Sports 'n' Things

The benefits of Junior A hockey more than academic

"NCAA players are a growing segment of NHL draft lists, and completion of a degree will not compromise a player."

Every once in a while comes along something that puts the lie, at least in part, to the idea that, “Smart hockey player is an oxymoron.”

Trail’s Travis St. Denis is, once again, one of those exemplars. He is at once a very smart player on the ice, and to judge by his third straight East Coast Athletic Conference All Academic award, (essentially an honour roll membership at the university level) none too shabby in the classroom – in the conference that includes all the touted Ivy League schools.

There are 37 other BCHL graduates on that ECAC list, five of whom are NHL draft picks, which should go a bit of a way toward convincing parents that Junior A play is a very viable option – over the meat grinder that is the CHL – for their talented kids.

NCAA players are a growing segment of NHL draft lists, and completion of a degree will not compromise a player taking elite talent into the  pros (see Schultz, Justin and Dekeyser, Danny) while opening up a host of opportunities for the educated that are unavailable to the almost dropouts that inhabit major junior rosters.

I say, “almost,” because after decades of fighting it, the CHL finally offers post-hockey funding for college. That promised funding, unfortunately, comes with a big, “But.”

The limitations on players accessing that CHL education funding mean that many of the 90 per cent of its players who do not get high on NHL draft boards with their junior play are severely proscribed in their options (as they are while living away from home during their secondary school age years working at a poorly paid full-time hockey job). If they want to postpone attending post secondary education – to keep working on their hockey dreams, travel the world or whatever – the delay that causes in their pursuit of an education can see that promised funding, wholly or partially, dry up.

Seems like a thoughtful parent should consider all that before committing their elite-athlete youngsters to the CHL grind over the more young, athlete-friendly Junior A option, but many, apparently, do not. There have been, over the years, more than a few local examples of the major-junior-or-bust attitude that have turned out poorly for the kids involved.

It’s a reason why I am a big supporter of Junior A, and maintaining the Smoke Eaters as a local high end hockey option here. There are lots of other, economic, local pride and hockey tradition reasons, that I support the Smokies, but I do often wish more parents would more strongly consider, if not Trail, at least some other opportunity-laden junior A hockey avenue as a better option for their kids.

The season starts with local training camps in just over two weeks – season tickets are on sale now.

• Congratulations to the AA Orioles for a very strong season. Those who keep working for that success are undoubtedly looking forward (as my old and often woefull Brooklyn Dodgers used to), to improving on those strong results, “next year.”

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