Wednesday, 17 September 2014 09:44

Lamb down the road less travelled by ...

Written by  Brad Brown, A Bard’s Eye View
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I’ve thought for awhile now that the WHL, and hockey in general, could use more guys like Mark Lamb.

I was reminded of this again a few weeks ago after reading Red Deer coach Brent Sutter’s juvenile comments on the departure of Rebels forward Aspen Sterzer, who recently left the club for family reasons to attend the University of Calgary.
This is the same Aspen Sterzer whose mom was rendered quadriplegic in a car wreck a few years back and who, as a result, promised his family that he would pursue education over hockey if he hadn’t drawn professional interest by age 19.
And the same Brent Sutter who infamously cited family reasons of his own when he quit on the New Jersey Devils in 2009 with a year left on his contract, only to sign on two weeks later — closer to home — with the Calgary Flames.
“To play at this level takes a major commitment and he’s not a committed player ... It’s disappointing because we gave up assets to acquire him. He’s quitting on us and it’s a knock to his teammates,” Sutter told the Red Deer Advocate, apparently with a straight face.
My first thought was pot, meet kettle.
My second was of Lamb’s reaction when Levi Bews left the Swift Current Broncos for family reasons of his own following the 2012-13 season.
The Broncos didn’t see that one coming either and they sure could have used him last year, particularly in the playoffs when they couldn’t buy a goal against Medicine Hat.
Yet instead of burying Bews, publicly or privately, Lamb spoke only of respecting and understanding Bews’ decision and wishing both the player and his family well.
Sutter chose to railroad Sterzer straight in the numbers.
Sterzer was one of 10 WHL veterans who no-showed their teams completely this year, as reported in an Aug. 31 column by Kamloops reporter Gregg Drinnan.
In the same column, Drinnan quoted part of an interview between Kootenay Ice broadcaster Jeff Hollick and general manager Jeff Chynoweth, who lost over-agers Landon Cross and Landon Peel to the Manitoba junior A ranks before the team could cut at least one, if not both of them, itself.
“When they signed their contracts, they’re for five years, usually from 16 to 20 and includes their 20-year-old season ... We’ve got to stick together as the Western Hockey League and the 22 teams because if players just want to walk whenever they can, it doesn’t bode well for our future,” Chynoweth said.
That’s a pretty interesting take since the WHL itself states clearly that “being a member of a WHL team’s 50 Player Protected List does not restrict a player from playing for, or attending a camp of a non-WHL Club.”
So if players would rather be elsewhere — for family reasons, to pursue post-secondary education before another concussion leaves them unable to do so, for more minutes or a smaller commitment or a shot at a championship in a lesser league, to get the hell out of Lethbridge, and so on — then they are free to do so.
Chynoweth’s comments are also interesting because they lay the blame at the feet of the players, rather than the team or the league that may not always be providing the opportunity it claims to offer.
In effect, what Peel and Cross and Sterzer have done is no different than what Chynoweth did as a staffer when he left the Spokane Chiefs in 1987, the Medicine Hat Tigers in 1988, Brandon Wheat Kings in 1989, Lethbridge Hurricanes in 1991 or Red Deer Rebels in 1995.
Nor is it any different than what Sutter did as a player when he bailed on the Lethbridge Broncos mid-season to go pro with the New York Islanders in 1981, or as a coach when he left Red Deer for New Jersey in 2007, and New Jersey for Calgary in 2009.
Who are they, of all people, to suggest that family, health, education or career considerations are somehow less important than blind loyalty to the team you’re with? (Especially so in a player’s case, when said team is charging people money to see you while wielding almost absolute power over your present and future.)
Which brings us back to Mark Lamb and the Swift Current Broncos.
Broncos forward Geordie Maguire was also among this year’s no-shows, after coming to Swift Current from Regina ahead of last year’s trade deadline.
Lamb could have dumped on him for choosing university over a likely-marginal role in the WHL, but he didn’t.
Instead, as he did with Bews, he took the road apparently less travelled by.
And that truly makes all the difference.

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