Kelly McCrimmon, the owner, general manager and head coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings, was a panellist at last week’s World Hockey Summit in Toronto.
He handled himself awfully well, too, which wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows him.
McCrimmon was especially sharp during a session where fingers were being pointed at the Canadian Hockey League. Registration numbers are down, way down, in the Czech Republic and Slavomir Lener, the country’s director of national teams, was pointing out that some of that was caused by players ending up in North America.
“I’m far from blaming the CHL for bringing (juniors) over here,” said Lener, who has worked on the coaching staffs of the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers.
“Obviously we have to pick it up. We have to work harder.”
At one point, Lener said: “We’ve lost a lot of players. Ten years ago, we had 80,000 players, now we’ve got only 30,000.”
Some people interpreted him as meaning the number of junior players had dropped from 80,000 to 30,000, but I’m not sure of that. Boy, that’s a lot of junior hockey players. I’m thinking he was referring to minor hockey registrations.
Anyway, Lener admitted that over the last few years a lot of children have gone to golf, soccer and tennis, all of which are less expensive to play than hockey.
Other European executives offered up support for Lener, commenting that losing too many players to CHL teams would have a huge impact back home.
To which McCrimmon responded: “I’ve always looked at (competition with) U.S. college hockey and appreciated the fact that they made us better. We had to address things to make our program better so that we were the right alternative for every player, where we could be the best of both worlds.”
In other words, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, if you approach it the right way.
Upon returning from the Summit, McCrimmon has suggested that perhaps having CHL teams cut back to one import per team (rather than two) wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
But, at the same time, teams should be allowed to add another 20-year-old player to their rosters, lifting that maximum to four from three.
“Personally,” he told James Shewaga, the Brandon Sun’s sports editor, “I would go to one import and four 20-year-olds. I would find that a lot more attractive scenario year-in, year-out, than having two imports. I don’t think we want to eliminate import players from the CHL.
“Our mandate obviously is to provide opportunities for Canadian players . . . so that’s never going to change. But I think it’s a good experience for our own players to have the opportunity to play with players from different countries.
“You look at last year’s (Wheat Kings) team when we had two very good import players, I think that adds something to all of our players as well, the fact that they got to see the different style of play, different culture that those players bring to our league.”
The Wheat Kings used D Alexander Urbom and F Toni Rajala -- a Swede and a Finn, respectively -- as their imports last season.
As Shewaga writes: “Landing two impact imports is more the exception than the rule in the CHL, with no guarantee you will actually be successful in bringing the player overseas. For every hit like Toni Rajala, Alexander Urbom and Juraj Simek in the last five years, the Wheat Kings — like most CHL teams — have also had plenty of misses in Maxim Mayorov, Kirill Gotovets, Nikolai Lukyanchikov, Igor Musatov and John Wikner.”
I have long been a proponent of the WHL going to five 20-year-old players and, for the life of me, have never been able to understand why the league doesn’t push harder for this.
Teams invest far too much time, money and effort in these players to be casting some of them aside at the 20-year-old deadline every season. A lot of the 20-year-old players who end up leaving are more than good enough to play in the league; they just get caught up in the numbers game.
So why not making it easier on everyone -- drop an import and add a 20-year-old or two?
Last year, McCrimmon ended up having to make a decision between Aaron Lewadniuk and Del Cowan. McCrimmon chose to move Cowan, who went on to the Prince George Cougars and then the Calgary Hitmen. In the end, both players were with Memorial Cup-bound teams, so you know they both were good enough.
This season, McCrimmon is going to have to trim three 20-year-olds from his roster. He goes into training camp with D Darren Bestland, G Jacob DeSerres, G Andrew Hayes, D Mark Schneider, F David Toews and F Shayne Wiebe each wanting one of the three available spots.
You can bet that other WHL general managers are watching . . . and waiting.
Eric Duhatschek, The Globe and Mail’s always thoughtful columnist, sums up the World Hockey Summit right here. And he does it by taking a look at some things that might need to happen at hockey’s grassroots level in order to grow the game. . . . The one thing he doesn’t touch on is the cost of playing minor hockey. There isn’t any doubt that has a huge impact on registration numbers and, moving forward, that is something with which Hockey Canada and the branches are going to have to deal.
The Medicine Hat Tigers have signed D Spenser Jensen, their first-round pick (14th overall) in the 2010 bantam draft. From Airdrie, Alta., the 6-foot-4, 175-pound Jensen is in Medicine Hat’s rookie camp this weekend. He played last season for the Airdrie Xtreme of the Alberta major bantam league, putting up 23 points and 90 penalty minutes in 32 games.
Congratulations to former WHL player and coach Drew Schoneck and his wife, Lindsay, on the birth of Ali Rose, a sister for Connor. Ali Rose checked in at nine pounds three ounces on Friday morning in Pasco, Wash. Drew reports on Facebook that “Mom and baby are good.” He is the GM and head coach of the USHL’s Tri-City Storm, which plays out of Kearney, Nebraska.
The two-time defending Memorial Cup-champion Windsor Spitfires made a trade Friday, after which Bob Duff of the Windsor Star wrote: “Unless there's something here that can't be seen, for all intents and purposes, Friday's deal was a sign that Windsor was giving up any hope that it could reach the tournament and try to win an unprecedented third successive Memorial Cup.”
Read the entire column right here.
There’s more on the NCAA-CHL saga, this time from Paul Kelly, the executive director of College Hockey Inc. . . . Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe has it right here.