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Daily Dish: Restricted Development Model Junior Hockey News

Published: Thursday, 2 May 2019  
By: Stephen Heisler, JuniorHockey.com


Before getting all hot and bothered by what is going to be said here, please understand that the story-line in this article is a direct parable to a hot situation within the current system of development here in the United States.

Josef and Jon Larsen are the identical twins that were born on Anderson Air Force Base in Guam back in 2003. Their father is a semi-retired colonel that resides with his wife on the Northern Mariana Island of Saipan (near Guam). The colonel was an exceptional hockey player back in his home state of Minnesota, earning the opportunity to play for the Golden Gophers. The father’s passion for the game was quickly passed onto his twin boys.

It’s fair to say that Guam is certainly a very long way from being the ice hockey hotbed that Minnesota is, so the colonel arranged a transfer back stateside to Washington D.C. so his twins could enjoy the game.

The family remained in the DC area until 2015, about the same time that North Korea started acting up, that’s when the colonel was forced to return to Guam. The decision was made to allow the twins to join a hockey academy up in British Columbia. 

The boys absolutely thrived in that environment, quickly becoming two of the top 2003 forwards on the continent. With an amazing combination of size and ability, it’s no wonder that the twins would draw a ton of praise from scouts across the spectrum of the game.

One of the colonel’s closest friends was assigned to Luke Air Force Base, just outside of Phoenix, and invited the twins to stay with his family and join one of the local AAA programs last season.

Just like Canada, the boys once again quickly dominated the level of play (leading to a national championship), to the dismay of a few local officials that were tied to the area’s rival youth program.

The twins dominated the local development camp and earned the elevation to the Rocky Mountain District camp in Dallas. That’s when the wheels fell off the bus.

It all started with this email from the state president.

My name is Tim R and I am the president of the state association.

The commitment letter that the state has on file for the twins indicates that they are players being billeted for the 18/19 hockey season and that their home address is on the island of Saipan. But for the state development camp you indicted the home address near Luke Air Force Base.

Please forward to me documentation that would update the state association of the twins’ residency status. That documentation should include proof of residency, including a lease or purchase contract, as well as utility bills from that same address. 

Thank you, for your time to clarify this situation.

Stunned, the father quickly replied with this email.

Attached please find utility bills our family friend’s home in Arizona.  Our families have enjoyed a close friendship for nearly 20 years. Our familiarity with the area is one of the main reasons we chose to have the twins play there.   We frequently stay at this home as I have significant training assignments in the area.  We chose to have the twins stay with our friends this year for two reasons - one is the schools and the other is that we wanted to be with people that we are comfortable with.

The boys will play for the same team again this coming season and we plan to have them live at this address in the coming year. 

I hope this clears up any confusion.  
 
Thinking all would be well, the dad was surprised when the state president fired back with this gem.

This does not clear up the situation. A family friend owning a home in Arizona does not, by definition, establish residency for the boys. They must live in the home with a parent or guardian. Therefore, the state association will consider them residents of Saipan for the 18/19 hockey season.  

We normally do not allow non-residents to attend the Rocky Mountain District camp. In this case the director of the RMD camp, and the director of our player development camp, have agreed to make an exception to allow the boys to attend the District camp. But his player evaluation will be sent to the appropriate district, the Pacific District, to review for the possibility of further advancement to the USA Hockey National camp. 

Open communication between all parties would have made this entire situation more professional. That would have included you notifying us that you also registered the twins for the player development camp in California, and that you did not attend that camp. 

For the 19/20 season, we will need to review the boy’s residency status before the season begins.

I don’t know but is sure looks like the politics of the game are getting way in front of the actual playing of the game. A patient man, the colonel tried to reason with the state president with this email.

Hi Tim
I’m happy to communicate about this. I don’t know the people or procedures involved.  I had never heard your name until last week when you emailed me.  I also tried to call you yesterday but the phone number you provided didn’t work. I called months ago to the USA Hockey address change line to change the address. That system did not allow me to talk with anyone.  

I notified the team of the address change. sometime after USA Hockey.  The boys received an invite to Pacific camp but not Arizona camp and I was instructed to fill it out for Pacific. Sometime later, after the team notified someone of the address change, then I received an invitation to Arizona Camp, which I also filled out.  I assumed that was what I needed to do to make the change.  The next thing I received was an email from Pacific that refunded the tryout fee. I assumed that was all I needed to do.  

For someone not intimately involved the process is confusing.   We don’t relish the idea of our kids living away from us - which is why we are making a full time living arrangement that works.  Billeting (which is not free) was a backup plan in conjunction with staying with us here in Phoenix. The boys live in Arizona, they play in Arizona.  We have gone through a lot of expense to live in Arizona and to have our kids properly supervised while we work on a permanent solution.  I hope you can understand that.  

The solution you propose does not sound reasonable to me.  I can’t imagine how they would get a fair chance for National Camp based on a written evaluation.   How would that work?

Please call me I would love to discuss this.

The situation quickly went from bad to worse when the state president refused to bend.

The email that I sent on 4/16, that stated your sons are not residents of Arizona for the 18/19 hockey season is still the opinion of the association.

As non-residents, they normally would not be allowed to participate in the District camp. But the camp Director along with the state Director have made an exception to have them participate. And your sons’ evaluation will be forwarded to the Pacific District camp. At this time, there are no openings in the Pacific camp.

If your sons will not be participating in the Rocky Mountain District Player Development camp, let me know by Wednesday 4/24. 

Yea, I’m thinking that the state president is going to make major trouble for the twins. The question remains; why?

So the colonel tried to reason with the association bureaucrat once again.

Tim
I'm asking for your help here.  You have decided that the twins are ineligible to advance from the Rocky Mountain District.  They are now caught in a situation where effectively they will not be able to advance within USA Hockey.  If there has been a mistake here, I take responsibility for that, I am not an expert in USA Hockey policies and procedures.  But my boys are exceptional players that have put in a lot of effort.  They earned the right to advance to the Rocky Mountain district but no matter how well they perform, the likelihood of advancing to national camp is very small if it is based entirely on written evaluations.

Most people who have watched the boys play would recognize that they would stand a good chance of advancing.  So I ask you:
1. Will you allow them to advance to National Camp if is earned on-ice it in Dallas?
OR 
2. Can you help me to have them move to the Pacific Camp?  Who did you speak to there that told you it's full?  Can you help me make an appeal?

Again, here are kids that have really worked hard, who deserves a chance, regardless of whether they were not registered properly.

Please let me know if you are willing to help.

It’s hard to imagine how any father in such a situation could have so much patience, especially after getting this email.

The state has already assisted your sons in this situation, we are allowing them to attend the Rocky Mountain District camp, as NONRESIDENTS of the affiliate. Because they are not residents, they will not be allowed to advance from the Rocky Mountain District camp to the National Development camp. And they will not be able to attend the Pacific camp because he did not qualify to attend that camp.

And again, because they were not properly registered, then did not attend the correct affiliate camp, and will not be attending the correct district camp. At this time we should all move forward, understanding that next year registration will be handled differently. And your sons will have a chance to be on the ice with the best players in the district for a few days, which will further development for their future hockey career.

Can you smell the complete arrogance? 

It’s about this time when the family asked me to help. Well, that was fun. Would you like to see my introduction to the conversation? Yep, I knew you would.

Tim,
I’ve had the displeasure of seeing the email string between the colonel and yourself. It’s pretty obvious that the issue is politically motivated and has nothing to do about the twins’ on-ice ability. 

Fortunately, the boys have had the opportunity to be seen by folks with a much clearer vision for the game than you.

As a family advisor, I’m recommending that they skip the district camp and concentrate on elevated opportunities.

As for you, I just hope you figure out what your position is all about; it’s the game and not your ego.

As expected, that went over like a cracked egg on Arizona concrete in June. The association president quickly lost his doodoo.

This first response went to the family.

I received an email from a person saying he was your family advisor, stating that the twins will not attend the Rocky Mountain District Camp. Because he has no authority to speak for the boys in the eyes of the association, could you send me an email stating your sons’ withdrawal from the District camp.

This one to me:

If you did read the email thread, then you would have observed that at no time did I comment on the twins’ on ice ability. All my decisions were based on the policies of USA Hockey and the state association.

As the family "advisor" I find it interesting that you are recommending the boys skip a camp where all of the top hockey players from the Rocky Mountain District will be attending to concentrate on "elevated opportunities".

Obviously my ego must be huge, so huge that I have been a volunteer in the USA Hockey family for over twenty years.

I am sure that compares with the volunteer service you are performing for the family now and in the future.

Yep, that was a stinger. So what’s a fellow to do but fire one back.

Did you also volunteer to lie to them about my email? 

I clearly said that my recommendation is for the boys to skip it. While you told the family that I stated the twins would not be going and that the association does not recognize me as a spokesperson for the family.

Honesty, it’s a heck of a word. As is integrity. I’m in the business of truth and being able to separate the political agendas for the game itself.

These boys are among the top 2003 skaters in the country, they’ve proven that on the ice. I’m just happy that we’ve been able to get them in front of the right people to help push them along.

It’s clear that you have a political agenda against the rival program in general. I find it to be very ironic that you have tried to utilize your position as a state president to hinder that program’s growth.

If you truly cared about elevating the game, you would have set aside political agendas and make exceptions based purely on ability. 

But that’s not what you did. Character, it’s something that’s developed over time.

That last email must have been the final knockout, catching a state president in a bold-faced lie is always going to be enjoyable, especially when his agenda is very clear.

But let’s get to the root of the problem. Why has USA Hockey given the affiliates so much power? AAA level youth hockey should not have to operate with so many different rules and agendas. USA Hockey has to let elite level clubs operate and compete without continued interference from local associations that should be focused on the games growth and not trying to restrict competition. 

The issues have more to do with money, and power, than anything else. 

Yes, the above situation really happened. No, there is not a colonel, twins, or anything to do with a pacific island. Unfortunately, the emails are genuine (with the he changed to they) and the association president being completely unable to see past the obvious.

Elite players move around the country to elite programs. It’s become the developmental norm and not exception. Junior players have been doing the same thing for decades, its just a good thing that state associations have been left out of that loop; could you imagine the chaos?

It’s time for USA Hockey to take control of elite development and split AAA off into a separate group, much like the Junior Council. Failure to do so will only further hinder the growth of the game.

Do you agree?

Author: Stephen Heisler from JuniorHockey.com
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with the Heisler Group. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.


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