for the character of the players.”

Fandalism – The destruction of sports through violence

When the Bruins visited the Canadiens on December 4th 2013, a friend of mine was attacked on the subway. He was on his way home from the game when he was confronted by two clearly inebriated Habs “fans” wearing Canadiens jerseys. They began verbally assaulting him before pushing, shoving, and eventually punching him. Thankfully, a bystander came to his defense and threw the two instigators out of the subway cart. He went home with a couple of bumps and bruises, the worst being a swollen left eye.

The reason for the attack? My friend was wearing a Bruins jersey.

There are far too many stories of fans attacking one another, based only on the colours on their backs (although alcohol consumption may be a contributing factor). This by no means isolated to hockey; both baseball and football have had recent incidents which will forever leave marks on the sport. The most extreme cases, such as soccer in Europe, unfortunately lead to many people getting injured or even killed, all because people support different teams.

Since when does being a fan of sports involve violence? Is it not enough to respect each other’s allegiances with sports teams, or  is it now the duty of fans to belittle opponents with violence and intimidation? I find it extremely alarming that the lifestyle of some fans now resemble that of street gangs when it comes to rivalries. I know you cannot compare the violence between the Bloods and the Crips in L.A. to the violence between sports fans, but the hostility is still there. It’s sad that one person can end up hating another over the knowledge that the other person supports a rival team.

I don’t consider people who disrespect opponent’s supporters as fans. It goes completely against what sports is supposed to represent, which to bring people together and enjoy a display of skill and entertainment. There is no need to include violence or abuse for any reason. The fact that some cities have developed reputations for being some of the most hostile venues for visiting fans is a cause for concern. Buffalo and Philadelphia, from what I’ve heard in the news and through word of mouth, are two of the scariest places to be as a visiting fan. A friend of mine went to a Buffalo Bills game to watch them play against his team, the Miami Dolphins. He was told by his friend not to wear his Dolphins jersey, or even cheer when Miami makes a good play or scores a touchdown. That’s sad. Something is terribly wrong with the fan mentality if one fan can’t wear his team’s jersey without fearing a backlash from the opposition’s fans.

What is encouraging is that it is a very small minority of people who use fandom as an excuse to be violent. Many professional sports teams and leagues try denounce and discourage all forms of fan abuse, whether it be verbal or physical. I recall a few years back during a Canadiens-Bruins playoff series when a surprisingly large group of Canadiens fans booed the American National anthem (video HERE). The following game, the announcer introduced the Anthem singer and named all the Canadiens players that were American. That incident is more an example of mob mentality than anything else, but the team’s response demonstrates an effort to try and eliminate the lack of respect among sports fans.

Fans should not have to live in fear when they support their team. Everyone has the right to be a fan, and people need to learn that. Even though the Habs and Bruins have been fierce rivals for decades, there is no reason a Bruins fan and a Habs fan can’t sit on the same bus, in the same restaurant or in the same arena without throwing slurs or punches. Hockey is about respect, and it’s about time fans started showing some to one another.

Game day for the Concordia Stingers – a behind-the-scenes look

Concordia Stingers, men's hockey team

Concordia Stingers, men’s hockey team

 

A few weeks ago, I was offered a very unique and exciting opportunity.

As a student at Concordia University, I write for the university’s paper, The Concordian. I went to interview the men’s hockey team and their coach, Kevin Figsby, for an upcoming article I was working on. Coach Figsby was extremely accommodating, and he ended up inviting me to join the team on their away game in Trois-Rivières the following day. It was an offer I was not expecting, and I could not turn it down.

I got to the Verdun auditorium at 1:30, where the Concordia Stingers have been calling home while the university’s arena is under renovation. The team had ordered food from a local catering service, and we all enjoyed a nice meal of penne with meat sauce and garlic bread, a perfect pre-game meal. There were no tables, so we all just ate standing up. As coach Figsby walked by, he laughed and said “welcome to a road trip!”

Just to give you an example of the atmosphere and sense of humour these guys have, not five minutes had gone by after getting on the bus before the on-board entertainment had begun with “Mighty Ducks: D2”, the perfect hockey road trip movie. At one point during the movie, one of the players in the back of the bus said “EMILIOOOOO” when Coach Bombay (played by Emilio Estevez) was on screen. A bunch of players got a good laugh from the Night at the Roxbury reference, with someone even replying with “The Mighty Duckman, I swear to God!” At this point, I realized that this was going to be a fun road trip.

We arrived at the Trois-Rivières arena at about 4:45. The players all helped unload the bus, working as a team to get everything set up. The equipment manager, Stewart Wilson, has a great setup for away games, including a portable skate sharpener, a box full of extra tools, pieces of equipment etc., and even a machine to dry gloves and skates. As soon as everything is set up, the players start their pregame preparations. Some tape and re-tape sticks, some sit on the bench listening to music, and some head to see the athletic therapist, Robin Hunter. The coaches begin talking strategies right away, even though the game was not for another two hours.

It was a little surreal at the arena. The team is playing at a very high level, and preparation is important. While a few players sat on the bench (some likely visualizing, others staying focused while listening to music), the local figure skating association was finishing their lessons for the day. It makes you realize that these players are not professionals, but students. They do not have the Bell Centre free for them to prepare in peace, as you see in a show like CH24. Although the preparations are very similar, the venue and atmosphere is very different.

Just before the pre-game skate, I noticed Coach Figsby speaking with a man who was wearing a Los Angeles Kings jacket. Coach Figsby introduced me to him. His name is Denis Fugere, and he is a scout for the Kings. He was at the game to check the talent at the University level. This is his 21st season with the Kings organization, and he scouts Quebec and the Maritimes for major junior and university players.

I asked him about what it is like being a scout, and he gave me some invaluable insight. “I went and asked Kevin [Figsby] for players to look out for, so he have me three names. As for UQTR (Université de Quebec à Trois-Rivières), I am looking at one player in particular.” He mentioned that being a scout involves making judgement calls about the future. “With a player, you’re not looking for what he is going to be next year, but in 3 to 5 years. That’s not easy.” He told me that you have to look at so many different factors (family, schooling, friends, alcohol, drugs, skill, future goals, and so on) that it can be very difficult to make predictions about players. It was very interesting to speak with a scout, because it is a part of hockey so many know so little about (myself included).

Finally, the game was under way. The first thing that struck me was how good these players really are. I believe that a lot of people fail to realize  many of these players have come from the Canadian Hockey League, the pool of talent the NHL dips its hand into more than any other league. A lot of these young men have played with or against future NHL stars, which says a lot about the calibre of play. If my research is correct, 4 of the current Stingers are former Memorial Cup winners, the Holy Grail of the CHL. It’s fast, hard-hitting hockey. I believe that Concordia’s assistant coach Peter Bender put it best when he referred to university hockey as hockey’s best-kept secret. This was entertaining hockey, and you could tell that both teams wanted to win.

Between periods, the players have 15 minutes to re-energize and refocus. Some hit the athletic therapist’s bench again, getting the bruised muscles and tight ligaments all loosened up. Meanwhile in the other room, the coaches go over game strategies. Much of what they say is gibberish to me, with something about F2 covering here when F3 does this. It really made me realize how little I knew about the structure of the game, especially from a coaching perspective.

Coach Figsby made a small speech between each period, successfully getting the team refocused and ready to hit the ice. Although the players joke around a lot, when it’s time to hit they ice they’re all business.

The Stingers lost in overtime, with a final score of 4-3. Although it is sometimes difficult to find positives in a losing effort, the team did play very well. Stingers forward Olivier Hinse finished the night with two goals and assist, giving him 9 points in four games. At the time, he was the overall points leader for the entire Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) men’s hockey league.

In the end, this experience showed me a lot. One thing that stuck out to me was that sports teams are a family, and everyone is treated in a way that makes them feel valued and important. Whenever there is a problem, everyone jumps up to help. Throughout the day, head coach Kevin, assistant coach Peter and equipment manager Stewart kept making sure I was good and taken care of. I mentioned many times, “I’m fine, don’t worry about me.” I always received the same answer. “We’re a family; we take care of each other.”

Another thing I learnt is that being a Student-Athlete is incredible demanding. On the way to and from the game, many of the players were reading textbooks, going over class notes, quizzing each other for upcoming midterms, and so on. A lot of the practices are during school hours, and many of the games require two days of travel. A couple of weeks before, the team was gone from Wednesday to Sunday on a three-game road trip. Coach Figsby informed me that he had spent the week writing to teachers to get rescheduled dates for midterms. The team got home at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, and many students had exams at 2:00 that afternoon, eight hours later. I have trouble staying focused and prepared for midterms as a regular student. I cannot imagine having to keep a high GPA while focusing a lot of my energy and time to hockey practices, road trips, and missed classes. I have gained a lot of respect and admiration for these students, because what they do is not in any way easy.

I feel very lucky to have had a chance to see a regular game-day through the eyes of the players. The Stingers are a great group of young men, and they are very gifted at what they do. Although many of them will probably not call hockey their profession in the future, they are still getting the most out of hockey while they can. They are very skilled individuals, and I wish them luck with the rest of the season.

If you are a university student, go support your school’s sports teams. Support your fellow students as they represent your school, something that they do for no financial or academic gains. Whatever sport you enjoy to watch, go show some school spirit and cheer on your school. As for this university student, I will leave you with this. “Go Stingers Go!”

I’ve added a small gallery of pictures from the road trip. I apologize for the quality for some of the photos, it wasn’t my camera and I was fidgeting with all of the settings throughout the entire game.

The 10 Commandments of being a hockey parent

These commandments shall be followed by all hockey parents, regardless of thy child’s age or skill level.

  1. Thou shalt encourage all players, even thy child’s opponents
  2. Thou shalt not use the ref’s name in vain
  3. Thou shalt get to games and practices on time
  4. Thou shalt inform thy coach when game and practices will be missed
  5. Thou shalt not demand more ice time for thy child
  6. Thou shalt not coach from thy bleachers
  7. Thou shalt not live thy dreams through thy child
  8. Thou shalt teach respect and good sportsmanship to thy child
  9. Thou shalt be unconditionally supportive
  10. Thou shalt remember that hockey is just a game

These commandments are basic rules that any hockey parent should follow, regardless of whether your child is in a competitive league or a casual one. Print these commandments out, and make them visible in your home. Have a copy pinned right above where your child keeps their hockey gear, so you see it before you leave for every practice and every game. Coaches, print these out and hand them out to parents. Great minor hockey teams and associations are created when parents and coaches are on the same page. It is important to remember that hockey is a game, and that minor hockey is there for the kids. A winning record does not necessarily equal success; seeing kids smiling and enjoying the game of hockey is the greatest victory a team can hope for.

Hockey takes the lead in fighting homophobia

In April of this year, it was announced that the NHL, the NHLPA and You Can Play, an organization focused on eliminating homophobia in sports, have partnered up, and are going to work together to make hockey more accepting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

You Can Play, an organization co-founded by Patrick Burke (son of former Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke), is dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports. The NHL is the first of the major sports leagues in North America to join with any anti-homophobia organization, which is a prime example of the great steps the league is making to be the most inclusive professional sports league. Many NHLers have openly voiced their support of the organization, with several groups of them taking part in promotional commercials for You Can Play. Two current NHL players, Tommy Wingels and Andy Miele, are even on the advisory board, demonstrating the commitment of the league to fight homophobia. The organization goes by the slogan “If you can play, you can play”, a mentality that the NHL is very proud to both support and follow. Commissioner Gary Bettman pointed out that the NHL’s slogan is “Hockey is for Everyone”, and feels that the partnership with You Can Play reinforces that position. You Can Play will be holding seminars at the NHL’s rookie symposium, while at the same time making their resources available to all NHL teams and players.

This news was also followed by the more recent story of basketball player Jason Collins publicly coming out, becoming the first openly gay athlete to be currently playing in any of the major sports leagues in North America. The amount of support that Collins has received from teammates, players, coaches and general managers from around the league has been tremendous, and the public has reacted in a generally positive manner. It is a very firm statement of how far the world of sports has come with regards to eradicating homophobia.

However, it is still not far enough.

What Jason Collins did by being the first openly gay athlete in a major sport took great courage. He himself stated that he did not intend to become the first openly gay athlete, it was simply the time to do it. He has done what no one else has done, and he is incredibly brave to do so. The irony is that it shouldn’t be considered heroic to be who you are. The LGBT community has made incredible steps in the last few decades to being seen as equals in society, which is exactly what they deserve.

An area that has been slower to react, however, is the world of sports. Homophobic slurs and stereotypes still reign supreme in many locker rooms and arenas, both in professional and amateur sports. For too long have many sports (hockey, football, etc.) been tagged as heterosexual sports, while others are labelled as ‘gay sports’. I cannot tell you how many times have I heard people make rude comments like “leave figure skating to the gays”, along with many other vulgar slurs being casually thrown around. Whether you are gay, straight, or anywhere in between has absolutely no impact on your skill in sports. It should also have no effect on how you are treated in the locker room.

Everyone deserves to be comfortable in their own skin, and being an athlete is no exception. At this moment in time many athletes, both professional and amateur, do not feel comfortable being openly gay. That is not their problem, but ours. They have the right to be who they are, free of judgement. They have the right to be proud of who they are, instead of being labelled, stigmatized and shamed into hiding.

What You Can Play and the NHL is doing is a great step forward to getting rid of homophobia in hockey (and other sports). Acceptance starts at a young age. If athletes are taught from a young age that sexual orientation has nothing to do with skill, drive and passion in sports, maybe we will begin to see a more accepting culture. Society in general has become increasingly accepting of the LGBT, and although there is still much work do be done, we are moving in the right direction. The world of sports is lagging behind, but organizations like You Can Play combined with the open mindedness of leagues like the NHL will help bring sports closer to the acceptance the LGBT community deserves.

I look forward to the day where a gay athlete is no longer a news story.

Part 3: The pressure to perform in minor hockey

This is part 3 of a 3-part series on issues surrounding minor  hockey. For part 1 and 2, go to the archives

Kids love playing sports. It is a great way for them to have fun with friends while playing in a fun, competitive environment. On any given day during the winter, you’ll find kids spending all afternoon playing on the outdoor rinks until their parents call them home for dinner. Some children simply have a pure passion for sports, and a few of those may even have the skills to be quite successful in the future.

However, some parents feel that it is their responsibility to fuel their child’s passion. They sign their child up for summer camps, making sure that their child is playing hockey year-round. They make them do extra power skating, or play at the highest, most competitive level. These parents thinks that this will help the child fall in love with the game, and all the extra work will help them eventually go professional. The problem is that it’s not up to the parents to fuel the passion for the game; it’s the child who needs to love hockey in the first place. It happens too often that a child enjoys playing hockey, and the parents sign their child up for every known course, class and camp until the child is sick of the game. They are over-stimulated by too much hockey, and it kills the passion and love for the game.

It’s unfortunate that hockey has become an extremely competitive sport, especially at the minor league level. It starts off fun and relaxed, but it gets extremely competitive (and expensive) and an incredibly fast rate. The players need to make a very large commitment to their team.  There are many more practices and games per week, and there is much more pressure on them to perform. I have had parents tell me that when their child was selected for a higher level team, the pressure of it all just sucked the enjoyment right out of the game. They were talented enough to play at a high level, but the amount of time spent practicing and playing hockey was simply too much. They were benched by the coach when they didn’t have a few good shifts, or if they weren’t “competing” as hard as the coach would like. In their defense, there is a lot of pressure on the coaches from other parents, and they are sometimes put in tough positions. The system isn’t perfect, but unfortunately a lot of the pressure falls on the kids.

There is also too much emphasis on having a winning team, therefore many players are taught to focus more on winning instead of simply having fun. The enjoyment of the game is taken out of the game extremely early, and all that is pumped into their minds it to compete as hard as they can so they can move up to the higher level, instead of simply playing for the enjoyment of the game. There is more and more pressure on the kids from the coaches, their parents, and in bad cases, other player’s parents. I’ve heard stories of parents telling other parents that they should take their kid off the team, because they’re not good enough to play at that level. Some people argue that the weaker players make the team look bad, and hinder the chances of the better players moving up. I am quite confident that scouts at any level do not simply look at the win-loss record of teams to look for players. If a player is good enough to advance, he will be noticed. So encourage the good players, encourage the players who are trying their hardest, and encourage the players who are simply having fun playing a great sport. Do not get upset with the players when they have a bad shift or game.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t keep score, so the kids aren’t disappointed by losing. I think that winning and losing are important for people to experience, because it helps them deal with it in the future. Failure is an important lesson, and it can usually be the best motivator. I’m simply saying that the over-emphasis on winning overshadows the other lessons that hockey can bring. Winning is fun, but I honestly believe that learning to deal with losing is just as important. As I mentioned in last week’s post, many lessons we learn in sports can be used in everyday life. That should be the focus of minor hockey, at least in the beginning. When the players have learned the ins and outs of the game and still want to compete at the highest level, that is the time to start putting pressure on them. Before that, the pressure can smother a kid’s love of the game.

Hockey is a great sport, one that many are fortunate enough to play from a young age. The problem is that it becomes very competitive extremely fast. The transition from learning the game to playing at a competitive level should be slowed down, so that the kids can truly enjoy the game and understand the finer points of the sport. Being forced to do too much of something can destroy what makes it special, and that is unfair for young athletes who are playing for the enjoyment of the sport. The age where hockey becomes a serious commitment is currently too young, and there should be more emphasis on enjoying and learning from the great game of hockey.

The opening face-off

Welcome to The Puck Stops Here: a discussion of all things hockey. As this is my first post, I want to outline exactly what I will be writing about. My posts will cover all aspects of hockey, from pre-novice to the pros. This includes current topics in the NHL, great stories from minor hockey, and anything in between. Even though hockey is a great sport, there are always improvements to be made, so I will be sharing my ideas and suggestions on how this can be achieved.

Being Canadian, I know what this sport means to the hockey population; it is a culture. Whether it’s  spending your morning watching your kid’s hockey game, your afternoon playing hockey at the local outdoor rink, or your evening kicking back and watching your favourite team play for the big win, people bring a passion to the game that is hard to find anywhere else. I have a passion of my own, and I want to share it with you.

Talking about up-coming games, great rivalries, and controversial plays from past games has already been done by many people. Therefore, I want to bring a fresh take on hockey, as well as give my opinions on current events.  I hope that this blog will help you be more open-minded when you come across various issues and topics surrounding this wonderful sport.

My first official post will be coming out in the next day or two, so stay tuned. You can also follow The Puck Stops Here on Twitter at @TPSHblog.