Monday, October 25, 2004

For the Greed of the Game?

The bright light of accountability is being flashed on minor hockey in Toronto after a weekend series in the Toronto Star highlighted some rather unusual happenings in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. The well documented expose of life in minor hockey’s hottest market, opens up some eyes to a world many of us never knew existed. Robert Cribb and Lois Kalchman report on a system that seems out of control and running under its own set of ethics and rules.

It’s not a new issue; in fact the concept of the control of the GTHL was first brought up last year by Bob McCown on the Fan sports radio station. Indeed on his program Monday, McCown made mention of the newspaper article and immediately had an hours worth of phone calls from people using assumed names one suspects, expressing concern over the direction of minor hockey in Toronto.

Considered by many to be the ultimate in feeder leagues to the Junior A, college and eventually professional ranks, the GTHL is a collection of teams spread out over the vast terrain that makes up Metro Toronto. At the centre of the storm is a real estate agent, who has accumulated minor hockey teams like others would collect hockey cards. Stu Hyman has in the space of five years gone on to control over 93 teams in Metro Toronto, putting over 1500 players from age 3-20 on squads of which he has total influence. It makes for a wake up call for the romantic who thought that the minor hockey of our youth still exists today.

To read the Toronto Star series, Minor Hockey is very much a big business now, Hyman’s teams collect player fees of double the going rate for other teams, and star struck parents seem wiling to part with their monies, so their child can wear the team jacket of one of Hyman’s 90 teams. What real benefit those players may receive seems hard to fathom, but for whatever reason a sense of Omerta has descended on parents of players that toil for Mr. Hyman. Whether they are scared of his power, or worried about rocking the boat for their kids, no one seems to want to go on the record over the issue.

An interesting revelation in the excellent series is the fact that Hyman most recently attempted to purchase another minor hockey property for $300,000. One has to wonder what possible reason one man would want to have control of so many minor hockey squads, more importantly one wonders how out of whack our world is when a minor hockey team is worth over a quarter of a million dollars!

Hyman claims it’s a love of the game and a bid to benefit kids that has led him down this path. But critics and supporters continue to monitor developments and/or raise questions. The fact that he seems hesitant to address those critics in any public fashion only leads to the suspicion that things may not be as they seem.

For any parent of a player in minor hockey the article will be an eye opener, one has to believe that this is most likely the exception to the rule of minor hockey. Somehow the concept of small town hockey teams being auctioned off to the highest bidder seems to be a far fetched possibility. But in the overly competitive urban areas, it seems that the lure of a payoff one day down the line infects not only entrepreneurs, but parents alike.

The bottom line though must be this: if a kid is forced out hockey because the team he played for arbitrarily raised his fees by 100% without any explanation or accountability then the wheels have truly come off the train here. If it’s truly about the kids and for the good of the game, it seems incomprehensible that flipping hockey teams like real estate properties is compatible with that goal.

If Minor Hockey has developed (or descended) into such an industry that the parents of 3 year old children are scraping to find the funds to get their kid on the ”right” team, then we need to tear the whole structure of minor hockey apart and start over.

I played minor hockey for a few years, never made the touring teams, languishing in the House Leagues of Ottawa into the minor bantam years.. I was never under any impression that I was on a path to the NHL, eventually my interest in minor hockey waned and I like many others left the system. The talent I brought to the ice, most likely would never have brought me to the attention of the likes of Mr. Hyman, but more importantly the extortion of outrageous fees, wouldn’t have attracted my parents. It seems a sad commentary about Hockey that there are parents willing to pour that much money into a chase that in most cases will not lead to the Promised Land.

Below find links to the three investigative pieces by the Star’s writers, Robert Cribb and Lois Kalchman, read them, digest them and then wonder if the love of the game has any room in the minor hockey industry of today!

The fact that these demands are being made, is a major cause for concern and more importantly a call for a thorough examination. One fears that Cribb and Kalchman have only scraped the first layer of ice!

From Hockey Dad to Hockey Mogul.

A Looming face off over fees.

Where does money go, hockey parents demand!

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