Cobourg Cougars – Who We Are and the Importance of Community – Part 1

Operating a successful junior hockey franchise in this day and age is surprisingly complex.  The branded moniker of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (“OJHL”), which your Cobourg Cougars are proud participants in, is “League of Choice” and there is lots of choice among the various franchises in the OJHL.  In the OJHL of today, you have to be good both on and off the ice to “win”.  Good ideas sometimes turn into bad ideas because of poor execution or bad communications or a combination thereof.  Sometimes, what looks like a bad idea actually turns into a stroke of genius, with the key to success being predicated on open-mindedness.

What we have learned as an organization over the past 10 years about running a successful “on-ice” junior hockey program is that it all comes down to the quality of your coaching and general management staffs.  To borrow but then morph a well-used maxim in the real estate business – running a successful on ice program comes down to “People, People, People”.  This is why we largely leave the on-ice strategy and execution and player recruitment, retention, development and ultimate advancement aspects to our professional staffs.  To be quite frank, it is this great group of people behind your Cobourg Cougars that allowed the club to become the 2017 RBC Cup Champions.

Today’s blog is not about winning or the strategies that are essential to win but rather about the importance of forging strong and sustainable connections within the community.  “Community” in the case of how your Cougars view that term means the Town of Cobourg but expressly includes the entirety of the County of Northumberland and also extends to portions of the Region of Durham and the Counties of Peterborough and Hastings.  This is the first of a series of blogs I intend to write over the months ahead about what it takes to build a successful junior hockey organization for today and tomorrow. I cannot say with certainty at this stage how many blogs I will prepare on this topic, but today is part 1 and the topic relates to the importance of community.  Subsequent parts will be consecutively numbered.

As many have heard me state before, the Cobourg Cougars enjoy a strong and symbiotic relationship with the community.  The organization must continue to foster that relationship in order to help support our community, to stay connected with our fans, to drive ticket sales and to be relevant in the community.  While hockey is a game, and a great game at that, it can be so much more when your team focuses in on the very community that supports your club.  During the past week alone, your Cougars have been busy in the community by providing the needed manual labour to help build a home for Habitat for Humanity Northumberland in Port Hope under the guidance of team chaplain Tony Posthumus and by helping raise much needed monies for The Children’s Foundation, which serves Hastings, Northumberland and Prince Edward Counties.

In the case of Habitat for Humanity, a number of Cougars players were actively involved this past week-end in helping with the building of a new home.  See a picture of your Cougars hard at work below.

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Founded in 1985, Habitat for Humanity Canada is a national, nonprofit organization working toward a world where everyone has a decent and affordable place to call home. Habitat Canada brings communities together to help families build strength, stability and independence through affordable home ownership and your Cougars are so honoured to be active participants in this great cause right within our community.  If you wish to learn more about or make a financial contribution to support Habitat Canada, please visit its website at www.habitatglobalvillage.ca.

While the club was obviously pleased to continue to celebrate being the 2017 RBC Cup Champions at its home game on Monday, a night that saw the players from that historic Cougars team receive their rings commemorating this amazing achievement, the Cougars on this year’s squad were decked out in purple jerseys and socks in support of The Children’s Foundation, whose programs and services aim to educate and inspire our community to effect change and to bring people and financial resources together to improve the quality of life for children and youth who are at risk in Hastings, Northumberland and Prince Edward Counties.  October is child abuse prevention month.  Those interested in learning more about and/or making a contribution toward can simply go to:  www.thechildrensfoundation.ca.  Some pictures from Monday’s game between your Cougars and Oakville’s Blades – which ended in an exciting 2-2 draw and helped to raise more than $1,500 in support ofThe Children’s Foundation – are found below.

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Additionally, the Cougars were recently a part of organizing a collection various clothing items on behalf of the Coats for Kids Campaign. Our contributions helped to generate over 629 coats, 51 pairs of boots, and 842 other winter items that were donated locally. We were proud to receive a certificate of appreciation from the organization but are even more proud to know that we are making an impact on improving life within our community.

Set out below is an expanded but non-exhaustive list of the various charities the Cobourg Cougars quietly and without a lot of fanfare in the community.

  • Jesse’s Journey
  • Canadian Tire Jumpstart
  • Northumberland Hills Hospital
  • United Way
  • Canadian Cancer Society
  • Horizons of Friendship
  • Jesse’s Journey
  • Greenwood Coalition
  • Fishability Sports
  • Salvation Army
  • Northumberland Child Development Centre
  • Beginnings Pregnancy Centre

Direct donations from the Club and its executive average approx. $25,000/year with charities themselves raising at least $5,000/year at Cougars’ home games.  The next time you hear someone ask what the Cougars do in the community, please step forward and simply say “LOTS!” with pride.  We recognize that our communities are best served by organizations, like your Cougars, who are willing and dedicated to working together toward the achievement of common goals.  As an organization, we participate in various roles that are dedicated to supporting our community and we will make every effort to continue to do so in the future.

Yours in Hockey,

Marc Mercier, Governor

P.S. GO COUGARS GO!

 

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OJHL PARITY:  A STORY OF VISION

It is hard for many to believe it was only less than a decade ago that the league we know today as the Ontario Junior Hockey League (“OJHL”) was comprised of 37 teams, a number far greater than the 22 teams we know to play in the OJHL today.

Some of the teams in the “old” 37 team era of the OJHL were good, some of which were really good. A good case in point from this era was the Aurora Tigers who were exceptionally good on the national stage and won 2 RBC Cups in 2004 and 2007.  Notwithstanding the successes of a small few during this era, the OJHL was marked more by its disparity.

Simply put, things in the “old OJHL” had become “watered down”. There existed a huge flight risk of players and staff, who opted to play in other leagues – often far from home and away from built-in familial, educational and social networks – rather than staying right here within the OJHL.

In the face of these strong points of connection, many players and families nevertheless pursued what they perceived to be higher levels of play and parity. They did this to develop within the game they love and to be exposed to more opportunities for future advancement – all at the expense of the OJHL.

Sadly, many teams were not good and had no chance competing against the elite of the league better still to allow those within their programs to develop and graduate to higher levels of play. Simply put, there were “some haves” and “many have nots” in terms of teams, there was no parity and there were fewer opportunities for advancement.

One of the key principles that continues to drive the OJHL is being a top junior hockey league in Canada centred on providing the best development opportunities for players and staff to move on to higher levels of play within hockey. This goal sounds easy and clear enough, however, it is difficult to realize when you have a league comprised of 37 widely disparate organizations (both on and off the ice) within a league structure that operates without professional assistance, leadership and direction and operating by default out of necessity at the lowest qualitative denominator. Leagues like this are only as strong as their most proverbial weak links and stay that way until there is an extraneous event that prompts change or even threatens their very existence.

Over the past decade, your Cobourg Cougars have been at the forefront of the contraction initiative that has occurred over the past decade within the OJHL. The OJHL has become a leader at many levels in Canadian junior hockey circles by not only acting as a catalyst for contraction but setting the baseline for enhanced minimum operating standards and development. These standards have cascaded through the league and have improved the overall quality of club operations.

Parity in sport is one of those terms that is viewed with unquestioned virtue but in the end is often bantered about without quantitative rigour. Often, it is simply a matter of one’s perception.

At its most basic level, “parity” is a term used to describe participating teams with roughly equivalent levels of talent where, within the context of a league, the “best” team is not significantly better than the “worst” team. Parity leads to more competitive contests where the winner cannot be predicted with a high level of certainty at the outset.

“Disparity” on the other hand between teams is a condition where the elite teams are so much more talented and simply better for a variety of reasons, including financial support however derived, than the lesser teams, who routinely are hopelessly outmatched and lose sometimes by scores that reveal starkly the differences between parity and disparity.

Parity in hockey circles – particularly in amateur junior hockey circles – is important. It creates enhanced opportunity for player development. Being the “best” in a game like hockey requires team-based competition that is broadly speaking built on strong teaching, competitiveness and challenge. Sound coaching is critical. Competition provides adversity that allows for development and growth.

Over the years, different athletic governing bodies have attempted to achieve parity in different ways. For example, the National Football League (“NFL”) has established shared revenue plans, in which all teams equally benefit from television revenue and sales of NFL franchised goods. The National Hockey League (“NHL”) and Major League Baseball (“MLB”) have set franchise salary cap levels and imposes luxury taxes on teams who exceed such caps. The NFL, NHL and MLB also have drafts, where teams with poorer records are rewarded with higher ranks in the drafts. None of these leagues is built on the future “development” of its players, which is in stark comparison with the OJHL.

The true sign of development for any OJHL club that is truly committed to the Canadian Development Model developed by Hockey Canada in consultation with its key stakeholders, including the Canadian Junior Hockey League (“CJHL”) and regional governing bodies across Canada, like the Ontario Hockey Federation in Ontario, is measured by the number of players who actually graduate from the OJHL to play hockey within the Canadian Hockey League, NCAA, the CIS and professional levels of play.

In May of 2017, your Cobourg Cougars won the RBC Cup thereby becoming the first OJHL team since Aurora in 2007 to win the prestigious national Junior “A” championship. While it is true the senior ranks within the Cougars worked very hard with lots of discipline, grit and determination to win the RBC Cup – a process that took in reality over 3 seasons to piece together – the reality was that the Cougars were 1 of 3 if not 4 teams in the “new” OJHL who were capable of winning the RBC Cup. Indeed, no other league in the history of the CJHL has had 3 different teams as league champions, regional champions and national champions. Only the Georgetown Raiders, the Trenton Golden Hawks and your Cobourg Cougars of the OJHL can share this historical precedent and resultant accolade. The era of parity had finally arisen in the OJHL.

The “development” numbers emanating from the OJHL further validate that league contraction has had a positive impact on development. Statistics prepared by the CJHL, of which the OJHL is a key member, show the following:

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The “new” OJHL is unquestionably the best Junior “A” league in Canada that presents the best opportunities for players to incubate, develop and advance to higher levels of play and in most cases with a direct linkage to university education.

These compelling facts are critical at a macro level for the OJHL. Consistent with the vision that the Cougars developed nearly a decade ago, we are a community-based team committed to development of its players and staff. From its RBC Cup team alone, the CouScreen Shot 2017-10-23 at 6.49.15 PM.pnggars have 10 players now playing in the CHL, NCAA and CIS ranks. This level of developmental success is unrivalled by any other team in the club’s 52 year history and speaks volumes about the club’s commitment to development.

The 2017-2018 regular season is now underway. Parity is clearly evident. No team can take victory for granted. This augers well for the continued developmental successes of the OJHL and your Cougars will be in the mix now and for many years to come!

Yours in Hockey,
Marc Mercier

Thank you, Gord Downie

It is with a very heavy heart that I learned upon waking up this morning that our friend, huge hockey fan (and fellow tender of the twine, aka goalie), recent Order of Canada recipient, ardent environmentalist, poet and musical icon, Gord Downie, quietly passed away with his beloved children and family close by last evening following a courageous battle with brain cancer over the past two years.

It is still hard to believe that it was only 4 years ago that Gord, along with his high school buddies and Tragically Hip bandmates, spent a few days in our midst and played a concert arranged by the Cobourg Cougars that will be remembered forever by those in Northumberland County at the Cobourg Community Centre to a sold out audience that went absolutely crazy listening to each and every song.  A signed “Be the Bear” Hip jersey is proudly on display in the Cougars’ office overlooking the main bowl and will forever be a reminder of that magical night.

There is no denying that Gord – the musician and entertainer – helped create a compendium of Canadiana-laced lyrics (many of which involved our game of hockey, including Fifty-Mission Cap – listen here or otherwise known by many including yours truly as the “Bill Barilko Song”, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ player who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Leafs in 1951 but sadly disappeared in a plane crash in Northern Ontario in the months following the win and Lonely End of the Rink – listen here, a song that resonated particularly loudly to those who take up the art of goaltending!).  However, Gord – the person – touched the hearts of many and his body of work transcended music. The music he wrote often stirred our consciousness as Canadians, which included David Milgaard’s wrongful conviction (Wheat Kings – listen here) and Canada’s relationship with its First Nations (Now the Struggle Has a Name – watch the live performance here) and he will be remembered by all as a true Canadian.

On behalf of the Cobourg Cougars, our hearts and prayers go out to Gord’s family.  He will be sadly missed by all those he touched on and imagesoff the stage and “takes them with him now as he walks among the stars”.  Gord, you will be forever missed but not forgotten!  We will have a moment of silence in honor of Gord at the Cougars’ next home game on Monday, October 23, 2017 at 7:00 pm.

Responding to the Latest Tragedies in Las Vegas and Puerto Rico

On behalf of the Cobourg Cougars, we extend our deepest sympathies and expression of support to those impacted by these tragedies. The latest mass shooting in Las Vegas, which killed more than 50 innocent people attending an outdoor concert on Sunday evening, has shocked and saddened the entire community.

We also send our thoughts and prayers to all members of the communities and their families who have suffered so much during this year’s hurricane season. Many of us watched San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, an alum of my alma mater, Boston University, deliver a gut-wrenching plea for assistance for Puerto Rico, which remains largely without power. We encourage those from within our community to support the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico by making a financial contribution in support of our friends and neighbours to the south.

This is one of those occasions where it may seem inadequate to offer thoughts and prayers.  It is definitely frustrating to feel so helpless in light of so much suffering. We cannot allow these tragedies though – whether they happen a half-world away or closer to home – to dissuade us from caring and trying to help in any way possible.

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 3.07.25 PM.jpgMarc Mercier

Foresight

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Chicago Blackhawks Bobby Hull flashes a toothless smile in the dressing room after scoring his 50th goal of the 1962 NHL season in the final regular season game.

Not that long ago, hockey players in the National Hockey League (NHL) were not required or expected to wear helmets. I have come across no documented discussion of the mandatory use of helmets in hockey until Toronto’s King Clancy tripped Boston’s Eddie Shore on December 12, 1933. In retaliation for being tripped, Shore hit Ace Bailey from behind causing Bailey to hit his head on the ice so hard that a priest at the game administered last rites to Bailey. While Bailey lived thankfully, his playing days were over, like so many before and regrettably after him.

While the mandated use of helmets debate meandered along – at glacial speed I would have to say – pictures of the bloody face of Bobby Hull after a fight and the smiling, toothless grin of Bobby Clarke caused by years of playing “our game”, had become folklore and legendary within hockey circles. Simply put, generations of Canadian kids (including me!) grew up idolizing pictures like these ones and eagerly looking forward to the day that they too could be the next Bobby Hull or Clarke. For most, pictures like these were all too common and simply categorized (but not regrettably) as being part of “our game”.

In the face of mounting evidence of various head and face-related injuries, including the in-game death of Bill Masterson in 1968, the NHL finally mandated the use of helmets in August of 1979. The mandatory use of helmets was a monumental development for modern hockey. So difficult this issue was in the face of indisputable evidence that the new helmet law had to have a “grandfathering clause” – the type of provision more familiar in legislative drafting circles – provided all such players signed a liability waiver.  With the retirement of Craig MacTavish from the NHL in 1997, the last of the helmet-less warriors had finally left the game.

After the use of helmets was mandated, many NHL players began to voluntarily wear half-visors to mitigate against the clear and undeniable risks associated with serious eye injuries. Notwithstanding the use of half-visors, errant pucks, sticks and even the odd elbow were still causing serious eye–related injuries.  The loss of teeth, broken noses, broken jaws and eye injuries (including permanent loss of vision) unfortunately continued to be quite normal and in fact continued to be considered part of “our game” – although over time this thankfully began to be viewed with growing regret.

Growing up in the era of the “Broad Street Bullies”, otherwise officially known as the Philadelphia Flyers, the mandating of helmets by the NHL was the first step toward taking player safety more seriously, however, this governor wanted “our game” to be better and safer for our players by mandating full facial protection too.

As we all know and as a matter of fundamental safety, young kids in Canada have long been required to wear not only helmets, but full face-masks too (except at the professional and junior levels, where half-visors are generally still the norm). For me, this half-visor thing was never fully understandable and was filled with irony, but then again I was a goalie and we see “our game” slightly differently. The main irony to me centred around the goal of many of our players to graduate from our program to play hockey at the university level within a reputable NCAA ice hockey program, where full facial protection (in addition to helmets!) is required by all players, without exception.

After our club experienced a spate of serious injuries two play-offs ago, which included but was not limited to a cracked orbital bone, some broken jaws, countless loss of teeth, hundreds (if not thousands) of stitches to faces, nearly a severed eyelid and serious cuts to tongues, this governor finally said he had seen enough.

The reality was that these injuries were costing our medical system a lot of money (the exact amount is unknown), taxing our training staff, causing parent upset, disappointment and in some cases even anger, taking our boys away from school and removing them from the ice for extended periods of time – time that was needed to develop and to allow them opportunities to showcase their skills so they could move on to higher levels of play, including pursuing post-secondary education as well as playing university hockey.

It is worth noting as well that the aggregated magnitude of the games lost to injury adversely impacted the team’s play and limited its ability to compete and move on in the playoffs.

Since becoming Governor of the Cobourg Cougars, one of our key values has always been predicated upon “leading”, rather than “following”. We are leaders in player safety. In this regard, while sitting on the Board of Directors of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) as the single appointee of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), this governor took a leadership role in having the OHA – the oldest hockey association in the world – undertake a critical review of its insurance requirements in the area of player safety.

Historically, the maximum amount of coverage made available to players in Canada for loss of teeth and the tesumtant dental work was limited to $2,500 under Hockey Canada’s blanket insurance policy. As you can appreciate, some of the injuries noted above fell far outside of the insurance provisions and often ended up costing families in excess of $35,000 per incident. Following this detailed review, and with strong urging from your Cobourg Cougars, the OHA ultimately extended the insurance coverage up to a maximum of $25,000 per injury. This governor did not stop there though.

At the end of the 2015 playoffs, a detailed survey within the Cougars’ organization involving current and former players, parents of players, staff members, volunteers and front office administrators was commissioned to help this governor understand the continued use of half-visors versus the mandated use of full facial protection. Nearly 150 responses were generated.  While I was struck by the reluctance of many to move toward the mandated use of full facial protection, I was secretly encouraged by the fact that a simple majority of players and an overwhelming majority of non-players wanted full facial protection. That being said though, I was extremely disappointed to see that many players – some parents, coaches and hockey administrators too – still preferred the half-visor over mandated full facial protection.

As many people who are familiar with me know, I spent several months trying to digest the survey and to reconcile how “our game” could continue to be played with half-visors. While sitting on the board of the OHA, a young man playing in the Junior B league of the OHA suffered a career ending eye injury that saw him lose the vision from one of his eyes entirely. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

At a board of governors meeting of the OJHL in 2016, this governor on behalf of the Cobourg Cougars initiated a motion requiring all players to wear full facial protection commencing with the 2017–2018 hockey season. The motion was passed by the OJHL and set in motion the movement and passage of a similar motion at the OHA Board of Directors table.

While there is no denying that winning is very important to the Cobourg Cougars, player safety and making a difference to “our game” is equally important within the context of your club. I am happy to report that to this point in time in the 2017–2018 hockey season that not a single Cobourg Cougar has suffered a facial injury, has received a single facial stitch or has missed a single game due to facial injury.

Hockey is a great game. While we are proud of our contributions to “our game”, we are working hard to make a difference day in and day out and to leave the game of hockey in a better place than we inherited.

Yours in hockey,

Marc Mercier
Governor, Cobourg Cougars
2017 RBC Cup Champions

Season Opening Statement

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 1.05.05 PMThe Cobourg Cougars Hockey Club is proud to open its 52nd season this evening with the start of regular season play. While it seems like yesterday, at precisely 8:21 pm on May 21, 2017, “Your Cougars” scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the mighty Brooks Bandits at the RBC Cup (hosted right here at the CCC) to become Canada’s reigning Jr. A Champions — joining tonight’s on-ice opponents, the Aurora Tigers as the only other OJHL team to have ever won the prestigious RBC Cup (which Aurora has done twice no less!)

This marks the beginning of a journey on the road toward playing for and winning the RBC Cup again! This also marks the beginning of our players’ journeys within our program before they move on to higher levels of hockey and other life opportunities. The collective desire to strive for excellence is very much evident in this year’s squad. On behalf of the entire Cougars’ organization, we would like to thank all of our volunteers, billet families, and sponsors for their unrelenting commitment to our organization and our community. We are blessed to live, work and play the game we love in Cobourg, Northumberland County, in Central Ontario and in the heartland of Canada and plan on doing all we can both on and off the ice to support our community. We could not do all that we have done and intend to achieve in the future without your support!

We would like to wish all of the teams in the OJHL a successful season and the best of luck (except of course when they play against “Your Cougars”!) To our fans, please sit back and enjoy the season that lies ahead. When you cannot join us in person, you can watch all home, away and playoff games live on the Internet at http://www.ojhl.fasthockey.com. The season that lies ahead is sure to involve plenty of exciting moments and memories. For all the latest news, check-in frequently and follow us at http://www.cobourgcougars.com. You can also follow the club on Twitter @cougarshockey. To re-live the 2017 RBC Cup hosted right here in Cobourg, simply visit Hockey Canada’s website at: http://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/National-Championships. It will send tingles down your spine! We will make you proud to support the COUGARS!

Marc Mercier