From Friday, Sept. 8 to Monday, Sept. 11 the Vancouver Canucks will host the 2017 Young Stars Classic in Penticton, B.C. The four-team tournament will feature prospects from the Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets. Here, Sportsnet 650 Canucks radio analyst Corey Hirsch tells us how much these ‘rookie tournaments’ have changed since his first back in 1991…
I want you to picture this. I’m in some small, podunk town somewhere in the middle of New York State. I’m sitting on the bench in an arena that barely seats 200 people. I look to my right and there are only two players left on each team’s bench: the backup goalie and one other skater. On the ice, the referees have an ice scraper and a shovel trying to clear off the blood so the hockey game can resume. There are only eight skaters, four per side, and still 12 minutes left to play. The remainder of the game has to be played 4-on-4 because there have been so many fights there are no players left on either team to put on the ice.
That was an actual prospects game that I played in vs. the New York Islanders’ up-and-comers.
It’s funny to even call it a “prospects game.” No one could truly show any skill, or that they were a prospect. It was more about survival and how tough you were. NHL scouts used to bring in the toughest guys they could find to fill out the rosters in training camp, and they would sit in the stands and watch the fights.
I can’t even imagine back then being some kid fresh out of college or junior hockey, and going into a rookie game and looking at the New York Rangers prospect roster. It must have been terrifying. At one point, the Rangers had Tie Domi, Rudy Poeschek, Peter Fiorentino, Louie DeBrusk, Daniel Lacroix, and Dennis Vial. All prospects. And these guys were killers, all of them.
Thankfully, NHL rookie games have changed. Players are now encouraged to show their speed and skill. Don’t get me wrong, there are still fights, but not the barbaric attitude of 25 years ago, where it was sink or swim with your fists. I think back and wonder how we could have even condoned those games as acceptable. How many guys didn’t make it that could have been great players, because they weren’t “tough enough” back in the day? I would never want my own son to play in a game like that today.
As NHL teams go into places like Traverse City, Mich., and Penticton, B.C., for prospects tournaments, I will be with Vancouver in Penticton. I am excited to see what Canucks prospects like Brock Boeser, Jonah Gadjovich, and Jonathan Dahlen can do with the puck. They can play in the games to the best of their abilities without having to be terrified that at some point they will have to go toe-to-toe on the ice with some player out of a league they’ve never heard of.
I give a lot of credit to the NHL for making the necessary changes and making the game about speed and skill. If you don’t have either of those in today’s game, you can’t play.
My advice to all the prospects out there is to show your skill and be respectful of the game, but don’t be afraid.
Thankfully you don’t have to be anymore.