Edwards/Giguère Testimony - 11/5/98 (Part 5)

25 May 1999

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    Mr. Goodenow has a real strong understanding of the hockey industry, because he moved to Canada at a time when his son was about 12 years old and therefore came up through the program. Of course Bob also played U.S. college hockey, so he has an appreciation of both sides of the fence in terms of development. So I think it would be very interesting to see how he would respond to that particular question.

    Dev, is there something you would ask as question two?

    Mr. Dev Dley: No, I think you might be stuck with question one most of the day.

    The Chairman: I think we should now move on to Mr. O'Brien. The phone's going to be ringing pretty soon, and we're going to be getting a cancellation from Mr. Goodenow.

    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

    Mr. Pat O'Brien: You're not going to be allowed in any arena in the NHL.

    A witness: The owners would love it.

    Mr. Pat O'Brien: I think it would be great. Unfortunately, I think we all know the courts give 18-year-olds the right to seek employment in the NHL, and there will always be 18-year-olds who will want to seek that employment. As much as I like the idea, I think it's a non-starter, but I'd love to be proven wrong.

    I know a little bit about the education program, having had Brendan Shanahan right at a school I taught at. He was a very bright young man, as well as an awesome hockey player-of Irish extraction, I might note.

    I know there are individual awards, but is there a team academic award? There's a reason I ask that. for fans of college football, if you took a look at the athletes who actually graduate from those programs, Notre Dame is far and away ahead of all other colleges, but that's not well known unless you're interested in the academic future of these student athletes. So I wonder if there are OHL, WHL, and Quebec league academic team awards for the students who actually finish their program, and what the criteria you would use would be.

    Mr. David Branch: I'll allow each of us to respond to that on behalf of our respective leagues.

    In the case of the Ontario Hockey League, first of all there is educational assistance, post-OHL and post-secondary school, if they do not proceed to play professionally. We do recognize student athletes at the team level, and we then have an award for what we call the academic player of the year. Each team puts forward its own academic player of the year, one of whom will then be recognized as the Ontario Hockey League academic player of the year. He will receive the Bobby Smith trophy. While Bobby Smith was playing with the Ottawa 67's, he was an Ontario Scholar, and he actually proceeded to medical school while playing for the 67's. So that's one way in which we attempt to recognize, foster, support, and promote that aspect.

    Since the days of Brendan, too, we've also started a program involving what we call our educational consultants. Each team has an educational consultant who works with the players and the teams. In our league, they now meet at least twice a year to discuss issues of common interest, and to support the educational component for the student athlete.

    Mr. Dley touched on the issue of the Memorial Cup champions from Portland, where all the players were going to school. The Guelph Storm, which was also at the tournament in Spokane last spring, brought their educational consultant with the team at the team's expense, and she conducted study halls. They brought six laptop computers and players wrote exams during Memorial Cup week.

    Junior hockey used to conjure up two visions for people of my age: one, that players couldn't go to school; and two, violence. I believe there have been huge strides made in those areas.

    I'm taking too long to respond. I'm sorry. I'll hand it over to Mr. Dley and Mr. Courteau.

    Mr. Pat O'Brien: I appreciate that, but I knew some of that. It's very interesting to hear, but my question was pretty simple: is there a Memorial Cup type of academic award? I don't mean for the team that wins the Memorial Cup-which is great and is the purpose of junior hockey-but for the team that, as a team, has the best performance by its student athletes. I'm just curious.

    The Chairman: You mean a collective award for the team as a whole.

    Mr. Pat O'Brien: That's right, exactly. That's what I meant to say. Maybe I didn't express it well.

    Mr. David Branch: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't quite understand that.

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    Mr. Dev Dley: We don't have a collective award, but I think that's a great initiative to put forward. We recognize a scholastic player on a league level and then nationally, and then there's further assistance. Once the players go on to university, we give monthly scholarships over and above what their normal scholarship would be for a deserving student athlete who is attending a particular university.

    Mr. Pat O'Brien: I think what you're doing is great. I can say that as a teacher who has coached some hockey at the high school level. I think those are wonderful initiatives. I just throw that other one out as an idea.

    Mr. Chairman, with my last question, I want to go right to what I think is the heart of a lot of the work of this committee vis-à-vis hockey, although we're not just talking hockey.

    As Denis said, the fact is that the issue that has gotten the greatest attention has been whether the Government of Canada should give some financial assistance to the pro franchises-not just hockey, but pro sports franchises-in this country, considering the number of unfair problems they face as compared to their American competitors. I polled my constituents informally in what we call a householder, and they are overwhelmingly opposed.

    Because I've been asked to by the local media, I'm going to put the case to the public in writing soon. I think there is a very good argument to offer support to pro franchises in Canada, but I need all the help I can get to sell it, because I don't think the public is onside, despite our passion for hockey. This leads me to my question.

    Monsieur Courteau mentioned the slogan "official supplier to the NHL" as a very neat marketing strategy. What's the negative impact of a loss of an NHL franchise on the CHL? What did it do to junior hockey in the west, in Manitoba specifically, when we lost the Jets out there?

    Mr. David Branch: First of all, we're not entirely privy to everything the National Hockey League has brought forward to you and requested consideration on. Not knowing the specifics-and hopefully you recognize that-we are certainly of the opinion that losing NHL franchises has an adverse effect on our country in terms of hockey: on its presence, on the interest in it, on the support for it, and everything that goes with it. While we're not here to show for the National Hockey League, and while we don't know just what they've necessarily asked for in terms of tax concessions or to what extent they've asked for them-obviously we've read the newspapers-yes, we do think there is merit to considering support to maintain their presence and profile in this country.

    The Chairman: Mr. Provenzano.

    Mr. Carmen Provenzano: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    The Chairman: From Sault Ste. Marie.

    Mr. Carmen Provenzano: From Sault Ste. Marie, home of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

    The Chairman: Did you play hockey in the Sault?

    Mr. Carmen Provenzano: I'm proud of our team and its wonderful history.

    As we were talking, I just had a chance to go through the various issues in the content of the brief. I don't say this in a critical way, but it seems to me there's an important point that isn't being made-and I say that respectfully. There seems to be a tendency on the part of the CHL, maybe in its brief as well, to measure its success in terms of the number of players that come out of the CHL and graduate, so to speak, to the NHL, whereas there's an entire industry to be considered.

    Hockey is an industry. I'm sure there are a lot more players who earn a livelihood in the minor pros. If we were looking at any trade, whatever that trade might be, there's an apprenticeship time. I see the Canadian Hockey League as providing the opportunity to apprentice, in a sense, for what has become an industry and a vocation, that being that of a hockey player.

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    Whether you make it to the NHL or the minor pros, hockey affords the opportunity for a career and a livelihood that is very attractive. Of course we recognize that such a career has a limitation. Especially with respect to the minor pros, though, I would think the average longevity of a career is greater than the average longevity of a career in the NHL.

    It seems to me that in providing this opportunity to apprentice-and that's what the CHL does-there is some benefit. There's a general benefit there that has to be understood and somehow characterized as providing an opportunity for people to earn a gainful livelihood, because hockey is an industry. It's a sport, but it's a business. In the larger sense, it's a big business. It's a big industry that employs a lot of people.

    If you look at yourselves as being involved in the apprenticeship business and you present that aspect-because I personally think it has great value-then I think you can ask for consideration for the provision of that function, which nobody seems to come and ask for. Nobody seems to make that point, and I think it's a big one.

    I read that section on education. Really, your entire brief centres around the fact that there are dollars provided for education, whether they're provided in post-secondary education or as tutorial services to secondary school students. But at the moment, gentlemen, I think you'd have to admit that not every player who plays in the OHL is offered post-secondary assistance to go to university if he in fact doesn't choose to continue in hockey for whatever reason. Maybe there's something in that area where there should be some consideration given, especially to the Canadian Hockey League.

    We have a whole set of considerations to think about when we get to the professional level, but shouldn't the Canadian Hockey League be asking for that consideration? Maybe you can somehow link that up with the kinds of dollars that have to go out if you want to provide viable educational packages to people who "graduate" from your league but do not graduate into a professional role.

    Mr. David Branch: If I could respond, I'll try to be brief, Mr. Chairman.

    I think the area Mr. Provenzano touches on is a very important one. We didn't know the extent of what our brief should necessarily encompass-how much and so forth. He's right on the issue of the number of our graduates playing minor professional hockey, playing in Europe. We did list the current players playing in the CIAU, and we think that's a very important element to our overall program as well.

    All leagues now do provide financial assistance to every player who plays. When a player comes into the program, it's guaranteed that he gets a bare minimum. The Western Hockey League has a program that has certain elements that are unique to it, as does the Quebec league as opposed to the Ontario league, and so forth, but we all do provide support.

    In the case of the Ontario Hockey League, the contingent liability to an OHL member team for post-OHL educational support averages around $125,000. That's a huge commitment. Not everybody will in fact draw upon it, because you have the Joe Thorntons of the world who will go on to sign a professional contract. But clearly, one of the things we have asked is whether there is some resource that we could work on through you to allow us to be provided some assistance for education and the continuing scholarship opportunities that keep kids playing in Canada, as well as at the CIAU level.

    Mr. Carmen Provenzano: Why not put a value on the training you give these people for jobs in hockey? To me, that's something very important.

    The Chairman: Just before we move on to our next questioner, Mr. Provenzano, I'm trying to understand something here. Are you suggesting that if it was designed as an apprenticeship program, then it might have consideration under the Department of Human Resources Development as a sort of apprenticeship, training-type function?

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