CLARENVILLE, NL – Deanna and Mark Burns say it’s time for Hockey NL to think about changing its rules around fair play.
They say their 13-year-old son Damien, a goalie with the Clarenville Area Minor Hockey Association’s Bantam team, didn’t get a fair chance to play for the team during a recent tournament in Clarenville.
They say the coaches followed Hockey NL’s policy, but they feel the policy is unfair.
“This is about coaches making decisions that are in the fair play rules, but are still not fair,” Deanna told The Packet.
The rules say that during a provincial championship, minor hockey goalies are to have equal ice time. Goaltenders can play an equal number of full games or change out during the mid-way point of a game, as long as both goalies get equal playing time.
However, the rules also allow for a one-game differential for goaltenders.
And championship game is excluded from this rule, meaning coaches can play either goalie for the championship game without worrying about balancing out ice times.
The Clarenville team played six games during the provincial tournament.
And at the end of the tournament Damien had only played two out of six games.
Going into the final two games Saturday morning, both goalies had played two games each.
When the other goalie played Saturday morning’s game, the Burns’ expected to see their son play the final game, giving each goalie three games each.
Instead, they say, that minutes before the game Damien found out that he wouldn’t be playing after all. He spent the entire game on the bench.
“He sat on that bench for three full periods, watching them lose, staring at center ice,” said Deanna.
“Between the second and third period I went down and said ‘Damien, why are you not playing?’, and he said, ‘I don’t know,’ and he had tears in his eyes.”
“There was no rationale given to us as to why they chose the other goalie when it was Damien’s game to play and when he had a good record so far.”
Damien had played the first and fourth game of the tournament, while the other goalie had played the second, third and fifth game.
However, because of the one game differential rule and because the championship game is excluded from this rule system, all was fair according to Hockey NL’s policy.
The Burns added as a further insult, because of a Hockey NL rule that permits females to play in multiple leagues, the female goalie who played instead of their son had already played with both Female U15 AAA and Minor Female 15 U.
The Burns say that he was the only player from the team who did not get to play that Saturday— and that this would have been the same if they had to travel outside of Clarenville and pay travel expenses.
Clarenville Area Minor Hockey Association (CAMHA) president Keith Fillier told the Packet he did not want to discuss details of the incident, to respect the privacy of other players and staff involved.
“We follow their (Hockey NL) guidelines. The parents came to us with a concern. We explained that we followed the rules… their complaint needs to go further than Clarenville Area Minor Hockey Association.”
He says he heard HockeyNL received a formal complaint but CAMHA did not receive a formal complaint.
“CAMHA is very proud of our coaches and our fair play policies," said Fillier. "That is a priority with CAMHA: fair play. When it comes to playing players, there are a lot of complex things that go on when decisions are made to play players, and the coach, within the guidelines; they make their decision on what players play.”
“If someone has a problem with HockeyNL’s guidelines, they need to talk to HockeyNL.”
He added that this was the only time in his three years as president that he has been made aware of a complaint about fair play.
“We had a very successful tournament. We hosted three potential tournaments this year. All of them were very successful. This was the only complaint we received and I don’t want that to tarnish our reputation in this province. We’re proud of where we are.”
The family says because of his experience in that tournament, Damien is unsure whether he wants to return to CAMHA in the fall.
However, according to Hockey NL’s rules, Damien would need to be granted a release from the CAMHA before being allowed to play with another organization.
Fillier told The Packet it would be premature to discuss release of players for next season.
Meanwhile, the family hopes for a formal, written apology.
“At the end of the day, if nobody challenges and looks out for their own child, how are things ever going to change?” said Deanna. “How is the system ever going to be more fair if nobody challenges it?””
Hockey NL won’t get involved
Craig Tulk, executive director of Hockey NL, says if parents have issues with minor hockey policies they ought to take it up with their local association.
He also encouraged open communication between parents, coaching staff, and association members.
“We would never get involved in that,” he told The Packet, in response to questions about concerns raised by the parents of a Clarenville goalie. “It’s up to the coach to explain to the parents when they select teams (and) how they’re going to play players when they get to certain events.
“If it’s followed within the policy, then there’s not a whole lot we could tell the parents in relation to their concerns with the policy itself,” he added.
He added this province is the only one in Canada that has an ice time allocation policy, to ensure all players get opportunity to play. He says that policy has been in place for the last decade.
“We play fair," he said. "Our players get to play. Nobody sits on the bench watching. We follow the rules, and fair play is important to us.”
Tulk added that for a policy to be changed, the Hockey NL membership would have a vote to discuss it and propose amendments, and then the board would take a vote.
“I would advise any kind of parent who had concerns to get support within their membership, because they ultimately select the parents to represent them, the [parents from the] town of Clarenville in this case, and they bring the position to the board.”