Of hockey all-stars and education

While I’m not the biggest NHL fan, there is news worthy of note. Former Stampede and U of M Gopher star Thomas Vanek received the largest number of write-in votes for this year’s NHL All-Star team. Vanek, who holds the Stampede records for most goals and most points in a season and in a career, is a forward with the Buffalo Sabres, which currently has the best win-loss record in the NHL. Vanek is third in the league in plus/minus ratings.

I’m not familiar enough with the NHL to know why Vanek didn’t appear on the online ballot but I was one of nearly 155,000 to cast a write-in vote for him. I’m also not knowledgeable enough to tell whether Vanek is likely to actually make the All-Star roster. I know fans elect the starters and the rest of the teams are selected by the league’s general managers. I speculate the fact three of Vanek’s teammates constitute half the Eastern Conference’s starting lineup may work against him. But, like I said, I am truly oblivious when it comes to the NHL (of course, others would say that is not the only subject.)
The news about Vanek also provides an opportunity to mention something I noticed recently on the web site of the USHL, the league in which the Stampede plays. For those who don’t know, the USHL is a junior development league where the players are essentially trying to attract the attention of NCAA Division I scouts and coaches. The league has been fairly successful in that regard and while no one can guarantee those attending college on a Division I sports scholarship will get the most of their education, the USHL seems cognizant of the importance of education.

In a recent release, it pointed out that even among elite junior hockey players, only 684 of those born in North America in any particular year are likely to play NCAA hockey or in the Canadian Hockey League. And even of those 684 elite players, only 35 will make the NHL. The Stampede are doing well with two alumni — Vanek and Chad LaRose of the Carolina Hurricanes — in the NHL and probably more than a dozen at some level of minor league hockey. (Although Vanek was born in Austria and, thus, would not be considered amongs the North American statistics.) Still, as the USHL says, the odds against achieving the professional level are “why players should put education first when making their hockey decisions.”

It’s nice to know a junior league is at least making some effort to stress that a young athlete’s future likely will not always be athletics.

[Hockey] is a fast body-contact game played by men with clubs in their hands and knives laced to their feet.

Paul Gallico, Farewell to Sport

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