To move to a new organization, players in minor hockey must first be released by their hometown organization. (Getty Images)
While researching a book I’m currently working on, I recently had Sunday morning coffee with a fellow by the name of Carlo Cimetta. He’s one of these Type A guys who knows what he wants and is prepared to do everything within acceptable boundaries to get it.
Six years ago, when his son Matthew was just 10 years old, Cimetta wanted to give him the opportunity to play for the Toronto Red Wings of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. The fact he lived in Sarnia, which is 253 kilometres (or 157 miles) from Toronto, did nothing to deter him. But in order to make it work, Cimetta had to secure releases from his home association and every one of the 13 that stand between Sarnia and Toronto.
Cimetta made it work, but if one of those minor hockey associations had refused, his son would have either been forced to play there or his plan to play in Toronto would have been scuttled. So, Cimetta would drive to Toronto every weekend and stay two nights in a hotel so his son could play with the Red Wings. Every Wednesday, Cimetta would put his son and Bo Horvat, who lived about 100 kilometres away and was also playing for the Red Wings, through their paces at an arena in Sarnia at $125 an hour.
Two years later, Cimetta rented a house across the border in Port Huron, Mich., and lived there with Matthew while his wife and two daughters stayed in Sarnia so his son could be eligible to play for the renowned Detroit Honeybaked program. And things have worked out all right. Matthew was taken in the eighth round of the Ontario League draft by the Sarnia Sting, but intends to play at Cornell University in two years. Horvat, meanwhile, was the London Knights’ first round pick in the draft last spring.
Now, feel free to question the sanity of a guy who would go to such lengths to have his son play for one program when there was already a perfectly fine Triple-A organization right in his backyard. But in almost any other realm aside from minor hockey, Cimetta would have had every right to do what he did without having to answer to anyone.
But because of Hockey Canada’s arcane residency rules, Cimetta was subject to the whims of 14 minor hockey associations, any one of which would have been completely within its rights to refuse to release his son Matthew. Imagine what would happen if post-secondary institutions operated the same way. A kid who is bright enough for Harvard would be stuck at the Podunk Community College simply because he lives in Podunk. Talented dancers who wanted to join Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto would be forced to continue to go down the street to take lessons from the retired lady who rents out the church basement every Saturday morning.
Those days of socialist rule should be coming to an end. At its annual meeting in Montreal, Hockey Canada’s board of directors committed to six priorities, one of which was, “To spirit the attitude and create mechanisms in player movement to facilitate flexibility within the game reflecting the needs of the modern player and family.”
That won’t trigger Hockey Canada to tear down its borders immediately, but it’s a very positive first step.
The residency rules have been supported by the courts on several occasions, including a novel attempt to have them removed in 2004 based on the idea that minor hockey is a business and to not allow a player to play where he or she wishes is discriminatory and in violation of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. Apparently, in the eyes of the courts, the Chicken Little notion that tearing down boundaries will somehow kill minor hockey in small towns trumps basic rights of the individual.
But it’s wrong. It gives too much power to the minor hockey associations that are sometimes looking out for their own interests instead of the players’. You’d be surprised how many of them won’t grant releases to players who think they can develop better elsewhere. It’s petty, discriminatory and unreasonable. And if saner heads prevail, it will stop some day.
Hockey Canada is also taking steps toward offering parents and players more options. One idea is to parse the season up into four segments and allow players to play anywhere from one to four of them, leaving them time to pursue other interests while keeping them under Hockey Canada’s umbrella.
Last season, THN sounded the alarm that numbers of kids playing hockey in Canada are going down and there could be 30,000 fewer playing the game within five years. Making the season shorter and more affordable is one good way to get those numbers back up. So is offering players and parents more freedom to choose non-contact hockey if they wish, which is another one of Hockey Canada’s priorities in 2011-12. Those will help attract players and keep them in the game.
And dismantling the archaic residency rules will make it more equitable for the ones who do decide to keep playing.
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