Cutting the cord

Tonight, I bid goodbye to an old friend.

Adieu.

Farewell.

Au revoir.

It took me through good times — racing my way up and down the ice, dishing the puck off to a teammate, rough-housing some forward who dared get in front of my goalie.

Yes, folks, tonight, I’m getting rid of my hockey gear.

I came into my gear in a way which makes many turn green with envy.

It’s (mostly) WHL issue. Top-quality stuff, you know.

My old friend Brian Silverson, who owns an ice rink in Kamloops, B.C., wanted me to write about the fantastic women’s rec league he and his wife were running at the Ice Box.

I could play in it … if I liked.

Except for one little problem. I had never played hockey before, outside of pond shinny with my brothers.

Sure, after 10 years as a sports writer — interviewing and chatting with some of the game’s best — I knew that game like the back of my hand.

But playing it?

Brian offered free lessons. And free entry into the league for one season.

The WHL Kamloops Blazers caught wind of my project — writing about my lessons and playing time — and offered my free gear. That’s right … head to toe, WHL gear. Everything was out of wrapper … everything but for my shin guards and helmet (which, by the way, had previously been worn by former Calgary Flames blueliner Robyn Regehr).

My skates came from the local Source for Sports: Hey, we’re going to save some money. Your feet are small enough to go into junior sizes!

Brian and I hit the ice. He saw my skating and said, ‘damn, you’re gonna be a defenceman.’ Thank you, so many years of figure skating.

(Of course, he couldn’t help but challenge me to stop near the boards while skating backwards. I had no ice picks. What’s a girl to do but fall flat on her face? Brian laughed. Uproariously. That bastard.)

I shared practice ice with NHL defenceman Eric Brewer.

I was put on a team with six Western Canadian Senior AA title winners.

I was paired with one of the best damn women defencemen to never play for the national team, Kelly Bosko.

My stickhandling sucked. I was timid at first, playing hot potato with the puck and barely going into the corners.

I moved to Alberta and came into my own, landing a spot on a rural rec roster. I played in Airdrie, Balzac, Cochrane, Carstairs and all around the outskirts of Calgary.

I owned the spot in front of my goalie. The other teams knew they weren’t going to freewheel through my zone.

I was improving with my puck skills. I even scored a couple of goals.

And then came Jan. 20, 2008.

I’m in the hash marks, waiting for the faceoff.

The puck is dropped and I feel my feet go out from under me.

I’d been slew-footed.

My butt hit the ice first. My head fell back and smacked into the ice.

I had no idea where I was. I couldn’t see 10 feet in front of me.

It was, in fact, my 12th concussion.

And my last thus far.

Yes, 12. My first concussion happened so many years ago, while playing on my dad’s work benches in the basement. They looked like horses, you know, and I wanted to learn how to ride.

Head … cement … bang.

There have been soccer injuries along the way. Slo-pitch. Hockey. Dog walking.

Yes, dog walking. You try controlling a 110-pound beast who wants to run to say hi to another dog right when you’re hitting an icy sidewalk.

12th.

My doctor said no more. At least for that season anyway.

He ordered me for a CT scan. He was surprised when it came back clean. (You are, too, aren’t you? No brain damage … and there’s proof! Ha!)

He said I could play again … if I wanted to take the risk. But your noggin, Angela, is soft and you don’t know what could happen the next time you hit your head.

He scared the bejesus out of me.

And so I listened.

I spared for one game two seasons ago.

I played scared.

And that’s not me.

So I hung ’em up, so to speak.

I’ve been hanging onto my gear ever since. Scared to let go? Wondering if I could ever play again?

I don’t know.

But the opportunity to clean up some space in my spare bedroomshoe closet has come due.

Thus, I divest my gear to a friend’s niece. She could use the help in getting some new-to-her gear so she can play.

As long as it isn’t sitting idle any more.

Banned

It was a circuitous route from which I learned the news today.

A Twitter contact retweeted an @mirtle Tweet and so it was I learned my old friend, Gregg Drinnan, has been banned from the Kamloops Blazers pressbox.

Ten years ago, I was wrapped up in a miserable situation, writing for a thrice-weekly newspaper under the most bipolar, harassing editor one could ever meet. I took the Christmas month off for short-term medical leave but managed to keep going to the WHL games at Riverside Coliseum … or was it SportMart Place by then?

I knew one of Gregg’s reporters would be leaving shortly on maternity leave. I turned to my pressbox mate during the first intermission and said, ‘So when is the deadline for applications?’

Yesterday, he mumbled in his sometimes distracted way as he pored over his laptop for stats and news from around the league.

Oh, I said with a hint of dejection in my voice.

He perked up.

‘You’re not interested, are you?’

Well, yeah. It was time for a change, time for a new challenge, time to shake up life a little bit after five years of going nowhere fast.

Before the puck dropped to start the second period, I had a new job.

Gregg saved me. He will tell you I saved him.

‘Do you know how many people think they can do our jobs,’ he said with a smile.

Under Gregg’s tutelage for the next year, I learned more about balanced, fair, in-depth reporting than I had ever learned in the 10 previous years of my career.

So, it’s with a shade of shock that I discover today he’s been banned from the pressbox for negative reporting.

Gregg has been writing about the WHL since its inception. He covered the Regina Pats for two decades before moving to Kamloops, B.C., in — I think — 2000.

He upholds the integrity of journalism with every word he writes, every breath he takes.

And the Blazers, over whom he has lost sleep, years of his life and probably hair, now decide he needs to be a cheerleader for their cause.

While many may think it’s the local newspaper’s job to rah-rah and sis-boom-bah for its team, it’s just not that way … although many newspapers today can convince you otherwise.

It is a local newspaper’s job to report the news in a manner that allows you to make up your own mind. They write columns or opinion pieces to stir your thoughts, incite your fire and provoke your response.

When it comes to Gregg’s work, it is always based in fact … and a desire to ensure his readers are the most informed they can be.

I’ll go to my grave respecting the body of work Gregg Drinnan has compiled on the WHL.

But tonight, I lose quite a bit for the Blazers, a team of which I became a fan after I put my sports writing days behind me.

Feeding frenzy

I’ve been hating to read the #Flames hashtag for the last while.

Too many Suzie Sunshines have been talking about the team turning a corner when they post an occasional win.

Too many Cheery Charlies have been talking about how the team needs to keep Jarome Iginla for his heart and his leadership.

Too many Happy Harrys have been talking about ‘next game we’ll get ’em!’

Balderdash.

A 3-1 loss is in the books after playing the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s preceded by a pair of losses to the Minnesota Wild.

And a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs.

Big fucking deal.

The Leafs have a 12-17-4 record in the East, only slightly worse than the Flames at 14-18-3.

So, no. It’s no big deal to beat the Leafs.

Nor would it have been a big deal to beat the Wild or the Blue Jackets.

It really isn’t a big deal to lose to them either.

Because, folks, this is not a good team.

No matter how you slice it and dice it, Brent Sutter is handcuffed by a roster of old and slow plugs in a game that’s speeding past with youth and flash and dash.

That defence we keep being told is one of the best in the league … on paper? The top four combined for a minus-6 rating tonight.

Strange decisions are being made. The one with the youth and flash? Mikael Backlund was a healthy scratch tonight, in favour of guys who aren’t lifting feathers let alone pulling their own weight.

In complete honesty, I didn’t watch until the last three minutes. I had better things to do, figuring the Flames would be putting in a tired, heartless effort after losing to the Wild last night.

I followed along on the Twitter stream while I was in the hairdresser’s chair and at the gym.

Fans are pissed.

“So happy the world juniors is starting. Watching the #flames is painfull (sic).”

“#flames some kind of failure tonight…again”

“Wow, the #flames continue to struggle, and yet do NOTHING to help themselves. How #pathetic AND #stupid can a professional #hockey team be?”

“The #Flames are just so bad. It hurts my soul.”

“3 in a row… NOW can we fire Sutter? Waiting for management/ownership to do something is as frustrating as watching this team play. #Flames”

“If DSutter isn’t fired by the time I get back from States, I’m gonna … I’m gonna … I’ll probably just swear and tweet about it. #Flames”

Oh wait … that last one was me.

So yeah, how much longer will this go on without someone, i.e. general manager Darryl Sutter, being held accountable for the dreary season we’re facing?

For the fact the Flames don’t have a complement of players who can score.

For the fact the Flames don’t have the stalwart defence we’ve been led to believe it is.

For the fact this team is pushing the salary cap this year and next and has no future.

Zero. Zip. Zilch.

Now that’s a big deal.

Family traditions

The tree, the Nativity scene, the gifts piled up to the ceiling …

Aren’t these the first Christmas traditions that come to mind?

Then there’s the MacIsaac household. It wasn’t all that different from any Canadian home at Yuletide.

Obnoxious Santas, elves, angels, the Three Wise Men … all the wonderful confusion of childhood fantasy and Catholic conscience.

And hockey on the TV.

Yep, that’s right. Back when Eric Lindros was Jesus, not Sidney Crosby. Remember?

We would huddle around the floor-model tube TV, the same set which still sits in our living room and casts a greenish hue, and watch the World Junior Hockey Championship.

There wouldn’t be much said, there never was. Dad didn’t like chatter while he watched the game.

Nonetheless, it was a tradition.

All four of us faithfully carry it on each Christmas, I believe. We’re all big hockey fans.

It’s indelibly stamped on my life since I became immersed in the major junior world during my seven years on the WHL beat in Kamloops.

This year, however, I’m going to miss most of it.

The tourney kicks off Boxing Day with the match that’s always one of the best of the round-robin, Canada vs. Russia.

That one, I’ll catch.

But the next day, I leave the country for seven days.

Oh sure, for a few days, I’ll still be in WHL country, hanging out in the land of the Spokane Chiefs.

I don’t yet know, though, if it’s broadcast on TV the same way TSN smothers us with WJHC coverage.

And hockey isn’t exactly the first thing you see on the TVs when you walk in the bar.

Plus, I’ve already promised myself I won’t be connected during my vacation … no laptop, no Twitter, no Facebook, no RSS feeds …

I’ll be north of the 49th again on January 3, probably too late for either of the semifinal games but you can be damn sure I’ll be planted somewhere serving cold Molson beer for the Wednesday medal games.

Just like tradition dictates.

Go Canada.

No offence, Brendan Morrison

It isn’t a long-term solution.

And that’s what bothers me.

The Calgary Flames signed Brendan Morrison today, desperately needing to plug some holes in light of injuries to centres Daymond Langkow and Matt Stajan and wingers David Moss and Ales Kotalik.

Morrison is 35, got dumped by the Vancouver Canucks just hours earlier today and was looking only for a one-way contract, guaranteeing he wouldn’t spend possibly his last season in the minors.

Yes, it’s easy math. At $750,000 for one year, Morrison is a bargain … not much of a cap hit, even though his numbers have dropped severely since his glory days on the Canucks top line with Markus Naslund and One of the Names I Dare Not Speaketh.

He’s a capable centre for the third line, while Olli Jokinen tries to keep the young upstart, Mikael Backlund, at bay for the first-line position.

I just wish the Flames didn’t have to go fishing so early.

It’s still considered ‘training camp,’ since the new 2010-11 season doesn’t start until Thursday.

And yet the Flames can’t go to the bench — the AHL team in Abbotsford — to find an able centre to fill the spot.

It’s troubling that this kind of talent doesn’t exist on the farm, that Backlund was the lone hope to make the jump to the bigs this year … that T.J. Brodie’s feisty play on the blueline is a more-than-pleasant surprise, forcing the Flames brass into some tough decisions in the very near future.

Two players? That’s it?

Yes, we saw great things from Jon Rheault.

But that’s it?

We knew the Flames didn’t have a ton of depth but their inability to ring the bell in Abbotsford ought to serve as a warning sign.

It’s time for general manager to stop trading away draft picks to get aging, B-level stars and start drafting the right way.

Start building this team from the ground up, instead of regurgitating has-beens and other teams’ castoffs.

Declare a five-year plan like Brian Burke did in Toronto, then turnaround and dump some of these guys on some poor unsuspecting sap somewhere else in the league, just like Brian Bur … oh wait. Crap.

Sutter might think the Calgary fan base is content to watch these guys muddle their way to a mediocre finish and a first-round knockout.

But we’re not.

We’d be just as happy to watch the team struggle through a season or two, knowing the Flames are building towards something, instead of making desperate attempts with guys whose glory days are behind them.

Miikka Kiprusoff won’t last forever, you know.

And at least Morrison didn’t get a no-move clause.

Wanna hear about my fantasy?

The first rule of Fantasy Hockey Club is nobody gives a shit about your fantasy hockey team.

Tough. I’m gonna tell you who I got tonight for my fantasy hockey team, knowing full well there are few people more bring than someone who drones on about how many points he got from ‘Cindy’ Crosby, who he hates but, Lord, he’s so lucky he got the second overall pick and yada yada yada.

Ten of us sat around the picnic table in the back of Jimmy’s yard, each of us picking 10 skaters.

Last year, I had a middle pick.

This year … score! … 10th of 10, meaning I get two picks in a row. Thank goodness I was late getting to the show. Traffic was a bitch, you know.

Yes, I’d like to claim it was a strategic move to be late and ‘get stuck’ in last but I just didn’t get there on time.

It worked out, even though nine of the very top guns in the NHL were gone by the time I walked through the door and got to pick.

But I think I made out all right.

1. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils
You mean Kovalgate, right? Yeah, it’s time to put the contract drama behind us and let Kovalchuk get to work. 90 points? 100?

2. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
70 points last year … hmm, that’s down from his usual 90. Datsyuk is never a bad pick. Kid’s got moves so sick he leaves goalies sneezing.

3. Mike Richards, Philadeliphia
Dang, another guy whose production was down last season. He was a point-a-game guy before he got only 62 points in 2009-10. Yuck. Still, a lot of confidence built up during a healthy playoff run and less pressure on Richards could add up to more points.

4. Alex Tanguay, Calgary Flames
If you read last night’s post, you pretty much have an idea why I took Tanguay here, even though some pundits had him ranked way lower than 40th. Hell, he’s feeding Jarome Iginla. As we say in Newfoundland, ’nuff said.

5. Nathan Horton, Boston Bruins
Can you imagine leaving the Florida Panthers and heading to a place with a rich hockey tradition like Beantown? Nathan Horton can … and he’ll be inspired like a fat kid in a donut shop.

6. Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings
Coming off a knee injury, he’s an iffy pick but you know how they are in Detroit. The guy’s one of the top wingers in the league and he had 18 points in 12 playoff games after returning from the IR.

7. Dustin Penner, Edmonton Oilers
Sheesh, now that I’m looking at some of the reviews, I’ve made some pretty ballsy picks. Penner was inconsistent last year and his ice time may suffer with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle tabbed as the new studs. I’m hoping they light a fire under Penner’s ass.

8. Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators
Pretty pretty goals. That is all.

9. Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks
One of the top point-getting defencemen in the league. No-brainer.

10. Derick Brassard, Columbus Blue Jackets
It’s tough taking anyone from going-nowhere-fast teams like Columbus or Minnesota. Brassard is slotted to play between Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov. That’s basically Russian for ‘lots of assists.’

11. Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers
We need to start getting points for penalty minutes. Then this would have been a brilliant pick. He’ll still get me somewhere around 50 points.

12. Tomas Holmstrom, Detroit Red Wings
You’d think I like the Red Wings or something … come on, they’re always up there and they have lots of players who like to get bags and bags of points. God bless ’em.

13. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
A 50-point defenceman. ‘Nuff said. But if he drops off after he signs a mega-long contract, I can take him … I just need a stool or a stepladder.

14. David Booth, Florida Panthers
OK, not the safest pick but one of the guys took Maxim Afinogenov, who signed a contract to play in the KHL this season. Duh … Booth has a soft head, not as bad as Marc Savard, but has Stephen Weiss with him in the Sunshine State … 30 goals or so, I figure.

15. Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames
Backlund is going to spend his rookie season on the top line. And kid can handle it. We saw him do it in glimpses last season while he was up from the Abbotsford Heat. He’ll be feeding and getting fed by Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. Welcome to Calgary, kid.

16. Steve Downie, Tampa Bay Lighting
Have you seen the way Steve Stamkos is playing? Yeah and Downie is tabbed to be on the same line. Thank you.

17. Andrei Kostitsyn, Montreal Canadiens
Come on, this guy’s nickname is Tits, right? You have to … he is also due for a breakout year. Soft and lazy … things might change now that his brother is in Nashville.

18. Erik Cole, Carolina Hurricanes
I have football on the brain. I totally wrote Carolina Panthers first. If Cole and Eric Staal can fire each other up, he’ll get a point per game.

19. Andrew Ladd, Atlanta Thrashers
25 and he has two Stanley Cups … the word is, Ladd signed with Atlanta because he didn’t want to be on the third line anymore. He can step into a top-line position with the Thrashers. He’ll get lots of points. He just won’t win many games.

20. Ales Kotalik, Calgary Flames
Not a lot of people have very much good to say about Kotalik … call on me … Kota … I digress … damn you, Alex Ruiz. I like what I’ve been seeing from Kotalik in the preseason and after all the shit-talking about him, I’m hoping he carries a chip on his shoulder. All. Season. Long.

There you have it. One more season with no one from the Toronto Maple Leafs or Vancouver Canucks.

I’ll pat myself on the back for that, thank you.

Signed, sealed, delivered

Dear Alex Tanguay,

I know I’ve said it before.

But here it goes one more time: welcome back.

I remember when you were lighting it up in Denver, Col. Drafted 12th overall in 1998, you were a fresh-faced youngster from Ste-Justine, Que., jumping out of the QMJHL with 214 points in three years for the Halifax Mooseheads — my favourite Q team, after all.

You were a highly touted rookie and you proved your merit as a skilled power forward with promise.

You won the Stanley Cup in 2001 but, as time went on, the Avalanche had to clean house, start over again and rebuild.There was no place left for you and the salary you commanded as a 25-goal scorer.

When you landed here in 2006, I was thrilled. Some thought, ‘what? he’s not that great.’

I thought, ‘no, he’s the perfect playmaker for Jarome Iginla.’

But you weren’t ready for the shit show that you were to face here. The Flames hired Mike Keenan to run the ship and you didn’t respond well to his dictatorial style of coaching, constantly juggling the lines when many of us knew where you were supposed to fit.

And don’t even get me started on that whole Todd Bertuzzi experiment. Ugh.

You lasted two seasons here. Instead of paying you what you were worth after 99 assists in two campaigns, the Flames let you go.

Off to Montreal with you. How odd. Two years later, they did the same thing to your replacement, Mike Cammalleri.

Neither of you wanted to leave Calgary either. But Calgary didn’t want to keep you.

After bouncing to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a season you’ve come back, signing for a bargain $1.7 million, compared to the bags o’cash you were making here before.

During tonight’s pre-season game against the Edmonton Oilers, I watched you on the top line with Iginla and stud rookie Mikael Backlund.

You were exactly what this team was missing last year: a forechecker, a digger in the corners and that guy who can make that pass from wherever and whenever and get that puck to that Iginla, who only needs that laser-like wrist shot to score a goal.

It was beautiful.

And it tells me you’re going to do some good things here in Calgary this season.

So thanks for coming back and giving Cowtown another chance.

Love,

Me

Who’s teaching whom?

Hayley Wickenheiser is the best female hockey player in the world.

Yup, I know. I have a knack for stating the obvious.

Everywhere she goes in the women’s game, she dominates.

She made headlines by becoming the first woman to play a skating position on a professional men’s hockey club (goaltender Manon Rheaume was, of course, the first woman to ever play pro men’s hockey).

She lives and speaks with the same kind of fire with which she plays.

She was the quotable quote at the Salt Lake City Olympics when word struck Team USA players were trouncing on the Canadian flag in their dressing room.

More recently, she has become an advocate for growth of women’s hockey, not just in Canada but also globally — all in the face of back-room chatter that the sport isn’t strong enough to maintain Olympic status.

She spoke eloquently last month at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, challenging countries to reach beyond societal stigma of women playing sports and help young girls grow and flourish as athletes.

She spoke of strides made toward the creation of a professional women’s hockey league, one that you said you would go watch.

And this past Thursday, she stole the spotlight by announcing she would be playing for CIS hockey for the University of Calgary Dinos.

Danielle Goyette, Dinos head coach, recruited her longtime teammate on the national squad.

“She will show the girls how hard you have to work to become the best player in the world,” Goyette said during the official announcement. “It’s going to help our team to get better and bring it to the next level.”

Hayley’s going back to finish her kinesiology degree.

She has five years of eligibility at the CIS level.

And she’s 32.

Kinda ripe for a rookie.

For Hayley, though, it was the right timing. Typically, she spends her off-Olympic winters skating with the Oval X-Treme in the Western Women’s Hockey League.

But that team has suspended operations for the season.

Or, she’s gone to Europe to play pro men’s hockey.

You have to figure, though, moving her family to Finland or Sweden has to be tough.

So here she’ll stay and don the Dinos colours.

You are split on the decision.

@DerekTaylorFSR: Here’s what’s wrong with Cdn. college sports…32-year-old former pros can play CIS hockey. http://bit.ly/9bpj9X #Wickenheiser

@ValerieWatts: Hayley Wickenheiser to play for U of C… Is that even fair!?

@FrammaZamma: Hayley Wickenheiser @wick_22 needs to get over herself. Move on and give a spot to a deserving young player.

@JSaggau: I don’t know if it helps the women’s game at all but I would definitely go watch. She’s a Canadian legend.

@JimPap: Nope. Taking a spot from someone who busted butt to get there, just so she has somewhere to play. Totally selfish

@askrickdotcom: No! Great move for herself. Not doing anything for women’s hockey. Shannon Millers coaching university hockey helps.

@ToriePeterson: I can’t wait to check out the Dinos. I’ll admit it – she’s piqued my interest. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

@DanPagan: Yes, depends on if Hayley can help bring the Dinos team to the next level and make other players better.

@itstara88: I’d love to go see one of her games

@AbbyPlaysHockey: someone with her credentials should really boost interest. i’d def go see if i was in the area or nearby.

@brennancreative: If it draws more attention to the CIS woman’s game and increases attendance it can’t hurt.

A status update on Hayley’s Facebook fan page lit up with well wishes, positive messages and congratulations.

Here’s the thing.

She’s the best player in the world.

Yeah, I already said that.

She has three gold medals and one silver medal at the Olympics. She has six golds and three silvers at the world championships.

So the question is why? Why Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey? Why three, four, maybe five or six steps down from what she’s used to playing?

“It was the right timing, coming off the Olympic year,” she said during the press conference. “I want to go back to school and work on my degree. Everything worked out where I have the option to play here, practise with the men’s team and still play all of the national team events. It seemed like it was the best situation at this time.”

It’s fair to expect she will skate onto the ice and instantly dominate.

It’s fair to expect she will skate circles around the competition.

Maybe it’s also fair to expect she will serve as a player/assistant coach, helping Goyette and the rest of the Dinos coaching staff in teaching the intricacies of the game and leading her teammates through the various stages of improvement.

And how can anyone deny this excitement:

“I think it’s amazing being able to play with Hayley,” Dinos goaltender Kiersten Giesbrecht said. “I’ve been dreaming about it since I was little. It’s going to be great.”

Last month, at the Summit in Toronto, Hayley was part of a panel that discussed Canada’s national-team members acting as mentors, sharing their skills and knowledge with grass-roots organizations around the world.

But it’s also important to remember that we need to keep developing the game on our own soil.

Maybe this is Step 1 for Hayley becoming that mentor, not just inspiring little girls and young women around the world with her play, her gold-medal chewing and her flag waving, but also with her teaching and her support.

And there’s nothing selfish about that.

One Euro or two?

Maybe major junior hockey only needs one import player per team.

The Canadian Hockey League may consider reducing the number of import players per team from two to one, said league commissioner David Branch at the closing press conference of the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

Each major junior team – WHL, OHL and QMJHL – selects two players from non-North American countries and then they have to bust their asses to get those players over here.

And Branch earlier this week heard sharp criticism from those non-North American countries, who are holding the CHL import draft responsible for the destruction of their junior development systems.

“We heard some passionate comments,” Branch said. “They were great comments and they were concerning comments. We have to look at it from the importance of growing the game and the importance of the health of the game.”

There was a time when the CHL had huge issues in attracting the best,  young players to their teams, Branch said. But the organization which serves as an umbrella for the three regional leagues made a commitment to better facilities, better coaching and a recognized scholarship program.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, folks. The CHL offers the best route to the NHL for an aspiring pro hockey player. Young men of any country should want to play in this forum for its similarity to the NHL — from its schedule to its culture and its rules — simply to prepare themselves for achieving their dream of playing pro hockey.

But for Branch, he’s committed to the growth of the game, not just at home but also globally.

“We can’t overlook the need to do what’s best for the game and we will address this area with serious discussion,” he said.