Thursday, September 22, 2011


Under Watchful Eyes

The Wellington Dukes headed south a fortnight ago to play in the Woodchuck Hockey Tournament in Burlington, Vermont.

There were almost thirty teams involved in the tournament. Most were from the eastern parts of the United States and Canada, from a variety of leagues. The Atlanta Knights Junior A club was there, from Georgia. Several teams from the Dukes’ OJHL were there including the Lindsay Muskies, Vaughan Vipers, Trenton Golden Hawks, Oakville Blades, Upper Canada Cyclones, and the Aurora Tigers.

There were teams from the Junior College ranks of Quebec, teams from the Ottawa Valley. Most of the teams were from the States, and they were impressive.

It was my first experience at the tournament, and I asked a few questions. Sitting behind us during one of the Dukes games were the coaches from the Portland Pirates. They were preparing for their last game of the tournament. I asked one of the coaches about the quality of play. I indicated that I was pleasantly surprised. His name is Kent Hulst, and he spent many nights at the Quinte Sports Centre as a member of the Belleville Bulls.

As I ambled around the arenas, and chatted with the personnel, I uncovered several answers to the puzzle.

Over the past fifty years, many Canadian youngsters headed south to the United States to play hockey. Some went to American universities and colleges on full or partial scholarships. Others played for professional teams, in the many leagues throughout the nation.

Americans have developed a love for the game. They also decided years ago that they wanted to be able to play at the highest level. In order to do so, they needed funding, (never an issue), and they needed great coaching. So they coerced many Canadians to remain in the States after their careers had expired. The young Canucks married, fathered children, and began coaching at the various levels. As a result, today there is little difference between Canadian and American youngsters in their development.

Kevin Sneddon coaches at the University of Vermont. He kept a keen eye on the ice as we chatted. He attended Harvard several years ago, and was team captain. Following his hockey career, he moved up the coaching ranks to his current position. “I really enjoy watching the games,” he told me. “Our season has not yet started, and that gives me an opportunity to get out and see some games.”

A partial list of the coaches from other universities and colleges attending the Woodchuck: Yale, Potsdam, Amherst, St. John, Plymouth State, Assumption College, University of Alabama at Huntsville, Colgate, Maine, Dartmouth, Holy Cross, Canisius, Army, Clarkson, Brown, Hobart, Princeton, Ohio State, Buffalo State, RIT in Rochester, RPI, and Plymouth State. Pro scouts from the Winnipeg Jets, the Blues and the Capitals were there.

Most wear the same uniform: black shoes, black socks, black slacks, black zippered jackets with team logos neatly embroidered on the left side, just above the heart. All were cleanly shaven, neatly groomed, and were as secretive as CIA agents. They carried similar notebooks, making scratches as the games wore on.

Trevor Large is an assistant coach at West Point Military Academy. A Brampton lad, he went to Ferris State on a scholarship, and remained in the U.S. He informed me that the great military rivalry between West Point and RMC is being revived this year, after a brief hiatus. Very good news. The West Pointers will be in Kingston for the event in 2013.

Hundreds of players, all trying to show their best in this showcase event. A great opportunity for all players to further their education and skill development.

James Hurst

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