WARNING: The following information may offend or upset naive hockey parents in this province.
The NCAA scholarship road is drying up for Ontario hockey players. The opportunities that once existed are becoming fewer.
An investigation of the top 10 teams in U.S. college hockey this season shows only 59 Canadian players on those rosters, and only 11 of those from the Greater Toronto Area.
Eleven Toronto players on 10 teams? Sixteen on the top 15? That's sixteen over four years of college.
Four players a year out of the largest hockey market in the country to the top 15 teams.
"It's not a Canadian sport anymore," said Red Berenson, the longtime coach of the University of Michigan.
"Canada doesn't dominate in minor hockey.
"When I turned pro in 1962, there was one college player, one American and one European in the NHL. In the late '80s and early '90s, I would say 80% of my roster was all Canadians."
There currently are two Canadian players on the Michigan roster, only one from bordering Ontario: Highly regarded Andrew Cogliano of Woodbridge.
While Berenson blames junior hockey in Canada for the lack of Canadian players in NCAA hockey, the issue is far broader than that.
"According to NCAA rules, we can't even talk to a kid until he's in his senior year in high school unless they contact us first," said Jeff Jackson, coach of the No. 1-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (and when did you think you'd ever hear that for hockey?).
"There's not much of a fight with the junior leagues because we can't compete on an even playing field. They draft a kid at 15. Kids are getting agents when they are 14. It's the agent's job to lock up the kid. So what do you do if you're the agent? Does he send him to junior hockey, where you now have a client's signature on the dotted line? Or does he advise him to go to college, where you can't represent him?
"The juniors are in business. The agents are in business. The decisions are being made at too young an age."
That's for the truly special player, the John Tavares' or the Steven Stamkos', who have the talent or ability to determine which route they will go in hockey. But for the 1,000 or so Toronto-area kids who are playing Provincial Junior in Ontario or midget AAA or in that outlaw league that calls itself junior, the odds of getting a scholarship are no better than remote. At a time when there are more college teams that ever -- 60 in Division 1 -- there are fewer Canadians than ever playing.
In the CCHA, one of the strongest divisions of college hockey, there are 320 players, 40 from Ontario, just 20 from the GTA. Based on four-year programs, that divided up is 10 Ontario scholarships a year, five from this area.
In the WCHA, another strong college division, there are 256 players registered -- only seven from Ontario, but 96 from Minnesota alone.
While colleges won't admit it, there is inherent pressure, considering the relative strength of American hockey, to prefer Americans over Canadians, but Berenson sees it differently.
"I've got 14 players on my team from the state of Michigan," Berenson said. "They all grew up with the attitude of going to Michigan or Michigan State. It's a big part of their culture. Michigan football. Michigan basketball. Michigan hockey. They want to be part of that.
"The Canadian kid doesn't have the same feel about it."
But it doesn't stop the U.S. colleges from going after top players. Berenson tried to recruit Sidney Crosby and after that Sam Gagner. Both chose junior hockey over college. Those kind of players have choices. The next tier of Canadian players may not.
And while Ontario remains a highly scouted area for American colleges, it has been the rare exception like Cogliano or before him, Michael Cammalleri, who has selected scholarship over junior hockey. But the door closes hard on the AAA midgets and the tier-two kids -- that represents more than 1,000 hopefuls alone in Southern Ontario, who don't find the opportunity that was once there. That's where an American takes the place a Canadian once held.
"Bernie Geoffrion's grandson is playing college hockey. He came from Nashville," Berenson said. "There are kids from California, kids from Las Vegas, Florida; St. Louis is starting to produce quality players. The game is growing at the grassroots level."
Said Jackson: "Still, we go after the best player.
"We don't care where he's from. We don't care if they're Canadian or American. We go for the best."