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One widely applauded Hockey Canada ad campaign in the early 2000s challenged parents to put themselves in their kids’ skates; the slogan used: “Relax, it’s just a game.” The best TV spot featured a kid loudly critiquing his dad while the man tried to sink a putt on the golf course, shouting, “That was pathetic! “If one of the reasons people are staying away is the perception of those challenges,” says Paul Carson, vice-president of development, “do you really want to put them centre-stage?
” Like many, Carson laments what he sees as media’s preoccupation with bad hockey adults, which he believes exaggerates their influence. But Todd Millar, a former president of Hockey Calgary who was pushed out two years ago after venting frustration with hockey parents on his blog, sees things differently.
That ratio has slipped, as a greater share of children are born to immigrant families, to whom hockey seems a closed society of red-faced dads wearing leather-armed jackets.
To change perceptions, Hockey Canada officials are pleading for a “cultural shift” that will make young families feel welcome.
She could hear parents of players on the opposing team calling to their youngsters. But a peewee game between teams from Vaughan and Willowdale is under way on the other ice surface, and Dennis has no sooner hustled Evan out the door than it suddenly turns sour.
The worst part was, you could see the kids were actually trying do it.” Afraid of what might happen if she got up and confronted the offending parents, Dennis instead removed herself to the arena lobby, pacing the rubberized floor until her blood cooled.
They also echo 40 peewee-aged players in southern Ontario, who participated two years ago for a York University study on parental influence in hockey. The alone time spent with their moms or dads as they drive through early-morning darkness to practice.
When asked what they liked about the game, many spoke not of goals or big wins, but of intangibles. Most seemed able to handle criticism given one-on-one after the game, says Jessica Fraser-Thomas, the kinesiology professor who led the project.
So, as the referee skated past his bench, the coach—whose name agreed to withhold—picked up a water bottle and gave the official a squirt. Ackery’s referees’ survey, after all, included accounts of coaches coming onto the ice to engage officials in fist fights.What they didn’t appreciate was mom or dad calling them out within earshot of others.“Before parents comment,” says Fraser-Thomas, “they need to ask themselves whether the child is receiving this as, ‘Mum and dad are trying to help me,’ or as, ‘Oh, they’re criticizing me again.Kasey Dennis is a rarity among minor hockey parents, not because she loses her temper, but because she admits it. You get caught up in the moment, and I’m the type of person who doesn’t take stuff sitting down.” She recalls an incident last season that brought her as close as she’s been to physical confrontation at a children’s sporting event. It’s a behaviour-modulation strategy she’s used many times since—one with which nine-year-old players can surely relate: “I give myself a time-out.” She’s telling her story between games at a two-rink complex in Mississauga, Ont., where so far things have unfolded much more peacefully—minor hockey as seen in a Canadian Tire ad.“It’s the adrenalin,” says Dennis, whose nine-year-old son, Evan, plays for the Winter Hawks, a minor atom AA team from Innisfil, Ont. The Hawks were playing a tournament game in Richmond Hill, Ont. The Hawks have won 4-0 and lunch beckons at a nearby pizza joint.