WINNIPEG ó†At least one prominent Winnipeg hockey instructor is taking shots at a proposed Hockey Manitoba move toward a less competition-focused structure for young kids on the ice.
Billy Keane says he "struggles with the concept" of what the province's governing hockey organization is considering in stressing skills development over trophies for pre-teen players.
"To not nurture the competitive spirit, they've really got to be careful," he said, adding such a change could actually hamper player development rather than help. "There's a reason why there are beer leagues and competitive leagues at the adult level. When they're kids, it's still important to instill that competitive component."
Keane, who has long run Winnipeg hockey schools and is an older brother of retired NHL and AHL player Mike Keane, describes Manitoba as a "leader in the last 10 years" in Canada's development of young players ó so if the system isn't broken, he says, don't fix it.
"We've put a lot of our Manitobans on the provincial and national stage, and for good reason," he said. "Why change it?"
Hockey Manitoba president Brian Franklin said Monday it's a "strong possibility" that the organization will move toward a greater focus on development and participation than on competition for players at younger ages.
Details haven't been worked out, though Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods said such a move would be co-ordinated "hand in hand" with Hockey Canada, and would not "completely remove the competitiveness of the game by not keeping score or statistics."
Rather, Woods stressed, the change would be aimed at providing young players with more opportunities to develop than through game situations, and even improve their skills.
"A lot of athletes are competing on 12-month scales at a very early age, and are exposed to burnout, muscle overuse or injuries," he said. "Athletes have a tendency to maybe get burned out at a younger age, and the model they're proposing ... is an opportunity for a complete athlete to be developed," he added.
Brad Rice, co-owner of Winnipeg hockey training facility The Rink, echoed Keane's concerns about making changes. If the system could be improved to better develop players, he suggested, it's in providing a more equitable amount of practice ice for teams across the city.
"They hand out schedules of when you play," Rice said. "They could do more to co-ordinate practice ice."