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The Straight Edge: Social networking's double-edged sword

Flyers rookie James van Riemsdyk quickly found out how rabid hockey fans can be. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Flyers rookie James van Riemsdyk quickly found out how rabid hockey fans can be. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s amazing what a simple Internet search can uncover.

For example, in researching prospects for The Hot List, I came across one particular player’s MySpace page that did not show him in the best of lights.

The problem is pretty straightforward: Jokes that are funny when you’re in your mid-teens tend not to be funny to other groups – in this case women, or most adults in general. But with some very quick searching, I found this prospect was not alone; some of his peers also left an unseemly electronic breadcrumb trail that, I would have to expect, could illicit some pretty damning questions when the NHL draft combine comes up in the summer.

Imagine – you walk into a conference room filled with scouts and executives from an NHL team you idolized as a kid and the first question is about a vulgar comment you made on the Internet. Is it getting hot in here, or is just me?

Facts are facts; the World Wide Web has been a revolutionary device, but as someone who grew up without it, I can’t believe some of the stupid things people do on it. As in, once something embarrassing is out there, it isn’t going to disappear – ever.

Alec Schall, a player agent/advisor who does not represent either of the prospects mentioned above, is well aware of how the Internet has changed the game and he’s always keeping his clients cognizant of the perils. Philadelphia Flyers rookie James van Riemsdyk is one of them and Facebook was his learning experience.

“After he was drafted, he was ‘friended’ by about 5,000 people,” Schall said. “He was just being nice. But then he’d go on the road in college and get nasty messages from the other fans everywhere he went.”

Needless to say, JVR keeps his page private now. Schall recalls another NHL prospect who was busted by a friend’s Facebook page when a tagged picture showed the underager with a beer. A call from the team that drafted him led to some quick deleting. But protecting teenagers from themselves can be difficult.

“It gets harder and harder,” Schall said. “Everybody’s got a camera and the information gets disseminated so quickly these days. I’ve had some young advisees put silly stuff up there because they’re kids and they think it’s funny.”

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But oh, the eyes are always watching. In fact, Schall noted major NCAA schools are doing their own quality control when it comes to social networking shenanigans. College coaches now set up Facebook pages and make sure each player on the team ‘friends’ them so the program can keep tabs on their charges.

The agent also knows that younger NHL scouts who are hip to social networking are aware of player pages.

Not everything about the Internet experience is negative, however. Schall recalled how client and Phoenix Coyotes prospect Kevin Porter was supported by friends en route to his Hobey Baker Award for college player of the year in 2008 by a “Porter for Hobey” Facebook page. The left winger’s 33 goals and 63 points in 43 games certainly didn’t hurt, but every bit of publicity helps these days.

I know the perils of Internet exposure isn’t a new issue and I don’t want to sound like a crusty Luddite who just logged on, but the fact pro and soon-to-be-pro hockey players are still leaving themselves open to scandal and demerit because an inside joke became available to the whole wide world is indeed a story, if only as a cautionary tale.

If I can find dirt with a five-second Google search, you better believe the scouts and GMs who spend all year agonizing over who the future of their franchise will be can find it, too.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays. 

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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