I will never forget one of the conversations I had with my former high school teacher and one of my friends in Grade 11.
You see, my friend was hands down the best hockey player in my hometown, Carrot River, from Grade 10-12 at the time. He ultimately stood out because only one hockey player every four years tended to leave town to play ‘AAA’ midget or SJHL. Moreover, he not only made ‘AAA’ midget at 16, but he also won a Telus Cup.
At the time of the conversation, my friend was getting off his Telus Cup win. My teacher, who formerly played junior hockey, was pumping his tires and went to the extent of saying “You got to make the NHL, man. I know you can do it.” It’s only fitting to give my friend credit for his accomplishment, but this conversation clearly displays the delusional thought process of many small-town hockey fans. My teacher disregarded that my friend couldn’t make ‘AAA’ midget in his first year of eligibility and played on the third line of his Telus Cup team while throwing around the word NHL.
It is not that I was jealous of my friend or didn’t want him to succeed, though. I am simply a realist. Even at five years old, I thought my friends were stupid for believing in Santa Clause. It baffled me that they couldn’t see that it was their fathers underneath those costumes. Moreover, when my mom told me at 15 years old that I could make the NHL, I laughed.
Back to the point, in hindsight my friend admitted these delusional conversations with ignorant hockey fans ultimately hurt his career. Because he got his tires pumped so much in town, he started to develop a bit of an ego that didn’t go away in future hockey tryouts. This led to him overestimating his skill set. He started to think he was actually a future NHL prospect that some people made him out to be. Therefore, at his WHL tryout he forgot who he really was, which was a third-line grinder. He tried to do too much and didn’t do the little things that made him an impact player in ‘AAA’ midget. In addition, when things weren’t going his way, he thought it had to be the coaches fault because he started to believe his own hype.
Unfortunately, parents are the worst for making young hockey players believe they are diamond in the rough talents. Parents should by no means kill the dream, but many should have more of a one-step-at-a-time attitude. Too many times I hear the WHL, let alone the NHL, dropped in conversations before a parent’s kid even makes ‘AAA’ midget. They don’t realize it’s not that hard to be a star in peewee and bantam; reality doesn’t start to strike until midget.
What it often boils down to is that 90-percent of hockey fans don’t realize how hard it is to make the NHL. You need a combination of elite skill, uncanny work ethic, impeccable smarts and supportive parents. Of all of the players who sign up for minor hockey in Canada, less than one percent goes onto play in the Canadian Hockey League, the best junior hockey development league in the world. And of all the players in the CHL, only three percent go onto to have an NHL career, which is considered a minimum of three and a half seasons in the league. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it’s a long way to the top if you want to chase rubber for a living.
This isn’t to say that only small town folks are delusional with their player evaluations. There are delusional hockey fans in small, medium and big towns. It, however, just seems to be more common in smaller communities like my hometown because few and far between who lace up the skates possesses notable talent.
To put into perspective how crazy the conversations can get in small towns, I’ve had someone ask me if a 19-year-old Junior B player has a shot at one day making the NHL. I didn’t even respond because I was blown away by how dumb the question was.
In communities like Yorkton it doesn’t tend to be that bad for delusional hockey humour. This is mainly because Yorktonians take note that some of the best talent to leave town tend to get lost in the Western Hockey League shuffle.
You can bet that delusional hockey humour will never seize to exist. There will always be someone in the corner of a rink comparing a ‘AA’ midget defenceman to Bobby Orr or a SJHL sniper to Phil Kessel. For the most part it’s harmless, but at times it can have a negative effect on a youngster’s career.