Volume 91, Issue 95

Friday, March 27, 1998



Hockey and education make great bedfellows

By John Dinner
Gazette Staff

As the playoffs heat up in the Ontario Hockey League, many graduating players are beginning to wonder about their future in the game. For most, a National Hockey League career is not in the cards – causing many to reassess their future.

With Ontario universities offering a quality education with top-notch hockey, many have chosen to take this path rather than risk taking a shot at the pros and possibly passing up other career opportunities.

This year's Mustang hockey team is no exception as they boasted nine players with OHL experience. Much of what brought these players to Western was a chance at a quality education. However, it is also the chance to play exceptional hockey while getting the education that was the clincher for many of the players.

"I wanted an education to fall back on," said freshman winger Chris George, who spent time with the Barrie Colts and Sarnia Sting. "I didn't want to end up playing in the East Coast League [minor pro] just because it was the only thing I could do."

Mustang head coach Barry Martinelli hopes to preserve his strong hockey program at Western since its attraction value has become obvious.

"Most of the guys we've recruited have been good students – kids who believe in a quality education," Martinelli said. "But we also sell our program. We have something like 22 guys playing pro [all over the world]. We try to tell the guys that their careers aren't over. We provide a second opportunity."

The most notable graduate of the Western hockey program is Steve Rucchin, the first-line centre of the NHL's Anaheim Mighty Ducks. In addition, the Mustangs have provided members to Canadian national teams, as well as produce doctors, lawyers, teachers and a host of other professions outside of the hockey world.

The biggest adjustment for these players is not the on-ice transition to the university game, but off the ice where priorities are now different. Damon Hardy, assistant captain for this year's Mustangs, who played for the Oshawa Generals and Sarnia, felt the biggest adjustment for him was the balance of hockey with a full course load.

While education may now be the priority, hockey is still the first love for these players and they see many parallels between the OHL and the university games.

"The OHL and the CIAU have pretty much the same competitive level," said Todd Bradley, a third-year winger who played his OHL career in Oshawa. "Players make the OHL for a variety of different reasons. Some aspects of the university game are quicker and the game requires more skill and maturity."

C.J. Denomme, goalie for the Mustangs who toiled with the Kitchener Rangers and the Ottawa 67's, agrees and points to maturity and depth as two reasons why the university game is better. "There is a larger discrepancy in talent in the OHL [between first and fourth lines]," he said. "At the high end of competition it could be argued that the calibre of the university game is better, especially with the likes of the Waterloos and the Guelphs. I'd put them against an OHL team any day."

Players from the junior ranks do have to adjust their game somewhat as a result of certain rule changes. Opening up of the game by eliminating the two-line offside pass and the fact players can no longer drop the gloves without suspension, are two major rule differences from the OHL.

First-year rear guard Joe Birch (Kitchener and London Knights), encountered these changes first hand this year. "The fact that I couldn't fight really frustrated me at the beginning of the year," said Birch, who emphasized that despite not being an accomplished pugilist, it was a way for him to relieve frustration.

Hardy pointed to the removal of the two-line pass as a major difference in the game. "Certain rule changes have made the game different. Taking out the centre red line, for instance, makes the game faster and allows for more room on the ice."

Mustang forward Rob Schweyer, formerly of Owen Sound and the Kingston Frontenacs also pointed out one other major difference between the two levels of competition. "In the OHL [hockey is] looked upon more as a business. You were there to take the team to a higher level and if you made the NHL you would take their name with you," he said. "But here it's much more personal. The coaches are there for us and the guys are there for each other."

©Geoff RobinsGazette
I KNOW MY EDUCATION IS DOWN HERE SOMEWHERE. Damon Hardy sights maturity as a major difference between the two games – isn't he lucky?

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1998