Ability to make sacrifices key for serious youth players
Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 9:00 AM / Hockey Skills presented by Canadian Tire
By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
Zack Wainman traveled 546 miles from Peterborough, Ont., to play goal for the Long Island Royals Under-16 Midget National hockey team based out of Superior Ice Rink in Kings Park, N.Y.
It's just one example of the sacrifices taking place on the youth hockey levels throughout North America.
"I just wanted to come down and showcase myself for a very strong team Ö it's not every day you get the opportunity to be coached by two NHLers [Pat LaFontaine and Steve Webb]," Wainman said. "It was hard to get used to being down here, but sometimes in life you have to make sacrifices to get to where you want to get, so I see this as a sacrifice."
LaFontaine is the first to admit that many players on his team have sacrificed plenty in order to play for one the nation's top Under-16 youth programs.
"That's one of the things I always talk about Ö a Royals player stands for Respect, Optimism, Youthfulness, All together, Loyalty and Sacrifices to reach those levels," LaFontaine told NHL.com. "It's a big sacrifice to leave the comforts of home and your environment, but a lot of these kids going into the next year had to make those sacrifices."
Another such player was 6-foot-3, 182-pound blue-chip prospect Justin Bailey, who was living in Buffalo with his mother, but opted to join the Royals this season.
"I'm sure all summer he was tugging at this and trying to make the proper decision," Webb told NHL.com. "To take the path that isn't as sexy to the outside world and might not be the quickest route with the older hockey players was obviously a family decision."
Bailey is actually living with LaFontaine during his stay in Long Island.
"It also shows he wants to improve and not just be a one-dimensional player. He wants to be the best player he could possibly be," Webb said. "He's willing to sacrifice and be disciplined and he's committed to being an athlete, and that's a great quality to have. He's someone willing to not rush the process, because the process is a big part of your overall success."
LaFontaine also mentioned forward Adam Tracey, whose regular routine includes a one-hour ride from Sleepy Hollow to Kings Park.
"I've talked about it before," LaFontaine said. "Hockey is not like football, baseball or lacrosse where your competition is in the next town, and you can play high school and you don't have to leave your city for the most part. In hockey, there are huge commitments for parents and kids having to leave home at a young age to pursue a dream.
"Minnesota is really the only state in the U.S. where high school hockey is considered to be equal to if not better than travel hockey," LaFontaine continued.
"It's not every day you get the opportunity to be coached by two NHLers Pat LaFontaine and Steve Webb]. It was hard to get used to being down here, but sometimes in life you have to make sacrifices to get to where you want to get, so I see this as a sacrifice.""
-- Zack Wainman
Webb, born and raised in Peterborough, recalled his traveling days in the minor hockey system there and how different it is for those parents of the minor clubs in the United States.
"We've traveled to Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut and Minnesota for showcases with the Royals," Webb said. "We've been to New Hampshire and also flew into Chicago as a group. Not every parent could make it because of the cost; don't forget you also have to arrange a room and that gets costly as well. We want to make sure the kids are being viewed and that they have the best opportunity to go on to the next level and have the scouts look at them.
"The travel is far and tiring," he added. "I remember getting up at 5:15 a.m. to pick up a couple of kids for a showcase in Connecticut; some kids didn't get up until 6 a.m. We were playing Avon Old Farms near Hartford for a 10 a.m. game. So the kids are sitting in the car for two-and-a-half hours and then have to perform when they're still half asleep."
Despite the long travel on the weekends, the team is currently ranked among the top five in the nation in its age group. The club is currently preparing for states and nationals to begin in the coming months.
"It's not the easiest thing to try and get 15-year-olds to jump out of the car and be ready to play their best game in the morning after traveling like that," Webb said. "You have conversations with them and educate them on the purpose of why we've gone up there and why they're doing it Ö just try to get some enthusiasm into their system and some excitement prior to going on to the ice. I think that's the only way we can really get these guys prepared to play the game with the travel."
In the end, Webb and LaFontaine feel the sacrifices and hard work ultimately reap the rewards.
"If they want to play at prep school, major junior, the USHL or college, these types of trips are common," Webb said. "In Western Canada, they're driving 10 times farther and they just pop out, play the game and then are back on the bus and playing eight hours later somewhere else. You have to be prepared to deal with the travel conditions and being able to pop out and play right away, get your body up and running and awake and be ready to perform.
"Every opportunity you play, there are people evaluating and checking you out. 'How did this player perform this time as compared to last time I saw him?' They want to make sure you're making progress and if your excuse is you were tired, it's not a very strong excuse to why you didn't perform to the best of your abilities on that day."