By Kyle Rooks
Frank Souter sips his steaming cup of coffee, watching house league hockey at its finest.
The atmosphere inside Tom Brown Arena on Bayview Street is what all hockey moms and dads live for. Seeing their sons and daughters out on the ice brings most parents a sense of pride as they watch them skate their best or score a goal.
However, that doesn’t mean spending an hour perched on the ice cold bleachers is necessary.
On this particular Saturday morning, Souter chooses the warmer confines of the lobby, with a rinkside view, to watch his 13-year-old son Patrick.
Patrick’s team loses 1-0.
Two years ago at this time, the game was the same, but the location was a little different.
In 2000, Souter and his family returned to Ottawa after spending four years in Washington D.C., where he worked at the Canadian embassy.
Having watched plenty of minor hockey at both the house league and competitive levels, he finds some striking differences between American and Canadian hockey parents.
Souter says there is more of an emphasis on competitiveness at all levels of hockey south of the border, including house league, which is typically reserved for those kids who take hockey less seriously.
“The Americans are more bellicose than Canadians,” he says. “Parents get more emotionally involved down there. It’s as if they’re living vicariously through their kids.”
This involvement can even turn deadly, as shown in a recent U.S. court case.
Thomas Junta, a 44-year-old hockey dad, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of coach Michael Costin. Junta, who claimed to be acting in self-defense, was upset about an elbow his son received from another player during a non-contact practice. He could serve up to 20 years in prison.
This highly publicized case has made people think twice about the level of parental involvement in minor hockey.
Although he enjoyed his time in the U.S., he says from what he experienced he’s not surprised by what happened.
“When their kid gets hit, it’s like them getting hit as well,” he says.
Mike McBane, another
hockey father, finds some parents are too vocal and competitive for his liking, but never violent.
“If they’re this vocal at this level, I don’t know how bad they’d be for competitive hockey,” he says.
Coaches are the unsung heroes when it comes to dealing with vocal and overly competitive parents.
John Jewitt, who has been involved in coaching minor hockey for nine years, prefers to hold a meeting at the beginning of every season to set guidelines for the parents.
He says parents sometimes have a tendency to forget it’s important to strike a balance between the drive to win and the desire to have fun.
“I don’t want them to pressure their kid, especially at this level,” he says. “They’re here for fun. They get a hard enough time from coaches on the bench and in the dressing room, they don’t need it from the parents as well.”