Double OT: Junior hockey needs to give prospects more down-time

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

I was about to stand and shout, “Three cheers for Steven Stamkos!”

When I heard he would not be attending Canada’s national junior team development camp, I thought finally somebody had come to their senses. After a long hockey season and having been picked first overall in the NHL draft, Stamkos hardly has anything to prove to anybody.

Then I heard the reason he wasn’t going is because he would be at a Tampa Bay Lightning development camp. Oh well.

Whatever happened to taking time off in the summer? Wayne Gretzky used to play baseball during the summer months. Joe Nieuwendyk was one of the best lacrosse players in Canada as a teen.

Nowadays kids are pushed to continue developing their hockey skills 12 months a year and that is a shame. You need time away from something you love to fully appreciate it.

From where I sit, however, Hockey Canada (and junior hockey operators in general) asks too much of the game’s rising young stars. Last year Canada participated in the Summit Series, an eight-game exhibition between Canada and Russia that nobody really cared about, and then asked many of the same kids to play for Canada again at the World Junior Championship. Throw in a kid’s junior or college regular season, an all-star game or two and the playoffs; it’s all too much.

All you had to do to understand my point was watch John Tavares, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL draft, play for his Oshawa Generals in the playoffs last season. This extremely talented young man hit the wall at a time of year when his club needed him most. Why? Because he played way too much hockey over the two years leading up to those playoffs. The kid was out of gas. Talk about treating a thoroughbred like a plow horse.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see the best a young player can bring to the table at playoff time; not just a shadow of his potential.

Those in charge of putting together Canada’s national junior team have done a masterful job over the years, including the past four in which Canada has won the WJC gold medal. But this summer development camp, given the other obligations players have during the season, is completely unnecessary.

Although it sounds contradictory, I don’t have an issue with NHL teams holding summer camps. They need to properly evaluate their prospects and see how they measure up against one another. Also, it gives the kids a little taste of what to expect when they make the jump to the next level. Besides, professional hockey is a business and the expectations for off-season obligations are higher.

Hockey Canada could argue that is all it’s doing by holding its summer camp, but I wonder how much more the organization really finds out about the kids they have identified as potential WJC candidates they couldn’t discover during the training camp it holds prior to the tournament?

At the end of the day, I think Hockey Canada needs to recognize it is asking too much from kids. Surely Canada has enough talent that it can put together a strong team in the few weeks leading up to the annual tournament and recognize the value of giving kids some much-needed down time in the “off-season.” 

Mike Brophy will return in September.

Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.

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