story so far: A
writing an internet cliffhanger: F-
this website is distracting enough as it is, dammit!
NOTE: I am not so narcissistic as to think that my life is deserving of a novel, but I didn't realize just how much information would be involved in this story. I originally intended to write about an alternative perspective to the OHL vs. NCAA debate, but it turned into a story about my hockey life and I think it works better this way. I really hope I'm not boring the shit out of you guys, thanks for reading.
Why'd you turn against me, Gordon? For six years, I taughtcha how to skate, I taughtcha how to score, I taughtcha how to go for the "W". You could have been one of the greats. An' now look at yourself. You're not even a has-been. You're a never-was. " - Mighty Ducks
The OHL draft year begins the day after the previous one takes place. Scouts never stop scouting. Players never stop playing, and parents never cease to believe their child is the foremost deserving of attention. My coach arranged to have various scouts and OHL executives speak to us prior to the season so we would know what to expect. The most common advice in no particular order:
1. Lay off the beer/marijuana 2. Don't change your game just to impress scouts (most kids had trouble with this one) 3. Do not take steroids, they don't help with hockey and they will destroy your teenage body 4. Teams will absolutely inquire about your character, so don't be an idiot off the ice or at school.
This period in my life seemed like one long existential crisis. Who was I? Was I the type of guy who would go to the OHL or should I hold out for a letterman jacket? I will say this: I don't remember anything from my social life as a 15 year old. I'm pretty sure there were girlfriends, parties, and hangouts but I don't remember much of it. Ask me about my hockey season though and I can probably recall my team's record against every other team in the league, right down to which goalie was playing on each side, and who were the top performers from each game.
In a game that featured two teams with several top prospects, there would be at least 15-20 scouts in the stands who were identifiable by the logo-jacket and notepad. I was nervous to the point of barely being able to speak prior to each and every game I played.
When the year begins, Central Scouting releases a preliminary draft list with about 100 kids on it. Teams add players as the year goes on which results in a mid-term ranking with 300 players and the list ends up at 600 kids who are eligible in the final version. Only 300 get drafted in total. The rankings go as such:
AA - Bluechipper, rounds 1-2
A - Rounds 3-6
B - Rounds 7-10
c - Rounds 11-16
Mind you, every eligible player receives a letter grade, and only half of the total players on the list would get drafted at all. Prior to the season, to my dismay i received an A grade, pegging me to go in rounds 3-6. Oh well, maybe it had something to do with my flirtation with college hockey.
Letters from colleges started coming in. The first letter I got was from Ohio State. It said something along the lines of "We recently scouted you at the (whatever) high school tournament and are aware of your talents, we will continue to scout you." That was a funny one because I never played high school hockey in my life. Moreover, I wasn't even aware that Ohio State had a hockey program. Letters continued to roll in. Holy Cross, Michigan State, Maine, Minnesota, Notre Dame. No Michigan. Remember, schools can't make offers to kids that young. The letters all contained generic language talking about educational opportunities saying that they were basically aware of my existence along with some brochure and questionnaire. Nothing from the actual coaches, and nothing personal at all.
I was very much wanting some sign from the University of Michigan that they were interested. I began sending emails to who I thought was Coach Berenson. Basically, I wrote about my hopes and dreams and that it would be an honor to play for Michigan. I did so at least every two weeks all season, giving updates on my stats and performances. I don't even remember where I got the email or if he was reading them. I didn't send out any other emails, only to Michigan.
My season was going splendidly. The mid-term rankings came out and I was pushed to a AA projection. What a feeling. I remember the same week that the rankings came out my grade 10 math teacher told me that Dale Hunter (Owner/head coach London Knights) had called him to ask what kind of kid I was, if I did my homework, and if I treated my classmates with respect. A week later he called my house to have a good, long conversation about what the Knights had to offer for a young man. We talked for at least 30 minutes and the conversation ended with him saying that he wanted me with their 2nd round pick but that I probably wouldn't last that far (the Knights were a powerhouse, picking last in each round). This wasn't the first such call I had received, but it became at least an every other day occurrence at this time, along with giant packages in the mail with brochures from each club containing hand written letters from coaches/GM's.
In football recruiting terms, I was a 4-star prospect, probably somewhere just inside or outside the Rivals 100. Now imagine a prospect lists Michigan in his top 5 with LSU, Bama, USC, Florida. Then, tell Brady Hoke that he is the only one of those coaches who is not allowed to speak with said prospect at any point during his senior season. In fact, he's not even allowed to let him know that they want him there at all. Meanwhile, Les Miles and Nick Saban are speaking to him daily, making in-home visits, and sending emails. That's what NCAA hockey deals with every single year against the CHL.
I still wasn't wavering on Michigan, but I didn't know what to do. I began to tell scouts that I would go to the NCAA only if I could go to Michigan, otherwise I'd be in the OHL. The only reason I said this was so that the hockey community would know that I wanted to go to Michigan. The hope was that this information would make it to someone important in Ann Arbor at which point the information would trickle back to me as to whether they were interested or not.
This worked, kind of. There are these companies that exist that you pay to promote you as a prospect. They are mostly geared toward helping Canadians get NCAA attention. I got two or three calls, all from different people claiming to work for various services inquiring about my intentions. I was not paying anyone for this service, they just called me.
"Hey, I heard you're interested in the NCAA. Good for you, smart guy like you should be doing that."
"I am interested, but only in Michigan."
"Oh really, I was going to suggest you look elsewhere, I know they have their eye on some other prospects and I think a big gritty forward like yourself is better suited to the OHL."
"What, you just said I should be playing in the NCAA"
"I'm just saying, I don't think Michigan is interested, maybe you should look at other schools. But you never know, right?"
"Yeah, right, cya"
SHIT!?! Who the hell was that and why is he taking a dump on my dreams? I told people about this call and most said not to worry about it. Chances are, according to my coaches and friends, that it was someone from an OHL team who knows that only want to play for Michigan and will otherwise go to the O.
At this point, I was getting extremely upset and impatient. Rules be damned! Michigan, if you're interested, give me some sort of sign. Anything will do.
I started to hear from every direction that there were several top division 1 scholarships available to me, but that Michigan would probably not be one of them unless I was willing to wait at least a year for them to see where their scholarship situation stood. At this point, the information was becoming so similar from all sides that I had to assume it was true.
That is until I finally got the letter. Stacked somewhere in between the Oshawa Generals and Bowling Green was a letter with a block M in the corner. It contained a brochure for the University, a questionnaire, and the contact information for the coaches. Turns out, I had not been emailing coach Berenson at all, but now I had his real address. I emailed him and got a response from an assistant coach. He told me to call him.
WHAT?! I can call these people?! How was this not explained to me before? I had never bothered to email any other school and since the player must initiate contact, they couldn't reach out to me. This changed things. I called the number several times and left messages, but nothing. Then finally, someone picked up and we had a good, long conversation.
While these conversations excited me, they were generic and non-informative. I still had no idea where I stood with them, and that was not a good thing.
Draft day was 3 months away and I was still hearing through the grapevine that I was not a plan A player for Michigan. Shit was about to hit the fan.
story so far: A
writing an internet cliffhanger: F-
this website is distracting enough as it is, dammit!
You're clearly Jonathon Toews and you've spent the past year playing for the Blackhawks and attending Harvard Law. Very Impressive.
Still have no idea who it is, but there's probably a decent chance that he's somewhere in here. By the way, I know that this is weird for me to look this up, I don't really care. I'm bored and had time to kill.
I used to play AAA hockey during draft year as well, so I somewhat understand the crazy things that happen. I wasn't on the draft list myself or anything, so I didn't personally have the same experience, but a couple of my teammates went on to be really good players at the next level. There were always a lot of scouts in the stands and as a goalie, I found it really tough to stay calm and focused. There really is a lot of pressure on kids to perform.
As someone who also played AAA and Midget Minors before a family situation forced me to something closer to home, I really like your perspective. I also have seen how scouts are all around at elite camps, or select tournaments. Can't wait to hear the rest of this story.
I have an idea who you might be under the assumption you are a Canadian born player who came to Michigan. But I understand your want/need to stay anonymous on the board.
Keep the story coming.
Thanks for the perspective and I think we are all interested to hear the conclusion. My son is involved in hockey right now but not at this level and this account is very interesting and informative to me.
I had no idea of the differences between the NCAA and CHL for contacting players, I guess this is why more players go to the CHL rather than the NCAA route.
Great diary, just wish is came in one piece. The wait for your final piece is killing me.
I haven't been on the board that long, but these are some of the best diary entries that I've seen. Thanks for it, Jim.
...to ignore all other schools besides Michigan? What made it your dream school and why was college your focus vice the OHL? These things seem central to your story and to your existential journey.
Shoe...I became a Michigan fan when my cousin went there. At this point, my whole family became Michigan fans and I followed suit. Michigan probably has the most prestigious hockey program in the nation, combined with a stellar academic ranking. It is pretty easy to fall in love with it.
Also, if I could go back, I would have actually responded to some of those schools that wanted me. I was close-minded and arrogant to be honest with you. I would have done a ton of research on various schools and taken as many unofficial visits as my parents could afford.
Having said that, I don't have any regrets on how it turned out, but if I go any further I'll spoil part 3.
...insights into your motivations. Loving this so far, so like many, I'm really looking forward to part 3!
in being a trailer park supervisor. I don't want to give away too much of part III (being a Canuck who never played above house league, I'm living vicariously through Mr Lahey) but anyone who has ever watched the show knows that booze killed Mr. Lahey's aspirations of a hockey career.
Amazing. This is some of the best stuff I've read here. You had me at the Mighty Ducks quote at the beginning, but this was extremely well written. Can't wait for the final part.
Can't wait for the next installment. A lot of pressure for young kids, amazing.
Thanks for the insight concerning the recruiting process.
Are you a Bauer man or a CCM guy?
Bauer has the best skates IMO but everyone is different.
Recently converted to CCMs for the first time in my life last year... U+. Jury's still out because I think the boots still aren't quite broken in yet.
Favorite skates I ever had were ancient Supreme Custom 4000s... if the chassis hadn't broken I'd probably still be on those things
I have a pair of Bauer Supreme 5000 Goalie Skates that I've had for 10-12 years now. I'm going to look into having the blades replaced if need be because I love the skates so much. I know goalie skates don't have as much wear and tear as forward skates, but I love these skates. I have a wide (have to wear New Balance and 4E shoes) foot and these are EEE Bauers, which my local equipment store all-but special ordered (Bauer makes EEEs they're just rare).
Big Bauer fan
Take your CCM's and bring them to the hockey shop and have them put them in the skate oven. Then walk around in them for about 15 minutes. Then go back in a month and do the exact same thing again after you've already played in them a few times. Do it one final time a few weeks later. This should significantly reduce the break-in period.
down to your hockey knowledge... as I only played house hockey growing up. Having played at a high level, you've probably forgotten more about the game than I will ever know. But I have to disagree with your advice. None of the skate manufacturers recommend walking in skates right after they've been baked. Every shop guy/equipment manager I've talked to says to tie your skates snug (not tight), and remain in a seated postion (knees at 90 deg angle) for 15+ minutes... don't stand or walk. Then don't skate on them for 24 hours to let the epoxies harden.
If you've had the skates baked and have put 5-10 skates on them, and are still having issues, then the skate probably doesn't fit properly. You need to find a local hockey shop that knows how to fit skates... as every brand (and in fact each model in a brand) will fit differently.
Thanks for sharing Jim, it's riveting.
On draft day JimLahey is instructed to open his Box of Faith and finds a delicious bowl of Kraft Dinner.
(I'm actually pretty interested in the conclusion to this saga even if it is a little self-serving on the OP's part.)
than being body slammed outside the East Quad by a former wrestler turned white tailback with a potential anger management problem...
I believe a certain 48 year old man was from Jackson.
I'm curious about how really young kids (2-7) get involved in hockey & sports in general. My daughter is 5 and my son is 2.5, so we're starting to get involved in sports. Everything I've ever heard is that the best players seem to have picked up the sport at a REALLY early age, like 2-3-4 y/o. I've heard about parents who drill their kids in [insert sport].
finally, the questions: how early did you start skating and how dedicated we're you at a young age (< 6 y/o)? Do you know of many players who reached your level who didn't really get started until, IDK 10y/o or so?
I starting skating at around 3, and played pond hockey around that age as well. 7 is when you can start playing travel but I made it as a 6 year old and that's when I became dedicated. How dedicated? Nothing crazy, but I would shoot close to 1000 pucks a week in the garage. Real off-ice training didn't start until I was about 12.
I know a few guys who ended up being good at hockey and didn't start until they were 10 or so, but not many. I know one guy who I don't think played until he was 12 and ended up becoming a 2nd round NHL pick, and should have been a 1st if it wasn't for his character concerns.
Start your kids early but let them just enjoy it on their own. I know from experience that pushing a little kid too far can cause resentment. Making the NHL is like winning the lottery. The real benefit of playing team sports is that it gives you excellent social skills, exercise, and gives you lifelong friends. Focus on those things.
As a lifelong hockey player who is not JimLahey, I'll say that I started skating at around four; just public skate, casual stuff. I began playing hockey at five. As to begenning hockey at a later age, most everyone I knew had started earlier. Hockey is a bit harder to start late because there is just so much to pick up with skating, IMO; I also ran and played tennis at the varsity level, and there was no question that running was easier to take up later compared to tennis and hockey.
I wouldn't want to "drill" a kid in a sport, but take your son/daughter skating a few times or to a hockey game, and if they're interested let them keep going.
Took learn to skate at 3, hockey 1 at age 4.
Played goalie/travel starting at age 7 and went from there. There's no problem with starting kids early, but you have to let them do what they want. I played hockey during hockey season, but still played baseball and whatever else I wanted too. I got more serious (doing a summer camp, etc.) around age 10 when I could figure out "I'm best at this, and i enjoy this the most" for myself. Don't push your kids to whatever YOU want them to do. My dad was (is in his mind?) a baseball player, and when I quit baseball to play Lacrosse during my hockey offseason it was hard for him. But Hockey was always #1 for me, and so he became a hockey fan, learned the game, and shared it with me, which was a great way to go
Not the OP, but thought I would answer a few of your questions.
There are examples of NHL players who started later in life. But the vast majority probably started at 6-7 or younger. While I don't know when he started skating, I know David Perron (St. Louis Blues) was playing house/rec level hockey when he was 15 or so... and then a few years later is drafted in the NHL. Bottom line, hockey is a late specialization sport, you have to have a high level of natural ability. In fact, USA Hockey is currently implementing a more "European" approach to the younger youth levels (mites/squirts). They are trying to encourage kids to spend more time playing a multitude of sports rather than focus soley on hockey... the thought process being it will help to develop the kids as better all-around atheletes and also curb burn out.
From my own experience, I started taking my two oldest to skating lessons when they were 6 and 4. My oldest (girl) started out in figure skating, and switched over to hockey a year or so ago... she enjoys it, but isn't very interested in putting extra work in. My younger one (boy) can't get enough of it. He likes to practice in the garage... take extra skating lessons... etc. Seeing as how we don't live in a traditional hockey market... I doubt he'll go any further than playing tier II travel and high school hockey... and that's more than ok with me, because all I want is to pass on my love of the game to them (like my father did to me).
I've been waiting to see you in a thread. When you put up "Platonic Defense of Football" I was at my house in Florida with broken Internet access so I didn't see it until a week later. Anyways, that was fantastic, I thoroughly enjoyed it. You did that better than I ever could. Also, I appreciate the nod in the intro. Any time you want to talk philosophy in a drinking/open thread...I'll be down. Cheers.
I had no idea that the NCAA was at such a disadvantage to the OHL...and probably every other major junior-type league in the world. It's kind of amazing we can get the prospects we do when we have such a tremendous disadvantage.
Also- these stories are awesome
I'm sitting here eating my lunch looking for part 3 and uhh WTF? My sandwich is almost finished so hurry up please. :)
Will be done later on tonight. I am still debating with myself as to exactly which point I'm going to end the story.
Go all the way! Tell us you're really Zoltan Mesko and the hockey thing didn't pan out!!
back and read Eric Lindros' biography... I think it was called 'Fire on Ice'... anyhow, it got published right after his NHL draft fiasco was resolved, so before he played a game in the NHL. I just remember it being a similar account of growing up in the youth/junior hockey culture of Canada.
OK, JimLahey, you post part 3 RIGHT NOW!