I’m always pleased whenever customers come to my store from abroad. Most recently we had a family come in from Boston, Massachusetts. Their son was looking for a new set of goalie equipment to match his new team colours. Of course we were able to find a pair and accommodate the family. They indicated how much they loved Toronto and the festivities they’ve been taking part of.
“You should definitely visit the city again!” I commented.
“Well actually we’re planning to live here for a year”, the mother responded. “My son’s been given an opportunity to play some high level Jr. A hockey. I can’t believe how many scouts are going to show up to his games. In Boston we barely have any, let alone enthusiasm for hockey in general.”
I told the mother, “It’s good to know that your son is gonna’ be playing pro. Is he playing in the OHL or OPJHL?”
“No”, she responded. “Even better, he’s playing in a new league called the GMHL, it’s supposed to be the next big thing. The coach told us they have access to the NHL, have the best trainers workin’ our kids to the bone, and scouts at every game to help them see our kids. It’s a bit expensive though I must say, but it’s worth a shot.”
Mike was next to me, we were equally confused, real Junior hockey is fully paid for, even the equipment is provided to players free of charge. “You have to pay? How much?” I asked the mother.
“Well it costs about $8000 for him to play for the team itself. But along with travel, equipment, and just moving our family here for a year will probably add up to well over $60,000,” the mother replied.
The father quickly interrupted, “That’s nothing for us. Like my wife said, this is our boy’s shot. This coach won’t let us down.”
He looked over at his son, “You’re gonna’ play in the NHL boy! Perhaps when you make it you can dish out a few bucks for all the sacrifices your mom and I have made.”
Their son sure was a big boy with few words to say. He just stood there and smiled. He seemed like one of those types of kids that has had significant positive influences in his life. His parents talked about all the goalie schools he’s enlisted in and I knew exactly what those schools tried to preach. The goalie instructors would make it perfectly clear that kids who signed up would make it to the NHL with hard work and paying the upfront camp fees.
He continued to stand there smiling, he caressed his new goalie pads as if they were the Stanley Cup. “How’s school going kiddo’?” I asked the boy.
“It’s there, I don’t really go though. I need to concentrate on the game and my skill level to get to that top level. Now that I’m in the GMHL all my friends can start taking me seriously,” he responded.
“So how many goalies are on the team. Are you gonna’ be the #1 guy? I’m sure your hard work will pull you through,” I told him.
“Well we have 5 goalies and I’m bound to be #1 eventually,” the boy responded.
We said our goodbyes and gave the family a Goalie Heaven water-bottle along with a few rolls of tape. They left happily, it seemed like their life was perfect.
Mike burst out in laughter as soon as they left the shop. He brought me over to the computer and showed me the so-called “Junior A” league their son was going to play in. We typed in “GMHL” and I can tell you for a fact I was shocked to say the least. “Scam, scam, scam” the computer read.
Here’s one snippet we found: “The owners of teams scam decent Europeans over here who aren’t that bad, once they discover its not legitimate JR A they end up leaving.”
We found out many things. The league itself is not sanctioned by Hockey Canada. They could technically call themselves pro hockey if they wanted to. The players pay ridiculous amounts as owners and coaches preach of the opportunity and legitimacy of the league that filters into the NHL. Teams sometimes travel from one corner of Ontario to another just to play one game. Also, not only do the players pay to play, they must also pay for their accommodation, travelling expenses, and meals.
The league has developed a mechanism of gullibility on an international scale that attracts many European and American players who are bewildered by the opportunity of playing so-called “Junior” hockey in the hockey hub of Canada. They provide the environment that incites familiarity within their own country that is transferred to Canada. The real bait is simply the money that the owners, coaches, and trainers accumulate at the expense of a fabricated dream that has little to no chance of materializing.
However the team itself also plays a factor; it’s a camaraderie that elicits a bond that these kids are all going to play pro. Again this does not cloud the issue of the game itself, it only clouds the issue of their dream that they all coincide together. When you’re bonding with players you want to stick with them, the kids go back to their families and tell them how this is what they want, that they have a shot at playing professional hockey and making big money, and that they need their financial support.
Mike and I decided to go to a GMHL game after work that same night. Tickets were only $8 and we thought we were getting a good deal. First thing we noticed was that the concession stand wasn’t even open so we bought some pop, a protein bar for Mike, and a bag of chips for myself from the vending machine.
We were a bit late to the game but we weren’t really worried. We walked through the gate doors into the arena. Judging by the amount of fans, we suspected we were early. However the clock showed that the first period had about 6 minutes to go. We sat down and prepared for the apparent junior hockey spectacle.
First of all we looked around and only saw about 4 families sitting huddled together. There were numerous girls sitting in the front row, of course we suspected that these were the players’ girlfriends waiting for an expensive night out. Folks, there wasn’t a single scout in the arena, trust me we could tell, normally a scout sits alone with a notepad in his hand, studying the game and looking back and forth between the players and his notepad. The talent itself was skewered. Some players were pretty decent, but the majority looked like overage kids just looking to have some fun in their last years of hockey.
We were scammed the $16, but the real people scammed are these families. I have to admit my heart sunk a bit for the Boston family that came into my store that day. I have an old saying, “Many dreams vanish without reality being checked at the corner to examine the whole.”