Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Look at Quadrant Hockey in Calgary - Missing the Cut – What’s Next?



The majority of players, who have ever laced on a pair of skates, have dreamed about playing in the NHL. They have emulated their favorite players. When I grew up, I idolized Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr.

Today’s youth, look up to Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Jarome Iginla etc.  It’s another generation but each young player follows the game with the same interest and many the same passion and dreams.

The odds of playing in the NHL are roughly 1 in 10,000. However, some players have beaten the odds!

Many graduates of the local minor hockey systems do go on to play semi pro in North American or European leagues. Also, many obtain college scholarships, receiving a good education and later transfer into the business world. Besides establishing a career, many of these former players learn valuable life skills such as team work, dedication, perseverance, hard work and overcoming adversity / setbacks, which mold good citizens of society.

When looking at the local minor hockey system, kids progress through the approximately 15 - 16 community hockey associations from the initiation / tyke level, to novice, to atom and to the peewee level. After peewee the next step in elite hockey advancement, which is a very big step, is quadrant hockey. Unfortunately, many players and parents are not educated about the workings of quadrant hockey and the very competitive nature of the hockey pyramid /system.  

The City of Calgary consists of 4 quadrants. The SE , SW, NW and NE quadrants fall under the umbrella of the Calgary Buffalo Hockey Association, (www.calgarybuffalohockey.ca), South West Athletic Association,   (www.calgaryroyalsaa.com),Calgary North West Athletic Association, (www.nwcaa.ca)and the North East Athletic Association ( www.calgarynorthstars.ca) respectively.

Each quadrant will ice ten teams each season.  Two Bantam AA, one Bantam AAA, two Minor Midget  AAA, two Major  Midget AA , one Major  Midget AAA and two Junior B teams.

To have a future in competitive hockey, players generally enter the quadrant system at the Bantam age and progress to Midget AAA in order to have success playing in the Western Hockey League ( Major Junior ) or the Alberta Junior Hockey League - Tier 2 Junior systems. There are a few exceptions but the majority follow this feeder system.

Playing in either the WHL or AJHL league provides opportunities to enter the NHL draft. As well, the AJHL provides opportunities to secure an NCAA scholarship. If a player decides to play in the WHL, he relinquishes his scholarship opportunities.

Each quadrant is professional operated by a very dedicated, loyal, hard-working and passionate group of parents, who either had or currently have their kids in the quadrant system.

At the start of the season upwards of 150 – 175 players may tryout for 60 Bantam positions in any particular quadrant. For many players, it will be their first time being cut from a team!

Players can get cut from quadrant hockey for a number of shortcomings such as:

1)      Lacking speed and slow reacting to the play
2)      Questionable desire / work ethics
3)      Poor conditioning / preparation for tryouts
4)       Lack of size – players are bigger, stronger and more physical at this level
5)       Not the right fit / role player for certain teams
6)      Just bad luck - misfortune
7)      And yes - even politics!


If a graduating Peewee player tries out for first year Bantam AA and misses the initial cut and gets out of the AA system, it’s difficult to get back into quadrant hockey for a number of reasons such as:

1)      Players get labeled as community players
2)      Players often lose their drive & ambition to play at an elite level
3)      Players experience a lower level of play in community hockey
4)      Players receive often a lower quality of coaching in community hockey
5)      During the competitive season, quadrant hockey players are on the ice 6 times per week  with games & practices, plus dry land training vs. community hockey players who are only on the ice 3 or 4 times per week at best
6)      As well there are often other off ice distractions such as girls, experimentation with substances, and participation in other sports which may, on occasion, distract a player’s focus and commitment to elite hockey playing

If a Bantam age player doesn’t make the first year cut, how does that player get back the next season to make the team?  I believe the following will help improve his chances:

1)      Work at extra off ice conditioning – hockey specific weak areas in the season / off season – especially foot speed and strength
2)      Work at extra on ice training – elite power skating, overall conditioning and 1 on 1 sessions in the hockey  season as well as off season
3)       Analyze and tweak overall game skills – know your strengths and weaknesses
4)       Work on the mental part of the game – toughness, self confidence and self esteem
5)       Be better prepared next time - showcase one’s skills better in tryouts – get noticed the next time round.

Often players and their parents are not ready for the big step from community hockey to quadrant hockey and unfortunately they go away being very disappointed and discouraged with the end result.

For example, looking at the Southeast Quadrant - Calgary Buffalo Hockey Association for the 2008- 2009 season, there were two Bantam AA teams consisted of 19 players each. Looking at the teams the players played on the year before reveals the following hockey backgrounds. Note: This is not a scientific study but an observation of player backgrounds from one particular season in one random selected association.

Bantam AA Blackhawks – 1 player    from Bantam AA Last Year
                                            6 players   from Bantam Div 1
                                            2 players   from Bantam Div 2
                                            2 players   from Bantam Div 3
                                            8 players   from Peewee Div 1

Bantam AA Rangers    -   3   players from Bantam AA Last Year
                          6  players from  Bantam Div 1
                          2  players from  Bantam Div 2
                          8   players from Peewee Div 1 


Bantam AAA Bisons    – 10   players from Bantam AAA Last Year
                                        4    players from Bantam Div 1
                         1      players  from Bantam Div 2
                          4    players from Peewee Div 1

So if a player doesn’t make one of the Bantam AA teams in his first year eligibility, in the second year he must compete with the last year’s Bantam AA/ AAA players as well as the Peewee Div1 players from the current year. So the odds are against the player making the team….. it is not impossible… but quite a challenge due to the competition and the factors listed above. There are only a few players each season  who graduate out of community bantam level hockey, and succeed and go on to play quadrant hockey. This challenge becomes even greater in community midget when trying to make Midget AA and especially Midget AAA.

Many players breeze through community hockey up to Peewee Div 1 on talent alone, however hard work is required to get to and excel in quadrant hockey and beyond in more elite hockey levels. Note: Almost all graduates from the peewee level are from Div 1 - in the above case - all are Div 1 players. The pyramid effect of the hockey system begins to take shape and it becomes more and more difficult to advance at each higher level of hockey.

When we look at NHL players with their specific hockey equation - of talent and hard work, I cite the following examples: Ryan Smith - more hard work than talent; Jason Spezza - more talent than hard work; when you look at Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin - they display equal amounts of talent and hard work. That is why they are the NHL’s best!!

Therefore, if a player aspires to play quadrant hockey and as well dreams of playing in the NHL someday and beating the tough odds, it will require a strong combination of both talent and hard work to advance up the pyramid of hockey.