Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The next Next One

John Tavares, a 14-year-old kid from Oakville, Ont., is pretty much like every other guy his age. He just finished Grade 9, lives in his parents' basement and has to worry about peach fuzz.

The big difference, however, is that Tavares just happens to be an exceptional hockey player. For that reason, the Ontario Hockey League is bending its previous rules under which he couldn't be drafted and allowing the god-awful Oshawa Generals to select him first overall.

The only thing his case makes me wonder is, at what age are players, regardless of their talent, too young to be leaving home, billeting with another family and playing 70+ hockey games a year?

Growing up in hockey-mad Kamloops, more than a few guys I knew were shipped off to other cities to play WHL or Jr. A hockey at 15 through 18. [~ As a sidenote, three guys I went to high school with now play in the AHL]. Some of them, sure they were ready for it. Others, well, perhaps not so much.

Let's be honest — when a kid goes to play hockey with guys five years older than him in a foreign city, he's bound to get into some kind of trouble. Regardless of their intent, billets aren't parents. Neither are hockey coaches or GMs. And I have to wonder, as a people, are Canadians just interested in producing great hockey players or should we be producing well-rounded individuals? Hockey players often get flack for not being the most articulate bunch, but how surprising is that when their skills with the puck have been lauded over all others since their pre-teens?

Make no mistake, leaving home to play junior hockey at 15 affects a person's scholastics and their personal life. The only thing it's likely to improve is their ability to play hockey (and even that is debatable). Is that enough?

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