Above the 49: Junior hockey could still benefit from union
By Daniel Fung, Sports Network Columnist
Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - The controversy surrounding the Canadian Hockey League Players' Association may have soured the whole concept of a players' association in junior hockey, but it may still be best for the players to have a union to represent them.
If there's one thing the fledgling CHLPA has managed to do, it's bring to the forefront some of the challenges faced by the players particularly when it comes to only having a limited time to collect on their university scholarships or the fact they are compensated less than minimum wage while essentially being full-time players.
The CHLPA, which first came to light back in August, essentially self- destructed last week as a result of the rumored involvement of convicted fraudster and former hockey coach, Randy Gumbley, and that there was allegedly more than one person using the alias of "Derek Clarke" who was acting as the group's spokesperson, causing irreparable damage to the association's legitimacy and reputation.
The fact that CHLPA executive director Georges Laraque has announced he will be stepping down less than two months after being named to the post has all but sealed this group's fate.
But the CHLPA failed because of its disorganization, questionable tactics and the fact it had wrong people in the wrong places, not necessarily because its ideas and concepts weren't sound.
You would be hard-pressed to find many people who don't support the idea that a CHL player's scholarship should be expanded to not only include universities but trade schools as well, or that the deadline to utilize the scholarship should be extended to beyond just 18 months after a player finishes his CHL career.
Neither would many be opposed to the creation of a players' fund if it went for the purpose of education.
Where the CHLPA really started off on the wrong foot was the fact it came armed with lawsuits, attacked the CHL for "sweatshop conditions" and went right after the issue of player compensation - a touchy subject for a league that does not consider itself as a professional one.
The issue of fair player compensation is certainly one that ought to be addressed considering major junior hockey is big business in Canada - much in the same way the NCAA is down in the United States - but doing so by blatantly accusing the league of providing poor working conditions seems to run contrary to the opinions of many of the players, both past and present.
There are certainly no shortage of former junior players either in the NHL or playing elsewhere who are more than happy to associate themselves with their respective junior clubs after graduation and have positive words to describe their junior playing experience. That doesn't exactly scream "sweatshop conditions."
On the other hand, a potential junior players' union might be in a much better position to succeed if it was more open about its dealings with the players across the league as well as with the CHL.
They might be able to gain more public support as well if they can wage a more effective PR operation by involving former junior players on the other side - that is those who weren't as fortunate to parlay their junior career into a professional hockey career - and getting them to throw their support behind a campaign for a players' association. They could share their own stories of the challenges they faced during their playing days as well as afterward when it came to utilizing their scholarship.
The existence of an association that will campaign to improve the conditions for Canadian junior hockey players during their playing days and watch out for their best interests after they've finished with the game is sorely needed.
One can only hope that this recent experience with the CHLPA hasn't set this entire process backward.
11/07 13:15:52 ET