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Letter: A two AAA rep hockey system in Sudbury hurts players

The decision to have two AAA teams from Greater Sudbury dilutes the talent pool and doesn’t serve the players, parent says
typewriter pexels-caryn-938165 (From Pexels by Caryn)

Thank you for taking the time to read this plea for public support. It is my hope that all will understand and support the fact Sudbury kids are indeed suffering from ill-advised decisions made by our local hockey associations.  

To date, I have sent multiple emails to our local association representatives requesting an explanation on the recent decisions made, which I’ll elaborate on below. Unfortunately, and most likely intentionally, I have not received a response. 

Furthermore, no memo or newsletter has been released despite the fact of vocal public outrage throughout the membership. It is my conclusion that either they don’t have a legitimate answer that makes sense for our kids, or simply don’t feel obligated to be honest and open with the membership they represent. Regardless, quite regrettable and blatantly arrogant.  

Sudbury rep hockey teams are having one of the best seasons in recent record. Teams from AAA to A are reaping the benefits of last year’s decision to implement a one AAA team system in Sudbury. A decision long-awaited and greatly needed, which I applaud our association representatives for finally introducing. 

Teams are seeing tournament wins, consistent competitiveness anywhere in the province and our kids are having a blast. Provincial rankings are up significantly throughout all ages and the trickle-down effect to all of our other rep programs has produced the same impressing and positive results. 

Along with these benefits, this increased success also provides for proper development, which  stems from having appropriate competition. Appropriate competition is, in fact, competition of like skill and ability, which we are finally witnessing this season.

Things are going so well. So, what changed?

Recently, and regrettably, Sudbury hockey associations have informed their membership that they will be returning to a two AAA team system in Sudbury. Sudbury has roughly 165,000 residents. Compare this to the city of Hamilton, which has over 700,000 residents. Hamilton has just announced a one AAA team system, for simple reasons of remaining competitive and giving their kids the best chance at success. 

Similar examples can be found throughout the province, yet our Sudbury associations have recklessly chosen differently, at the expense of our kids. Reasoning from the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association upon release of this news was to “ensure that our teams have guaranteed games to play.” Interesting reasoning.  

Let’s explore further.  

The NOHLAAA (Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League) is home to only Sudbury, North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie teams. For this current season, Hockey Canada had granted our northern NOHLAAA a one year exemption as we were short of the required number of teams to have an official Hockey Canada-sanctioned league (three teams). 

Therefore, in essence, the reasoning from our local associations above sounds reasonable, right?  

Truth is, Sudbury kids are being sacrificed to keep the dying NOHLAAA league alive. Timmins, once part of the league, has since dropped their AAA program. North Bay has done the same for select age groups. 

Thus, the league that has no supporting teams. The assumed solution reached to keep the league alive was to force Sudbury to return to two AAA teams, therefore just meeting the  required number for an official league. 

Frankly, there are many other viable options to “ensure that our teams have guaranteed games to play”, without surrendering our children’s development and success throughout all rep programs. 

A couple viable options include playing in the AA city loop a year up as was done for years in the past or better yet, playing in a different AAA league entirely. Southern Ontario was ready to have us, but this was recently voted down by the NOHA (Northern Ontario Hockey Association), which governs our local associations and also is the main stakeholder in the aforementioned NOHLAAA league. 

Interesting. Are they purposely holding Sudbury hostage to maintain their league? Why don’t other communities have to make accommodations as well, rather than only Sudbury kids being left to suffer?

Prior to this current season, and previously mentioned above, Sudbury was a two AAA team system. Throughout the age groups, our two AAA teams consistently ranked last and second last in the province. Families were forced to spend thousands of dollars for travel tournaments, never to see a Sunday semi-final and most times, never even seeing a win or a competitive game. 

Coaching staffs were forced to limit their programs to accommodate players with large gaps in skill level. Kids were being consumed with constant team failure, diminishing their love for the game. All the while this was funnelling through to all rep programs. Nobody, anywhere in hockey, will tell you this is better for developing our young  athletes. 

This is what we are going back to. This is what our associations think is best for our kids.  

Our associations have failed us. They have sacrificed our kids for the sake of keeping a league alive. Or, at least, it seems the case since they will not provide any feedback to their membership and continually making decisions that benefit the associations themselves. 

It is their responsibility to do what is best for our kids, not what’s best for them, or a league. Prove to us how this decision is best, please.

The endgame is to give our kids the best chance possible to reach their dream. This is not necessarily the NHL, but could be an outstanding school scholarship abroad or locally. Or simply could be to compete hard and succeed with friends for as long as possible. 

Our associations are gravely limiting any of this from thriving. Sudbury is proud and tough. We have many skilled athletes whose development is being thwarted by these types of decisions.  

“Our long term goal is to increase high level hockey in Sudbury so our teams can compete successfully  and that our players will have somewhere to play in Northern Ontario.” This was another quote from our association upon release of their recent decision. Unfortunately, they’ve again taken a step backwards. 

In reality, they are impeding successful competition and lessening high level hockey. Don’t be fooled, as mentioned above, there’s always a place to play.

If I may, I’d like to take a final minute to justify the one AAA team system to some parents who may be misled. I often hear, “I want my child to play AAA and having two teams gives him/her a better chance at making it.” 

Although true, ask yourself what is truly in the best interest of your child. Is three As on his/her jacket really worth it? Do not be mistaken, proper development does not come from having  three As on a jacket. It comes from a strong program, regardless if that program is AAA, AA or A. 

It comes from having appropriate, equal competition where they actually have a chance to make plays, learn the intricacies of the game and thrive. It comes from getting opportunities in all game situations and practicing and playing with like skill level players. Recognize that AA is, and should be considered an elite program. Recognize that the challenge to develop properly and make the AAA team next year is part of a system that works, and also provides valuable life lessons and skills, such as working hard for purpose, dealing with adversity and setting and achieving goals. 

In fact, my son may very well end up playing AA with a one-team system — I am perfectly ok with that, and so is he.

In conclusion, we ask that our association gets back to the table to find a viable, membership-supported alternative that genuinely facilitates our kids’ success. Focus is misguided. Let’s ensure all our rep programs are top notch and create competitive teams throughout … it starts with a one AAA team system. Let’s put Sudbury back on the hockey map.  

Your support in this is greatly appreciated. Our children thank you.

Jamie Valade