July 4, 2011
Keeping future Leafs on straight and narrow
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Before learning the do’s of pro hockey, 42 Maple Leafs wannabes must also learn the don’ts of off-ice behaviour.
So a chunk of this week’s prospect camp at the MasterCard Centre is focused on making them better persons as well as improved players, whether they end up in an NHL jersey, a shirt and tie or overalls.
Sunday night’s first gathering at a Toronto hotel was conducted by Dr. Brian Shaw, who works with the NHL and the players association to combat substance abuse and sits on the league’s drug testing committee. The audience of late teens and early 20s had a lot to digest.
“He got into the gamut of things,” said Jim Hughes, the Leafs’ director of player development. “What alcohol does to your body over two or three days, binge drinking, hard drugs, marijuana and cocaine. It’s the night life, driving fast cars, all the ramifications and consequences if you don’t pay attention, if you don’t have a plan.
“We’re trying to give them the information straight up, long before they get into certain situations, so they’re prepared in terms of saying ‘no’. We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve.”
The National Hockey League used to be squeaky clean compared to other pro sports, but higher salaries, changing attitudes and a larger media spotlight have created some problems. Even the Leafs, who had few discipline problems for a big-town team, have seen their players garner some unwanted headlines the past few years.
“I think it’s society,” said Hughes, a father of three pre-teen boys. “These are young kids and even if they’re non-atheletes, they’re being exposed to a lot of interesting things in this very complicated world.
“This is preventative; the way you need to eat, or how many hours of sleep in order to have a good and productive day. We just give them a lot of info and hope that it sticks.”
Dana Sinclair, the club’s sports psychologist, will also be meeting with the players, there will be a crash course on the burgeoning use of Facebook and Twitter for pro athletes and Shaw even touched on some aspects of sexual education in his lecture, in case any of these guys skipped health class in high school for hockey practice.
“Dr. Shaw touched upon that and the temptations of being in the big city,” Hughes said. “You can’t get enough of that. He came in last year and I hope he comes in next year, too. It’s good, positive reinforcement.”
Hughes and a large staff of assistant coaches completed physical testing on Monday morning, then held late-afternoon practices, to set up three scrimmage games this week. This will be the team’s first on-ice look at 2011 first rounders Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy — “this is all pretty surreal,” Biggs said Monday — while others have been to the camp a few times.
“Some continue to progress, some flat-line and some have some small decreases,” Hughes said. “It’s our jobs to keep telling the kids the truth, the good, bad and ugly, let them know where they’re at in their careers. If they’re doing something well, tell them, but if we see some red flags, we’re here to say that’s not good enough and if you don’t change this or that, you’re going down a very bad road.
“At the end of the day, we don’t want them to say: ‘No one ever told me I had to work on that’. We want it all out in the open. The muscle of the mind is the most important thing that we keep talking about.”
More head-to-head competition is a new wrinkle at this camp and the roster was expanded to make up two full teams, with 19 skaters and two goaltenders.
“That’s where we think we can get our best bang for the buck, drop the puck and let ’em play,” Hughes said. “It’s letting Tyler be exposed to bigger, stronger players and let us use it as a gauge. It’s our job to continue to press those buttons to educate them in different areas. Some will (succeed), some won’t. It will depend on how they take this information and use it, not only this week, but the rest of the summer and all of next year.”