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.