Gregg Sutch played in the Ontario Hockey League for five seasons (2008-09 to 2012-13). Sutch, 22, was a first-round draft pick in the OHL and a fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2010 NHL entry draft. He has retired from playing hockey and will be writing on occasion for Yahoo Sports.
Parents play a huge role in the hockey career of any child. From the early morning drive to the rink in the middle of winter, to paying for minor hockey where the prices are insane, to the time commitment it takes. All positive impacts a parent has on a child playing hockey.
As a minor hockey coach myself now, I often see the negative side, too.
The parents that stand out are the ones who live their dreams through their children. They put their children in every imaginable off-ice and on-ice training camp they can find in the summer, so Little Johnny can make it to the NHL. When Johnny makes it to the NHL, it’s all going to be because of his parents. Johnny is going to repay all the money they’ve put in for him.
Let’s stop and take a reality check.
Now that I’m involved with the game in a different way, I’m starting to see how things work off the ice in minor hockey and some of it is wrong. Minor hockey is supposed to be fun. You grow up playing with your buddies on your hometown team and you get to learn what it’s like to bond on and off the ice. I was fortunate to stay with the same team for eight straight years before going to the OHL and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now you have kids travelling all over North America to play for stacked AAA teams. Why?
Kids are coming from Florida to play minor hockey in Toronto. Why?
Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk was found in Siberia. I know it’s cliche but, “if you’re good enough, they’ll find you.” It’s not fair for parents to take away a childhood by moving to Toronto to play in a hockey hotbed. Besides that, the child doesn’t learn a trait that is hard to find these days: loyalty.
In the GTHL, you’re capable of playing for four different teams in four different seasons. You can’t possibly experience the value of loyalty when you are doing that. These decisions to move kids at such a young age to play for stacked AAA teams starts with parents. They are kids, not NHLers. They haven’t even reached Major Junior or the NCAA yet.
Parents, I promise, the scouts will find your child if he is good enough. Colorado Avalanche forward Joey Hishon played AA in Stratford, and he made his NHL debut in the playoffs this year. On a smaller scale, I hear about parents fighting to get releases for their children so they can play 30 minutes away from where they are currently, but where the team is better. Is it fair to strip a kid away from the team he has had friends for the last four or six years?
This is where the love of the game starts to fade. You start feeling like you’re pressured to make the NHL because your parents are paying for all these camps and pushing to make one particular team – and you’re 13 or 14 years old.
Personally, I'd never want to face my parents later on to tell them I didn’t want to play hockey anymore. This is what scares me. Kids need to hold on to the love of the game they’ve developed for as long as they can because as soon as it becomes a business, it becomes very challenging.
Unfortunately we are in a minor hockey culture where some parents are trying to live the dream through their kids. Their son becomes an investment. They put all the money into him, give him the best of everything, move him to wherever the best team is, get him an agent early and expect him to make the NHL. A kid with all that pressure? It’s wrong and unfair.
Parents should help care for a player’s needs, provide support in a positive way, and let him enjoy the summers. I found my love for hockey heightened when I tried other sports. I learned that I didn’t like soccer or lacrosse as much as I loved hockey. Some kids now don’t even get to experience that. You’ll create more success with your kids by allowing them to gain experience and exposure outside of hockey.
Parents, I’ll also let you in on a little secret; you can create a bad reputation in the hockey world for being this brand of parent, and it can put a red flag on the player as well. I know a few examples of players who were looked over or drafted a little later because teams didn’t want to deal with overbearing parents.
In the end, playing minor hockey can’t be done without helpful parents so much respect is due. I credit my own parents for everything they’ve done and we all want to be able to do that once our career is over. The worst thing that can happen is for a player to look back and say, “I was pushed to do all this.” Just like the player, parents need to be in the game for the right reasons – because they want to do it and because they love the game as much as their child does.
You can follow Gregg Sutch on Twitter at @Sutchy44