Almost anyone involved in hockey at the youth level has learned to heed this warning: beware the crazy hockey dad. Well, here’s a tale for the books.
Overshadowed by this week’s chaos in Missouri—or perhaps just overlooked because of America’s penchant for ignoring all things hockey before playoff time—is the bizarre saga unfolding with the OHL’s Flint Firebirds. If you missed it, here’s a quick recap: The owner of the fledgling OHL franchise—recently relocated to Flint—is a gentleman by the name of Rolf Nilsen. Nilsen’s son, Hakon, is a defenseman on the team. Nilsen, upset with his sons playing time—or lack thereof—fired head coach John Gruden and assistant Dave Karpa—a former Ranger—the same night his team rallied to defeat the defending Memorial Cup champion Oshawa Generals.
The team revolted.
The players—including Nielsen’s son—handed in their jerseys and walked out, reportedly inscribing “we’ll come back when the coaches come back” on the whiteboard in the team’s locker room. On Monday, less than 24 hours after the walkout, Gruden and Karpa were back, with new three-year contracts in hand.
The scary thing is, in the world of youth hockey, tales of meddling parents are the norm, not the exception. Granted, rarely does a parent ever rise to the position of power Mr. Nielsen is in—where he actually owns a team with five current and who knows how many future NHL draft picks on it, but the story of whiny parents retching and moaning about how “so-and-so sucks, my little Jimmy should be playing more than him” is a common thread throughout youth hockey—and youth sports in general.
Think you know better than the coaches, parents? Guess what, you don’t. Let the players play, and the coaches coach. Butt out folks.