Glen Bradley turned away from NHL hockey long before it became trendy during this lockout.
“Amateur sport is my thing, I’m not much into professional,” says Bradley, a fixture at Barbara Ann Scott Arena, as any visitor to the rink over the past 35 years could attest.
Today Bradley is assistant general manager of the Jr. B Ottawa West Golden Knights of the EOJHL, owned, coached and managed by Steve Sundin. Since the 1970s, Bradley has coached minor hockey up to the midget age, and he succeeded Glen Richardson, Luke’s father, as GM of the Jr. B club in 1993. His roots in minor baseball run even deeper, with nearly 40 years on local ball diamonds in various capacities.
Why does amateur sport fire passions that NHL hockey does not?
“These kids weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth,” Bradley says, warming to the topic. “They had to work hard to get where they are. They go out there every night and have fun, and hopefully the coaching staff can be good mentors and develop them, but they just play for the love of the game.
“I’m afraid to say the professionals have forgotten where they came from, and that was from the street, playing street hockey and pond hockey, whatever. That’s where they learned their skills. They learned by playing on the street, playing with their friends and just enjoying the game.”
The pro game, he says, “is about greed … how much can you get out of it.”
A stocky man with a fondness for stylish caps, Bradley can be seen during Knights games at the corner glass of BAS, coffee in hand, prone to pace, mumble and occasionally curse at a bad call, as his own grandkids were astonished to learn.
Away from the rink, Bradley is an easy-going type. Junior hockey gets him going.
“It’s fun to watch, to see these players grow up and become men and move on to other careers,” he says.
JR BANG FOR BUCK
In any other year, we would be so deep in Senators talk that a shovel might be necessary. With the home opener at Scotiabank Place just hours away, according to an optimistic, now obsolete NHL schedule, the Senators would be heading into a game against the Washington Capitals either 1-0 (bring on the Cup!) or 0-1 (what is wrong with this team?!?) after Thursday’s alleged season opener in Montreal.
Instead, while SBP is dark and forlorn for NHL competition, it is playing host to the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s this season and next while Lansdowne Park and the Civic Centre undergo massive renovations.
At dozens of other junior and minor hockey arenas in the region, buildings are alive with the sights and sounds of competitive (B to AAA), house-league hockey and ringette, alongside the lingering taste of early morning coffee and the energy of impromptu parental hot stove sessions in the stands and lobbies.
In other words, it’s business as usual. Practices. Clinics. Initiation and learn-to-skate programs. Away from the Hockey Night In Canada glare, hockey in the capital has a pulse. The game’s lifeblood is thriving.
What better time to check it out?
Peter Goulet, head coach of the Nepean Raiders of the Jr. A CCHL, was noting a lockout impact to his players just the other day.
“I said, ‘Hey, guys, there’s more people in the stands,’ ” Goulet says, relating the story. “Maybe we have a bit more of a following from our run last year, but I would assume a lot of is from the NHL lockout, which is great for us because, as you know it’s hard for city teams to draw fans with so much to do in the city. There’s definitely more fans in Nepean. Not a huge number, but, instead of 75, it’s maybe 100 or 125.”
Like Bradley’s EOJHL, Goulet’s CCHL is a going concern, highly competitive from Smith Falls and Cornwall up the Valley to the always-strong Pembroke Lumber Kings.
“It’s a great league, and, if you look at the standings, it’s really tight,” Goulet says. “All our owners, coaches and general managers do a great job, putting an exciting product on the ice.”
Like few other centres in Canada, the National Capital Region is swimming in hockey leagues, including: two major junior teams, the 67’s and the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL; the Jr. A Central Canadian Hockey League (CCHL), a feeder league for NCAA schools and major-junior; the Jr. B Eastern Ontario Junior Hockey League league (EOJHL) and the Jr. C National Capital Junior Hockey League (NCJHL).
The heart and soul of the game never was found at the highest level, anyway, but in the neighbourhood rinks that provided NHL players and mere hockey mortals with their first chance to experience organized hockey. This week, when NHL games would have dominated sports sections and monopolized water cooler discussion, is an especially busy time in the amateur ranks.
To name a few events:
* Care to keep track of future Senators? Then you’ll want to follow the Binghamton Senators as they open their 2012-13 AHL season at home Saturday night against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. During the lockout, Ottawa’s farm club is loaded with prospects like Jared Cowen, Robin Lehner, Mika Zibanejad, Mark Stone and Jacob Silfverberg.
* After an impressive victory in Niagara on Thursday and then a Friday game in Mississauga, the 67’s are back home Sunday afternoon at Scotiabank Place to face the Kitchener Rangers.
* The EOJHL Jr. B showcase in Arnprior this weekend. All 22 Jr. B teams in the region will participate in games at the Nick Smith Centre. Plenty of junior hockey scouts will be on hand to survey the action and find the next gem to come out of local Jr. B.
* Ottawa Jr. 67′s Showcase Day. All AAA 67′s minor hockey teams are in action at Jim Durrell Arena Saturday.
* World Girls Hockey Weekend. This IIHF event provides an opportunity for girls around the globe to give hockey a try. Dozens of activities are planned throughout North America. Close to home, girls will be on the ice all over the city and Valley. Among the events, Nepean girls are staging an on-ice practice for their mothers.
The female game is flourishing here, as a visit to the Ottawa District Women’s Hockey Association website will prove. Just Friday afternoon, the Ottawa Ice midget A team was in Cornwall for a tournament, part of a busy weekend in women’s hockey.
In April, Ottawa will play host to the women’s world hockey championships, as it once did for the original women’s world event in 1990, when pink jerseys and Angela James were in vogue. At that time, there were 8,000 registered female hockey players in Canada. Today, the total approaches 90,000.
I asked current national team defenceman Tessa Bonhomme, in Ottawa to promote the world championship, where she expected the women’s game to be 20-plus years from now.
“Twenty years from now, I really hope we have a fully functioning (pro) league,” Bonhomme said, “one that not only has the high level competition that we do now, but that has packed rinks, like the Ottawa 67’s do, and the Ottawa Senators do, and the Maple Leafs do in Toronto.
“Hopefully, maybe even for some little girl playing street hockey in her driveway, it won’t just be a dream to get drafted into the NHL and play hockey for a living, it’s something that she can do. Get drafted first overall in the CWHL and play hockey for a living.”
Meanwhile, millions of girls, boys, adults and oldtimers will play the game for fun, lockout-free.
“Amateur sport is about development and enjoying the game that they play, whether it’s baseball, hockey, soccer, football, no matter what it is,” Bradley says. “It’s just love of the game.”