Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Mount Pearl coach Brian Cranford (CBC News)

Leadership in junior hockey consists of looking out for young people's best interest, but apparently that's not the case for Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador.

That provincial association's idea of guiding young people is apparently much different, at least based on it slapping a one-year ban on a coach whose team skipped the opening ceremony of the Atlantic Junior B championship in April, which was held while many players were writing university exams. As CBC News reported (and a major hat tip to Chris Lund of The Score for digging up this gem), Mount Pearl Junior Blades coach Brian Cranford held his players out of the opening ceremony for the Don Johnson Cup in St. John's. So Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador, using the rules-are-rules crutch favoured since time immemorial by people who struggle with common sense and perspective, fined the team and suspended the coach.

In addition to coach Brian Cranford's suspension, the Mount Pearl Junior Blades team was fined $2,000 by hockey's governing body in the province.

"We had a good reason for not going," Cranford told CBC News. "We're right in the middle of university exams."

Cranford — who actually received an award from Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador last year — says it was hard enough getting his players out for the games, never mind the opening ceremonies."These are junior kids, they're 18, 19, 20 years old," Cranford said. "Because of our schedule, we had real issues trying to get a team iced for every game." (CBC News)

The tone of this post is admittedly self-righteous. The Don Johnson Cup is a big deal to many people and its namesake who left us recently was a great guy. At the same time, come on. Talk about having administrators who wear blinders — they must not be hard up for volunteer coaches if they can bounce one for the crime of thinking his players were better off hitting the books instead of a buffet line. What's not to get? Some CBC.ca commenters tried to twist Cranford's "real issues" comment around as evidence his players weren't committed. But just about every Junior B or Junior C coach in Canada works around the reality many players juggle a full university or college course load. With no offence instead, this is not major junior where the top players might put schooling on hold while they try to cash their NHL lottery ticket.

As Lund put it:

There are many things in the world which are much more important than hockey. Education is an inherently important thing on its own merit. Therefore, education is certainly something which should be valued more highly than the opening ceremony of a hockey tournament, particularly if the players are reluctant to participate in the first place because of their commitments to exams. To suspend a coach for obliging his players and giving them an opportunity to prepare for school is ludicrous.

The job of an amateur coach is much more nuanced than that of a professional one. It's common to hear coaches at the junior level speak of how much value they derive from ensuring they help their players develop into well-rounded, quality people. It's not as simple as playing games to collect wins and trophies. In the case of junior hockey it's about looking after your kids above all else. (Backhand Shelf)

Here's hoping someone has the sense to reverse this wrongheaded decision. Being able to admit a mistake is a sign of character and intelligence. No doubt the people responsible for this learned that at some point, so shame on them for not applying it to a real-life situation.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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