Age debate hot topic at CHA meetings

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

If 16-year-olds are good enough to play junior hockey, Sherry Bassin thinks they should be doing just that.

The long-time hockey man, who is the general manager of the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters, has concerns about a proposal limiting underage players that is expected to pass this weekend at Hockey Canada's annual general meeting in Saint John, N.B.

"The issue is, are these kids going to get proper development (playing minor hockey)?," Bassin said. "If they are capable of playing (major junior hockey), that is a real issue. If not, they shouldn't be there (in the first place). Where is this magic number coming from?"

The magic number of 16-year-olds, after a three-year phase-in period, would be two per junior hockey team.

"We believe faster is not necessarily better," said OHL commissioner Dave Branch, a member of Hockey Canada's Canadian Development Model Committee. "We think this is a progressive step in the development system. We don't think two is an unreasonable number. Very seldom have we had three or more 16-year-olds on a team."

Currently in the OHL, each team can use any 16-year-olds picked in the first two rounds of the draft as well as a wild-card.

The committee's proposal would prevent 15-year-olds from playing junior hockey, unless they are deemed "exceptional players." The OHL decided underager John Tavares was an exceptional player this year and allowed him into the draft after he was evaluated by a committee.

Bassin also operates a tier II team in Huntsville, where he used six 15 to 16-year-olds this season.

"We practice every day (in Huntsville) and those kids got significantly better," Bassin said.

Randy Gumbley, the coach of the tier II Streetsville Derbys, questions whether a passed proposal would hold water in a judicial challenge.

"If you wanted to go to court to test it, I don't think it would hold a grain of salt," Gumbley said.

But if the proposal passes, troubled midget-level hockey seemingly would experience huge growth.

There also is a movement to limit the number of Americans on Canadian CHL teams, something which doesn't make sense to Bassin, who would benefit from it as the operator of an American-based franchise.

"What if American schools start limiting the number of Canadians who could go down there on (sports) scholarships," Bassin said. "How do you just pick a number?"


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