Minor hockey would effectively eliminate many parental complaints if it created a rule whereby shifts were determined by the clock. One minute or two minutes or whatever – buzzer! – change lines. Novice, bantam, house or AAA. Guaranteed equal ice for everyone. Simple.
In fact, there are associations in Canada that use a buzzer system to regulate shift length. I spoke recently to the president of one in British Columbia and it works just fine – with novice age kids. I suppose that when the children hit atom, parental storms about equalizing ice will begin anew.
The sport and equal ice – without a buzzer-like system – are mutually exclusive. Coaches try everything humanly possible to do it. Nothing works perfectly. Some kids will not come off when called while others choose to ignore the bench calls. It’s worse with the younger kids. By the time they reach bantam, they may expect equal ice time but are old enough to understand how hard it is to achieve.
Then there’s fair ice time. I’ve read many association rules and bylaws and there’s an interesting variety of definitions. Fair over one game, or fair over a season? Last minute is for the coach or last three minutes or just whatever it takes to close gap in the score? Power plays? Penalty kills? Fair ice time policies seem to be almost exclusively indigenous to competitive programs, and it’s a rather slippery slope.
If you allow coaches latitude, however narrow, in assigning ice, you’re also implying that the game result takes precedence over developing the kids. That may be okay with bantam or midget AAA. Elsewhere, I’m not so sure. And in minor hockey, where there are only three lines of forwards and defencemen, shortening the bench is a good deal harder.
Some places tell coaches that fair ice time must be over a season. But that serves only to delay the problem. The coach uses his best kids in December to eke out those wins or ties, then when February hits, he has to use the others to balance the ice allotment. Managing this is fraught with other problems, such as the coach trying to decide who gets to sit or not and when and what will the parental pushback be.
The conundrum is really based on the value we place on results rather than process. A common refrain is, “If Joey had been on in those last seconds, we might have had a chance to win.” Maybe Joey isn’t up to the task. Maybe Joey has already had extra ice in a few earlier games and the result didn’t change. Or maybe the game result should just be what it is while the coach focuses attention on what worked (or didn’t) and teach accordingly.
Any way you cut it, it’s a tough call.
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