If anyone thinks releasing young players during a tryout is tough, they ought to spend a bit of time in junior. There, we coaches dash their hopes upon the rocks of the future, or so they would have us believe. Since decisions on who makes a team are entirely subjective and dependent on many factors, it’s actually a more complex process with older players and having more immediate repercussions.
There was Dave, a beautiful skater and puckhandler, good team guy, and fine penalty killer. Rules dictated we could keep only four overage players, but we had seven. Three needed to be released and there was no foregone conclusion it would be any particular player. We had a stacked group the year before and a more promising one coming up. All seven were veterans.
Releasing Dave was so agonizing that my coaching colleague, who’d had him since midget, actually teared up when Dave left the rink. I don’t think Dave heard a word we said about why we were releasing him. I wouldn’t have either. He left in a huff and neither he nor his father spoke to us again. Were we right? Well, we won the title that season and Dave, sent to another team to keep him playing, quit before the season was out.
On another team, we had too many defencemen. Plus, to succeed in the league, you really had to go with experience on the back end unless a young guy was a standout. In this league, such standouts normally played a level up. Peter was a local 16-year-old who, we were informed, wasn’t likely to finish the season as he’d be called up. He wasn’t bad, but didn’t offer the team anything we didn’t already have. Being local was a bonus, but only for a couple of ticket sales per home game.
We opted to trade him, which was effectively a release. His Dad lost his shorts over it. We were shortsighted; we were incompetent; we were... you name it. Peter played the next four years in the league with three different teams and never did get that call up.
My favourite story doesn’t involve me nor a junior player. Mike is a stocky young teen who’d tried out for AAA then AA every year since he was about nine. Never made it. So he played tier 3 competitive hockey – and tore up the league every year with his sniping. He could score anyhow from anywhere. A bull with the puck, he wasn’t the quickest to turn nor the smartest tactically. But score goals? Oh yes. He is now one year away from trying junior. I’m anxious to see if anyone will take a flyer on this boy.
I’d have loved to be in the room when one of those coaches released him. “Sorry, Mike. You scored eight goals in three exhibition games (true!) but…”
Deep cut indeed.
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