Youth Gone Mild
TFP's Greg Wyshynski talks with Devils center Jim Dowd about
youth hockey and how NHL rule enforcement is helping to purge
aggression from it in the U.S.
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- Jimmy Dowd was one of the lucky
"The bottom line is that hockey is not part of the youth
culture in the U.S.," said Dowd, in his 15th NHL season
and currently playing for the New Jersey Devils
And he's right: For every cradle of hockey aptitude like
Minnesota, Michigan and New England, there are regions
where having the opportunity to smack around the puck
depends on ice availability, or gear affordability, or
the willingness of magnanimous mothers to drive their
young Gretzkys-in-waiting several hours for a club
Dowd, however, grew up in Brick, N.J. — a populous
township in Ocean County that had two ice rinks and a
hockey community that was willing to support and nurture
young players through its youth and scholastic systems.
I, on the other hand, grew up in Matawan, N.J., where the best
sheet of ice was on Lake Lefferts during January and
"supporting young players" involved someone helping your ass
up after they just deked you out of your skates for a goal.
(For you film buffs, The Ocean Ice Palace in Brick Town is
also where director Kevin Smith shot that scene in "Chasing
Amy" where Joey Lauren Adams is unleashing obscenity-filled
taunts at the players during a brutally entertaining game,
while Ben Affleck is trying to have a heart-to-heart about
their relationship. Obviously, she wasn't a true fan —
puck-bunnies know better than to bring their poofy haired
Metrosexual boyfriends to hockey night.)
What I love about guys like Jimmy Dowd is that they understand
the importance of community in hockey.
Each year, Dowd hosts an All-Shore All-Star Game between
high-school aged players from Ocean and neighboring Monmouth
County. It's a geographic blood feud in high-school football
transferred to the ice for a charity event that benefits
Dowd's Shoot for the Stars Foundation, which offers financial
support to local residents in need.
And just like he was educated by his community as a young
player, Dowd and producer John Fortuna have recently put out
an instructional hockey DVD for players ages 8-12 called
"Shoot for the Stars," which is available for $23.95 (plus
shipping) through www.JimDowdVideo.com. It's a comprehensive
collection of drills and skills that are essential for any
young player, and a chance to project "a good, positive
message out there for youth sports," according to Dowd.
how to play the game the right way," he added.
concerns Dowd is that instead of playing the right way, youth
hockey in the U.S. might be losing its way.
year, USA Hockey took the NHL's lead and issued a
national edict on draconian enforcement of
"obstruction" rules, including:
use of the stick will be limited to only playing the
- The stick will not be allowed to in any way impede a
- The use of a free hand/arm will not be allowed to
grab or impede a player's progress.
- Players who use their physical skills and/or
anticipation and have a positional advantage shall not
lose that advantage as a result of illegal acts by the
On a professional level, these rule enforcements have at best
led to a parade of momentum-sapping power plays and at worst
baffled players as to what is legal and when it's allowed.
Obstruction in the NHL has become like holding in the NFL — a
nebulous, overtly subjective call whose chances for honest
enforcement decrease every second the game creeps closer to
its conclusion. Yet no matter how it’s legislated, it remains
an intrinsic — though illegal — facet of nearly every play.
So perhaps the only way to rid hockey of obstruction is to
begin educating about its evils in a player's infancy. Now, in
youth leagues around the nation, mixed in with wind sprints
and puck-handling drills will be enduring lessons on when not
to make contact in a contact sport.
Jimmy Dowd — a guy who's banged around through nine NHL teams
and has his name on the Stanley Cup — isn't exactly a fan of
this new education. (No Child Left Behind The Play, perhaps?)
"You're taught as a kid growing up that you gotta pay a price
to score a goal, that it's worth it if you get knocked on your
butt if you end up scoring that goal," said Dowd, through his
Central Jersey accent. "You're taught as a defenseman to knock
that guy down and not let anybody go to the net. Now, you
can’t touch anybody.
"You used to go to the rink to get your aggression out. Now
it's a passive game. They're turning it into a joke."
A passive game... a joke... oh Lord, could the future of
hockey possibly look like the 2007 YoungStars Game?
Anyone who saw that abortion of hockey, that putrid waste of
time and good ice during the NHL All-Star party in Dallas
knows what passive, unmotivated hockey looks like: no hits,
apathetic skating and a bunch of players picking more cherries
than a line worker in a Hostess pie factory.
I've come across a couple of intriguing replacements for the
YoungStars Game. Kostya Kennedy of Sports Illustrated
suggested a showcase for CHL All-Stars. NHL blogger Steve
Lepore told me he'd take a page from professional basketball
and have a Freshmen vs. Sophomores game between rookies and
second-years. (An NBA idea in the NHL? Heavens to Bettman!)
Both solutions are centered on turning an exhibition into a
competition. And it's when there's something to play for —
from neighborhood bragging rights to Lord Stanley's Chalice —
that The Game truly succeeds.
Because in the end, it'll always be about The Game. Leagues
make rules; the Game just exists. It's found in a 10-year-old
kid working on his slap-shot mechanics with a hockey DVD. It's
found on a frozen pond during a snow day or an empty
basketball court getting scuffed up by blades, both roller and
"You go out and play with your friends," said Dowd. "That's
how you get better."
Solid advice, courtesy of the man from Brick Town.
Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is
a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com, and the Senior Editor and Washington
Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.
His book, "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports
is now on sale.