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The private school education of NHL All-Stars

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Of the 37 North American players named to this year’s NHL All-Star game or filling in as replacements, 15 — or 40 per cent —  attended private school. It’s a statistic that reinforces the notion that hockey, particularly at its very highest levels, is increasingly a sport not just for those who can afford it, but for those in the highest tax brackets.

Some attended athletic academies. The Oilers’ Connor McDavid attended Premier Elite Athletes’ Collegiate, a now-defunct private school in the Toronto area with an annual tuition that ranged from $15,500 to $27,000. The Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner went to The Hill Academy in Vaughan, Ont., (where Prep Hockey tuition is currently $13,000) and later Blyth Academy (where tuition is $15,995).

Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton, who was named to the Metropolitan Division team but is injured, and St Louis goalie Jordan Binnington went to Crestwood, a private day school in Toronto, which currently costs $28,500 per year.

Tuition was even higher among some American players. Chicago’s Patrick Kane went to Detroit Country Day School, where tuition is $32,200 US.

Max Pacioretty of the Las Vegas Golden Knights went to The Taft School, a prestigious private academy in Watertown, Conn., where day school tuition is $46,500 US and boarding runs to $62,500 US.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner will be making his first all-star game appearance. Marner attended The Hill Academy in Vaughan, Ont., and later Blyth Academy in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

 

All the private schools offer scholarships and some sort of financial aid to those who qualify. CBC News was not able to determine if any of the NHL All-Stars who attended the schools received scholarships or financial aid.

But the number of private school alumni is astounding, considering the chances of any young hockey player having a steady — non-All-Star — career in the NHL are just .02 per cent, according to an oft-quoted study.

Game for the rich?

And it may be the starkest evidence yet of what some say is a growing socioeconomic exclusion in hockey due to skyrocketing costs.

“For generations — and I don’t think that’s overstating it — generations we’ve been talking about the cost of the game,” says Sean Fitz-Gerald, author of Before the Lights Go Out: A Season Inside a Game on the Brink.

Fitz-Gerald’s book suggests the expense of playing hockey now has the sport approaching a state of crisis, and that expense runs far beyond $300 sticks and $1,200 skates.

“It’s power skating lessons, skills, development lessons and skating on treadmills. It’s private coaching. It’s all of these things and they start from the age of four. Sometimes I bet you you can go out and find one under the age of four,” says Fitz-Gerald.

 

NHL All-Stars
Sean Fitz-Gerald is the author of Before the Lights Go Out: A Season Inside a Game on the Brink. He says the number of NHL All-Stars that are private school alumni is not surprising, given the soaring costs of the sport. (James Dunn/CBC News)

 

Parents can pay between $10,000 and $15,000 per year or more for their children to play in minor hockey’s highest level, AAA. But as Fitz-Gerald notes, those are just capital costs.

“It’s [also] the soft costs, the costs you don’t necessarily think of,” he says.

“Competitive tournaments now start on Fridays. Are you able to get that Friday off of work to go? Your child might have after school skating on a Wednesday or practice before school on a Thursday. Do you have the flexibility in your job to be able to accommodate that?”

All of that has the effect of winnowing down potential players not just economically but also geographically.

Fitz-Gerald cites a series of 2016 articles by Teri Pecoskie at the Hamilton Spectator. The series looked at players in the Ontario Hockey League (Major Junior A) and found 80 per cent came from neighbourhoods with median family incomes above the Ontario average of $80,987.

Roughly 15 per cent of the players came from neighbourhoods with median family incomes at least 50 per cent higher than average. And the vast majority of players also came from urban areas, which just happen to be where the expensive extra-curricular hockey training and facilities are often located.

It’s a far cry from the days when NHL legends like Gordie Howe honed their game on used skates on frozen prairie ponds. Wayne Gretzky, whose father worked as a telephone repairman, addressed the differences in an interview on The National in 2016.

“Do you think your parents would have been able to support you through hockey in today’s world?” asked Peter Mansbridge.

“Probably not,” said Gretzky.

WATCH | Peter Mansbridge interviews Wayne Gretzky

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The possibility that the next Great One might never become great due to lack of financial resources is very real, says Fitz-Gerald.

“Those [less well-off, small town] children statistically don’t make it to the NHL anymore. Because today, statistically speaking, you have to be from a well-to-do part of an urban area,” he says.

Number of players not dropping

Overall participation rates in hockey dropped for five straight years from 634,892 in 2013/14 to 626,090 in 2017/18. But the number of registered players in 2018/19 leapt back up to 643,958, thanks a huge jump in female players.

Hockey Canada is well aware of the economic constraints in the sport.

“When it comes to the cost of hockey, I think there’s no doubt with hockey, just like all sports, as you get to the higher levels and more competitive levels, that cost does go up,” says Corey McNabb, Hockey Canada’s director of player development.

McNabb says Hockey Canada has several programs designed to make the game more accessible financially. The First Shift program offers full equipment and six on ice sessions for $200 as a way of introducing new players to the game.

There are also 150 Hockey Canada Skills Academy programs across the country that operate with local schools. They allow kids to get on the ice up to four times per week at a cost of about $750 per year.

At the same time, McNabb attributes some of the soaring costs of the sport to parents spending far more than required.

“I think parents need to sometimes take a step back and really look at how much is too much,” he says.

“You don’t need to be going to six hockey schools in the summer and being on the ice 12 months a year. I think that’s one of the things that is a little bit of a misperception in the game right now.”

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Hall of Famer Mike Bossy reveals lung cancer battle – Toronto Sun

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Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Bossy has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

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Bossy, 64, announced his illness on Tuesday in an open letter in French on TVA Sports’ website. He is stepping away from his analyst job at TVA Sports, with whom he has worked since 2015.

“Today it is with sadness that I must retire from your screens for a mandatory break,” Bossy wrote in French. “A necessary break during which I will have to receive treatment for lung cancer.

“I can tell you that I intend to fight with the determination and the enthusiasm that you have seen me display on the ice and in my game. That same determination that helped me achieve my dreams and my goals, the one that propelled me to the top of my sport, when I still put on my skates.”

The NHL acknowledged Bossy’s battle on its publc relations account on Twitter: “The @NHL family is with you, Mike Bossy.”

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A four-time Stanley Cup winner with the New York Islanders (1980-83), Bossy recorded 1,126 points (573 goals, 553 assists) in 752 career games. The eight-time All-Star spent his entire 10-season NHL career with the Islanders.

Bossy won the 1978 Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year, and the 1982 Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs. He also was a three-time Lady Byng Memorial Trophy recipient (1982-83, 1983-84, 1985-86).

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A chronic back injury forced Bossy to retire following the 1986-87 season. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.

“The battle I am about to wage will not be easy,” Bossy wrote. “Know that I will give my 100 percent, nothing less, with the objective of meeting you again soon, after a very eventful hockey game. You will never be very far in my thoughts. On the contrary, you will occupy a privileged place and you will be one of my motivations to get better.”

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Raptors Notes: Boucher, Roster, Nurse, Tax – hoopsrumors.com

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After missing the entire preseason due to a dislocated finger, Raptors big man Chris Boucher has been cleared to return for the team’s regular season opener, writes Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press (link via The Toronto Star).

Boucher had a breakout year in 2020/21, averaging 13.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, and 1.9 BPG in 60 games (24.2 MPG). He’s expected to once again play a regular role in the Raptors’ frontcourt this season before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2022.

“My whole career, my whole time in Toronto, nothing has been promised … I had to work for everything, I see it the same way this year,” Boucher said of his mindset in a contract year, per Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link). “… At the end of the day I gotta be consistent, that’s the one remaining thing I gotta focus on.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Toronto’s roster, which is heavy on long, versatile forwards, is unlikely any group the franchise has put together in its 27 years of existence, opines Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. As Smith observes, 11 of the Raptors’ 15 players on standard contracts have listed heights of at least 6’7″, but none are taller than 6’9″.
  • Having lost veteran leaders like Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, and Marc Gasol in recent years, head coach Nick Nurse will be tasked with leading a less experienced group this season, Smith writes for The Toronto Star. While Nurse adjusts his style to accommodate the new-look roster, Fred VanVleet says he’s helping the newcomers adapt to Nurse’s outside-the-box approach to coaching. “He’s a little weird at times, but he won us a championship, so he knows what he’s doing,” VanVleet said.
  • Following the Raptors’ roster cuts on the weekend, Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca took an in-depth look at the team’s cap and tax situation and which recently-waived players are – or aren’t – expected to play in the G League with the Raptors 905. Toronto’s team salary is currently above the luxury tax line, but the club still has the flexibility to duck below that line after pushing back the salary guarantee dates for Sam Dekker and Isaac Bonga.

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Raptors reveal starting lineup for season opener vs. Wizards – Yahoo Canada Sports

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After weeks of speculation, we finally know who Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse is using in his starting lineup — at least to start the season.

The Raptors announced Fred VanVleet, Goran Dragic, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa as their starting five for Wednesday’s season-opening game against the Washington Wizards at Scotiabank Arena. It’s not the most surprising lineup, with Dragic beating out Gary Trent Jr. and Achiuwa earning the nod over fellow big men Khem Birch and Chris Boucher.

Rookie Scottie Barnes (4) is starting the season in the Raptors' starting lineup. (Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports)

Rookie Scottie Barnes (4) is starting the season in the Raptors’ starting lineup. (Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports)

The frontcourt doesn’t possess much size, but Barnes, Anunoby and Achiuwa are all long players with plenty of athleticism to boot. That should make for a strong defensive unit, even without a traditional centre.

In VanVleet and Dragic, the Raptors feature a veteran backcourt that can facilitate for teammates and knock down the three-point shot with consistency.

Whether this five-man unit will be the norm going forward or if Toronto will adapt game-to-game based on matchups remains to be seen.

Nurse said he plans to use nine or 10 players in his rotation on opening night, meaning Birch, Trent, Boucher, and Svi Mykhailiuk should all see minutes off the bench.

Boucher was questionable after missing the entire preseason with a dislocated finger, but Nurse confirmed he was available against the Wizards.

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