Lots of advice, little audacity

At the end of November 2021, less than a year before the elections, François Legault had surprised by forming a committee of 15 personalities charged with looking to the future of hockey in Quebec.

The Prime Minister’s approach was surprising because hockey management is not the responsibility of the government. And mostly because a week earlier, after a very rigorous hiring process, Hockey Quebec had introduced its new CEO, Jocelyn Thibault, who should have had free rein to modernize Quebec’s hockey.

In addition, the Prime Minister’s Committee, whose members acted on a voluntary basis and nearly all had full-time jobs, had to contend with an extremely tight deadline. They had only four months to conduct consultations, reflect on the functioning of one of the largest hockey federations in the world, and make recommendations aimed at improving the quality of experience for young Quebec hockey players.

The least we can say is that the members of the committee chaired by Marc Denis have not skimped on quantity.

Initiation, retention, women’s hockey, cultural communities, first peoples, junior hockey, university hockey, infrastructure, reduced participation costs, tax credits, federation status, age group redesign, RSEQ staff … There are few stones that have not been turned.

And on almost every page you think you hear the sound of a cash register. Where will the money come from to finance all these initiatives? Does an AAA bantam trainer (M-15) really need to be paid full time?

The requests were not encrypted. Minister Charest acknowledged that this is so large financial commitments that will need to be studied. Marc Denis stressed that the intention is not to pass the bill to the parents.

Suspense.

***

Reading this report, I thought back to all the resources HQ had to mobilize a few years ago to bring about a harmless change: half ice hockey for beginner-age hockey players (M-9).

Because when you run a large federation, there is inevitably a lot of time between the moment a good idea is born and the moment it becomes applicable in the field.

Quebec hockey

Photo: Facebook / Hockey Quebec

For U-9 half-ice hockey, for example, it was necessary to carry out pilot projects in some regions of Quebec for one or two seasons. These pilot projects were used to set up a program and to enact rules that thousands of volunteers would then apply across Quebec.

It was also necessary to train the aforementioned volunteers as well as to give the necessary time to local associations to obtain the famous removable strips used to divide the track in two. And I’m not talking about the necessary communication campaign to educate outraged parents that their three-apple-tall baby can’t play. real hockey on a full track.

Jocelyn Thibault and her team in the federation will therefore have to establish priorities and long times to hope to realize most of the recommendations that have been addressed to them.

***

That said, there are a lot of good things about this document. There are also several themes that readers of this column have been familiar with for several years.

For example, introducing all children to ice skating in elementary schools is a great recommendation. Not because it is absolutely necessary to turn every Quebecer into a hockey player, but rather because it is a motor skill that must be acquired in the same way as swimming, running, jumping, cycling, catching a ball, kicking a ball, keeping balance and lark.

Ensuring that every minor hockey federation can count on the support of a full-time technical advisor, as recommended in the report, would also be a huge step forward.

The kind of benevolent person who ends up knowing all the children of the association and who identifies their talents. The kind of mentor who offers ongoing training and follow-up to coaches and who assists them during the delicate team composition period. The resource person capable of solving trivial problems on the ground that otherwise generate dissatisfaction or numerous calls to the federation headquarters.

I also particularly savored the passages in which they complain that children are classified too quickly on their journey. According to the report’s authors, this creates an unhealthy elitist climate leading to longer journeys and additional expenses for parents. And most importantly, the pressure on performance for children and a high dropout rate before the age of 13.

Among the recommendations aimed at giving priority to fun, we point out the elimination of rankings and statistics up to category M-13 (pee-wee) included; limiting travel and creating calendars that are more respectful of the reality of families. These positive ideas are in line with an observation made several years ago by the leaders of the Swedish Hockey Federation.

Skate in front of the bench.

Lias Andersson congratulates his Swedish teammates at the World Junior Championship.

Photo: The Canadian Press / Mark Blinch

Quebec’s demographics are changing, and the committee also noted the need to make hockey more inviting for members of cultural communities and more accessible for all Quebec families.

Each year, the Swedish federation sends an invitation letter, written in six languages, to several hundred thousand children. This is a fairly easy measure to take. And while it’s possible for Swedes to offer $ 200 seasons to novice hockey players, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be doing something similar at home.

***

The report also contains some recommendations for raising eyebrows.

Like the one that wants the government to consider Hockey Quebec as a special federation, withdraw it from standardized programs and provide it with adequate funding for just that. And above all, that we makes it mandatory to join Hockey Québec for all ice hockey activities, for everyone .

The protection of the good old monopoly that reappears!

If these regulations had existed 10 years ago, Quebec hockey would likely be in worse shape today. For example, the school leagues that rocked Hockey Quebec and forced everyone to reflect on the shortcomings of the network would never have seen the light.

Monopolies, by definition, are a brake on innovation. It is also because we have been killing innovation for a long time in Quebec that the report on the future of hockey was commissioned. Nice irony! The new leaders of Hockey Quebec are dynamic. Let’s take advantage of it. But the next ones may not be. This special status could become a double-edged sword.

***

The report also recommends the formation of Quebec’s three national development programs: one in para hockey, one for women, and one for men in the U-18 category.

Surprisingly, the 17-year-olds who would be a part of Quebec’s national program wouldn’t be the best players in their age group. In reality they would be 17-year-old players who failed to find a place on a QMJHL team.

A rink hockey player

Rimouski players in training

Photo: Radio-Canada / Simon Turcotte

Committee members believe that with optimal supervision and support from the National Institute of Sport (INS) and playing games against AAA and collegiate junior teams, these players could access the QMJHL at 6pm.

The 17-year-old clientele is rather sparsely controlled in Quebec, that’s true. But it is still surprising that they choose to create an additional structure instead of simply forcing, for example, the Junior AAA League to play with 17-year-olds and provide them with adequate support. Furthermore, the INS mandate is to develop Olympic athletes, non-rookies QMJHL.

***

Speaking of the QMJHL, the report contains very few recommendations in this regard. However, it is at the heart of the Quebec development structure.

This modesty is perhaps related to the fact that several committee members are closely related to or work within the Quebec major junior circuit. How to tweak everything else, but not quite the QMJHL.

However, the committee recommends that league teams be forced to respect a particular form of coaching when they decide to keep a 16-year-old player. Therefore, they would not have the right to trade these young players (which should go without saying) and should commit to sticking to a development plan and using them regularly throughout the season.

A small line also makes the recommendation to review the lot / file ratio at QMJHL.

***

Finally, the report stresses the importance of creating a true university network in Quebec for men’s hockey.

You have read it at least 100 times in this column: it is abnormal that the top of the pyramid of a federation with 85,000 to 95,000 members (depending on the year) is made up of only three male university teams, of which only one is French. .

A hockey player in white tries to make a throwback in front of his opponents' net, in gray and grenade, during a college game.

Forward Cole Carter (# 18), Carleton Ravens

Photo: Courtesy of Marc Lafleur / Carleton Ravens

Once this desire is formulated (we already know that several universities intend to create programs), the committee does not answer the million-dollar question: what does it suggest to make this university network relevant?

There are already 35 college teams in Canada, and NHL organizations won’t even see them play. Across the border, Scouts spend their time in the NCAA arenas.

The situation will not change if we simply add three or four more teams.

College hockey will have to be truly part of Hockey Québec’s development strategy, at least in the same way as QMJHL, for such a revolution to take place. But don’t bet too much on it.

In short, congratulations to the members of the committee, who obviously worked and debated a lot to produce this report. And good luck to the employees of Hockey Quebec, who have a whole job ahead of them.

A banner ad for the Radio-Canada Sports podcast: Lots of Hockey

Leave a Comment