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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ombudsmen: A Modest Proposal for the Ontario Hockey League

The storm  clouds seem to have settled for the time, being in Flint, Michigan.  Though, it would appear, all is far from rosy.  Rolf Nilson ate a heaping, healthy dose of humble pie by coming to the genius conclusion that without a team, or coaches, makes it tough to own a hockey team.  Young Hakon Nielsen remains a Firebird for the foreseeable future, but questions linger around the management of the team and some have taken up the mantle that this sort of act of rebellion lends credence to the unionization of junior hockey. 

Lets stop right there.    I am not a fan of unions, and I say this being a union member myself.     I am not against a form of representation, but adding unions, who often times do not have the best interests of the membership at heart, is not the solution in my humble opinion.   The same goes for increased power in agents.   Agents, again, have a protected interest in their clientlele, but it cann be argued that their interest in the greater good beyond their clientele can certainly be called into a question.   I am invested in greater representation for the players, and improved compensation structure.  To me, the best interest of the players would be served by Ombudsmen. 

Ombudsmen, by definition, investigate complaints that are made against authority.  By nature normally reserved for government institutions, I can see this skill set easily transferrable to junior hockey.  

Regional Ombudsmen (maybe three for the whole league) will meet with teams and discuss concerns.  Concerns can be submitted in a meeting,  anonymously or in person and can be on a range of day to day issues.   Of course hockey related decisions and ice time are left to the coaching staff, and agents and other hockey personnel.  The Ombudsmen role is best left to deal with day to day life of a player like academic concerns, compensation concerns, personal concerns with management, teammates, issues of harassment, bullying, discrimination even billet concerns can be addressed via the Ombudsmen role.  The Ombudsmen can work with people already charged with academic, billet roles to act as an intermediary.  More importanly the Ombudsmen is a trusted individual who can collate a list of concerns and prioritize them with the league office.    

To me the game of hockey at the junior level is evolving.  Compensation and education structures are improving but far from where they need to be to reflect the student -athlete/elite athlete needs of today.   The Ombudsman can help convey those needs to the league so that they can be evaluated on a regular basis, say annually.  Of course the needs of the players will be balanced with the needs of managment and the league.  Sounds a bit like a union, but it is not. There are no dues to be paid, no minimum wage to be decided, no legal battles to be fought.   

Idealistc?  Sure, probably.  Realistic?  Not really. You're going to have to invest in this and offer a fair compensation structure for the job you expect this person to do.   

I will say that one of the bigger concerns voiced is that we drop high school, early college/university aged elite athletes far away from home and expect them to thrive, and excel in high pressured situations. 

Having someone be an advocate, who has the best interests of the players and the league at heart with little to to self-interest or personal gain is a worthwhile investment.   

Monday, November 9, 2015

Uprising in Flint !

Image result for flint firebirds logoImage result for michael moore flint michiganImage result for Rolf Nilsen
Gong Show gear is a popular hockey apparel site that offers t shirts/sweaters and golf shirts with a of clever phrases.  They're latest line could deal with situation going on with one of the OHL's newest ownership groups and franchises, the Flint Firebirds.  I can see the T-Shirts being printed now "Flint Firebirds: Nepotism Before Team" or "Flint Firebirds: We Dangle, Snipe and Walk Out" .

The news broke last night, and I will give credit where it is due, even if it is reluctant and with an individual I normally have little time for.    OHL Insiders was one of, if not the first to report of the Flint uprising  (pauses briefly to set this blog to the background music of Muses Song- Uprising!  )

Now we can set the scene with appropriate music!    In short, as reported now by a number of credible sources, not limited to Jeff Marek of Sportsnet, John Buccigrossi of ESPN,  there was a tremendous show of defiance by the players of the Flint Firebirds after the whole coaching staff, led by John Gruden (not the football coach affectionately nicknamed Chucky) was dismissed after a stirring comeback victory by the Firebirds as they bested Oshawa at home 4-3 in OT.  Imagine that, a coach canned after a great comeback.  

Good reports are here:  

The real issues begins with the owner, a fellow by the name of Rolf Nilsen, evidently a successful businessman as he owns IMS Limited, which is out of Florida.   It should be noted that a quick search of Hockey db revealed no hockey stats for Mr Nilsen, unlike other owners like the Hunters and Hatchers of London and Sarnia respectively, who are dyed in the wool hockey men.

Caught in this crossfire is Rolf's son Haken as it was deemed that dad was none too pleased with the amount of ice time young Haken was getting and had made his feelings clear to the coaching staff by firing him when they refused to accede to his request.   Now you can really crank up Muse's uprising as the Flint players on mass, in a show of support for the coaches quit and depending on the rumours threw their jerseys down.    It should also be acknowledged that young Haken sided with his teammates, and not his father on this, which will not make for a very fun Thanksgving at the Nilsen household.

  Imagine the dialogue

Rolf:   "Can my turn coat son pass the gravy, or is he going to walk out on dinner?"

Haken:  " Sure Dad,  but only if you don't fire mom because she didn't let me help out in the kitchen!"

I'm going to admit that when I read this I first thought that the CHLPA has surreptitiously started infiltrating teams from the inside in their plan to topple David Branch and the CHL.    Here's is the thing.  Nepotism and the hiring of family members in key position that may, or may not be suited for is in every major industry.  Hockey is not unique.  

We have it here in Niagara.  The Burke's are a family business in the truest sense of the word.  Bill Burke junior is an assistant coach, while Joey Burke is assistant to the GM Marty Williamson.  That said, there is a difference between learning the business from the ground up, and forcing relatives into a situation that they cannot possibly succeed.  Joey and Billy, are well suited for their positions.  Billy is a former OHL player, astute enough to be the QB at Queens University, and his appointment to assistant coach makes sense.   Joey's job duties included gathering statistics and observations during the game, and being immersed in the scouting side of the business,  In fact I would strongly argue that we stopped focusing on the last names of these two gentleman a long time ago because they naturally are well suited for their jobs.  

Not so in Flint where Rolf felt Hakon deserved a higher profile and more ice time.  Hakon, a 7th rd 124th overall pick had dressed in 5 games recording 0 points and was a -3.  He had come out of the highly regarded   Honeybaked program, as well as the Little Caesars U 16 and U 18 program, where he had modest stats before getting drafted.   Hakon is the one I feel for the most.  He's 17 years old, and already has a bit of a bulls eye by being the owners son.  Now he is thrust in the middle of an almost impossible situation where any decision he makes is lousy.  Choose dad, and alienate himself from the team.  Choose the team, and he defies his father.      It is not unlike the situation in Sudbury where the owners son Connor Burgess eventually left the team and went to university after there were allegations of owner pressure to give Connor more ice time.  This type of stuff should be left behind in leagues lower to this, as it is a black eye on what is supposed to be the best developmental league in the world.  

As Flint lurches towards their scheduled Friday home game vs Sarnia,  the game night promotion of the game is split between "Come to the Game.  We May or May Not Have a Team" or "Firebirds Dysfunctional Family Night"   They need to clean up this mess, and clean it up fast.  There are no good options available here for Rolf Nilson.    His best one is probably this:

1. Fall on his sword, apologize to the coaching staff and rehire them.  He might also want to distance himself from the hockey operations, by staying in Florida for the foreseeable future.

2. Not rehire the coaching staff, and try to hire another coach.  Good luck with that as what coach in their right mind would want to be with his parody of a hockey franchise!  Also, the players may not sign off on a new coach, even if it is Scotty Bowman, they're that pissed.

3. Do the Harold Ballard thing and fire Roger Neilson, and then rehire him but only if he wants to wear a paper bag over his head for a grand revelation on the bench.  I'd suggest a lucha libre mask instead of a paper bag, but I would also suggest the Harold Ballard school of thought is not one to be adopted.

4. Trade young Haken out of town.  He'll still carry the stigma of being that guy, but will out from the ominous shadow of his father.

I will say this.  David Branch better intervene , and intervene fast.  This is an ownership group new to the OHL but approved by Branch and the board of governors that decide this sort of thing.  He needs to be in Flint  , Michigan sooner rather than later and he needs to get this thing settled once and for all.  This is a story that is being picked up by mainstream hockey media both here in North America and even around the world. They will be watching, and if Flint makes the wrong decision, they may as well pack up shop as they will have no credibility.

Wow!  All this happening in Flint, Michigan, the hometown of noted rabble rouser, and defender of the little guy Michael Moore. He loves a good rebellion and could make one hell of a documentary on this

Rolf and Me:   Revolt in Flint:  a Michael Moore production.

Fix it David Branch, or you name goes on the marquee alongside Rolf Nilson.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

An All Over The Place Blog

Another delay in blogging.  Hockey season, teaching, home life all get in the way of me indulging in my favourite relaxing pastime.  So with hockey, basketball, legal matters and other things all percolating, time to release some of the angst and opine a little bit! 

No, it was not surprising to see this occur.   Incompetence, meddling, the stigma of being an alleged victim to a a high profile alleged perpetrator all conspired to bring this to a sad, but inevitable logical conclusion.  When her alleged victims old lawyer starts crying tampering of evidence before all the facts are in, you know you are in for a gong show.  The infamous ripped evidence bag became a hoax perpetrated by the victims mother, and that severely undermined the credibility of the case.   Thankfully the victims lawyer departed the case before he could any more damage, but the DA's Office intervened and chose not to prosecute.  Honestly, I have no opinion on Patrick Kane's guilt or innocence as there is simply not enough of the story being made public.  However, when a DA's Office refers to the case as a "so called case" rife with "reasonable doubt" , it does not exactly encourage other potential victims of sexual assault to come forward.  On a hockey note, I still do not think that the BlackHawks are thrilled to have this come across their desks, as it is not the first time Kane has come under scrutiny.  Tough to find trade partners with the salary so exorbitant.   

DA Statement is :   HERE

No real good segue from that last item, but onto some good news.   The IceDogs gained six points from three games, and a clean sweep of last weekend, besting Mississauga, Sarnia and North Bay.  The team is back to .500 and has a five game home stand starting with a very good Windsor Spitfire team. I fully admit to sitting there playing arm chair GM wondering if the team was going to be blown up or whether or not a strategic trade or two would be made to recalibrate the talented teams.  Sometimes the best moves are the ones you do not make, and the IceDogs are all business now. 

I have written a lot about professional basketball coming into Southern Ontario.  The NBA D League will have Raptors905, the NBL expanded and includes a franchise in Niagara, while the CBL has launched two teams, with plans to launch two more.  

The NBL has had a banner off season, recovering from some terrible publicity at the end of last season where they crowned a champion by default, and held a sheepish team celebration.  A new commissioner in David Magley, an expansion team in Niagara and a rebirth of the Halifax franchise all point to a season full of growth instead of angst.  Starting the season in December may have raised an eyebrow, but teams now have more time to promote, and the league gets more distance from the end of last season which I wrote about in detail, but do not feel compelled to detail, outside of acknowledging it happened.   Here's hoping for a controversy free, profitable year!

As for the CBL there has been a lot of enthusiasm and a tremendous buzz around teams from Waterloo and Hamilton, but the season is set to start in five weeks, and there is no confirmation of the other two teams, who are set to be Ottawa and Scarborough.  There is lots of infrastructure work being done under the radar, but a lot remains.    That said, you have to have faith in Butch Carter, a basketball coach/entrepreneur who says the right things and more importantly tapped into the right resources and hired good people.  When you can hold a press conference and get tweets from mayors and other politicians, like he has in Kitchener Waterloo, then you've got something.   Also, to be considered is the agreement with CHCH TV, which could be a game changer.  CHCH has dipped its toe into the sports water again by striking a deal with the OUA.  Great to see the independent channel step up with the big guys from Bell and Rogers.   

Anyway you look at it, its a boost for basketball fans in the area.   Both leagues need to differentiate themselves, and continue to create a great buzz.  There's enough room in Ontario for leagues to operate independent of one and other.   


I'm a nerd. Now, many people are probably thinking and wondering why I admit it now, when they have known for 20 years.    I love consuming sports radio and listen constantly to The Fan 590 and TSN 1050 and 1150.  The Fan has gone outside of the box and brought in popular guests Jon Morosi, Richard Deitsch, and Eric Francis to co host key demographic shows like Dean Blundell and Company and Prime Time Sports.  The content has been rich, and the personalities have shone with their back and forth and questioning of guests.  My only concern is that of the three , only Francis is Canadian.  I think there is a ton of untapped , underrated Canadian talent out there who could do a sports show, and we do not need to stunt-cast U.S. based personalities.   That said, having them in for a short period of time is a tremendous boost and likely revitalizes the hosts and the format.  I love all three guys who have come in. They're entertaining, passionate and knowledgeable.  Canadian sports talk show hosts, and wannabee hosts:  The mantra has been put out there.  Step up and show that we Canucks can be compelling and damn entertaining too! 

Until next time
Steve Clark