Let Me Help Gary Bettman
I was watching Premier League post-game while doing chores, when a commercial came on for the NHL. It wasn't an ad for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but for one of the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone Charitable Partners.
There was a split screen and a thirty-something Black woman was angrily asking what Gary Bettman was doing to make sure her son (let's call him DeAndre) had the same access to hockey as other young people. Then Bettman started to wax poetic about opportunities....
Stop, stop, stop. If you're a parent of any race and you want your kid to play hockey, you know the two biggest hurdles are money and ice time. If your kid signs up for basketball or soccer, you are basically paying for your kid to play in an organized sport, the cost entails the registration fee, rental of school grounds, and a ball.
In hockey you have to buy skates, pads, sticks, pucks, and that's before you even know if your kid likes hockey or not. There is an inherent cost to playing hockey that you cannot escape. It's not like you can send your kid out to play hockey without pads or skates. And because kids grow, there is an escalating cost as that child continues to outgrow his/her gear.
So now your next hurdle in youth development isn't race, it is ice time. Not every city in America has ice rinks. There's no arena in my city, so in order to get my kid into hockey, he'd have to join a league at the arena a half an hour away that services the whole county. And, to make things worse, that arena is closed due to Covid-19.
Walter Gretzky, the Patron Saint of Hockey Dads
So let's take DeAndre's Mom at her word. She is willing to do anything to get her son to the NHL. Her first grader told her that he dominated all the other kids in floor hockey in gym class, that's his natural sport.
Instead of listening to Gary Bettman's gibberish, I'm going to help DeAndre's Mom with a real path to hockey stardom. Wherever DeAndre's Mom lives, she needs to move immediately. She needs to head somewhere like Saskatoon in Canada. Not because Saskatoon is a necessarily a hotbed of hockey, but because winter there starts at the end of September and spring starts in May. You need to move somewhere cold.
The next step is she needs to build herself a backyard rink. Buy a house with at least a half an acre of land and then you flatten out the yard and then fill that space up with water.
There's a backyard rink the next city over that's really well put together. The problem is that it is only in use from about Thanksgiving to Groundhog's Day. There may be more snow where I live, but the key to a good backyard rink isn't snow, but cold. When I lived in Minnesota, they had backyard rinks at the local parks.
So once you've solved the problem of ice time, because your kid can now have unlimited practice time (except for summer). Now have DeAndre's Dad corral pucks and keep that ice surface smooth. Maintenance of even the simplest backyard rinks is still a part time job. Many great athletes, no matter what the race, had parents behind the scenes supplementing the coaching that their young athletes were getting.
Since the NHL is the supposed goal, Canada has a much better junior league system than the United States. Canada, on multiple levels, should be the destination, based on climate and hockey infrastructure. If DeAndre has the drive and the athletic ability, he will make it to the NHL using the existing infrastructures that exist in Canada and parts of the United States.
If DeAndre's Mom's underlying question was: How do we build better infrastructures in the United States? That's a great question. A great question that soccer is also asking.
If DeAndre's Mom's underlying question was: I want my kid to play hockey, but someone else needs to pay for his equipment, his ice time should be free, and there needs to be a system to transport my kid back and forth to the arena.