Sunday, February 22, 2015


ALPHA PUPS are defined as the leaders of the pack (Here come the alpha pups.  New York Times Magazine, page 38. J. Tierney, 2001).

You can’t buy your way into Major Junior A hockey.  It doesn’t matter who your father or mother is, or who your grandfather was, or what business your family is in.  Nor does it matter if you live in the most remote corner of the most northerly province in Canada.  If you have ability, the vast network of hockey scouts … will find you, and if you are willing to work to develop that ability, the (hockey) system will reward you.  Success in hockey is based on individual merit … (from M. Gladwell’s Outliers, 2008)

Individual merit eh (I’m Canadian) … this is not entirely true.

Malcolm Gladwell states that his book, Outliers, is not about tall trees.  It is about forests.  In his book he mentions an iron fact and law of Canadian hockey: In any elite group of hockey players – the best of the best – 40 percent will have been born between January and March, 30 percent between April and June, 20 percent between July and September, and 10 percent between October and December.

In Canada the cut-off for age-class hockey is January 1st.  A boy born in January could play alongside a boy born in December, a twelve month gap in age, and in physical maturity.  Around age 10, coaches begin to select players for all-star teams and of course then, the bigger and more gifted players are the ones making the teams.  Once making an all-star team, these selected 10 year-olds will then get better coaching, more games to play, and most importantly, more practice times.  (Competitive hockey teams practice more than thrice the time of regular recreation teams.)  By the time they are age 13, with the benefits of better coaching and more ice time, these January, February, and March birthday boys not surprisingly become better-than-average hockey players.

It is by this design that the biggest boys become the best players.  This is called the accumulative advantage.  Starting out a little bit better than their peers at 10, with the accumulative advantage kicking in, and making tier one and triple A teams for as long as they love the game, those 10 year old little-bit-better players get opportunity upon opportunity to improve their hockey skills.

Everyone knows the ingredients of success in Canadian hockey: passion, talent, dedication, determination, grit, and … imagine if you will … a tucket, a fanfare of trumpets blowing out the candles on the most important ingredient of all … a January, February, or March birthday cake!

BRAD HORNUNG, NATIONAL LEAGUE HOCKEY scout, and I attended a game the other night, the REGINA PATS vs the SASKATOON BLADES.  Both teams play in the WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE, which is, according to DON CHERRY, the toughest hockey league on the planet.  The WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE contributes more players to professional hockey than any other league in the world.

Of the 23 players listed on the current REGINA PATS ROSTER, 52.17 percent were born in months of January, February, and March.  (Five were born January, four in February, and three in March.)
On the BLADES’ ROSTER of a total 22 players, three were born in January, three born in February, and four born in March.  These 10 players make up 45.45% of the team.

BRAD (HORNUNG), who also played for the PATS, was born February 13th.  None of this is coincidence.  This is the zeitgeist of Canadian Junior Hockey.

Growing up in Vanguard, Saskatchewan, Canada, my favorite players were GORDIE HOWE, MISTER HOCKEY of the Detroit Red Wings, born March 31st; BOBBY HULL , THE GOLDEN HAWK, later to become THE GOLDEN JET, of the Chicago Black Hawks Winnipeg Jets, born January 3rd; BOBBY ORR, my favorite, favourite player ever for the Boston Bruins and was known only as NUMBAH FAHR in the brogue of the Boston fans, was born March 20th.  

Probably the most popular player ever, WAYNE GRETZKY, THE GREAT ONE of the Edmonton Oilers and L.A. Kings, was born January 26th.

Fact:  All boys who play junior hockey are alpha pups.

When I was a kid, LARRY HOPFNER was the best athlete our town.  In Track and Field, Larry won first ribbons in every event. In hockey, Larry was the best player within fifty miles.  He was so good that the coach of the SWIFT CURRENT BRONCOS, Harvey Roy, offered Larry a spot on the team whenever he wanted.  The SWIFT CURRENT BRONCOS, like the REGINA PATS, was a WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE team, the next thing to professional hockey. Larry chose to play in Regina for the Pats. Larry was born in January.

I am right now reflecting on my adolescent days in SPEEDY CREEK (Swift Current), when I played senior hockey for the SWIFT CURRENT INDIANS.  At that time on the BRONCOS roster of the WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE was team captain, JOHNNY MIGNEAULT.  Johnny was strikingly handsome and very confident.  John grew up in small town Saskatchewan; his father was a bartender.  In the summers, the confident cigar smoking Johnny sold Chevrolet cars at Standard Motors in Swift Current.  Johnny went on to play professional hockey with the PHOENIX ROAD RUNNERS of the WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION.  Johnny’s birthdate is February 4th.

Also on that BRONCOS roster was the top scorer in the league, DONNY KOZAK from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  On the BRONCOS, Donny was the fastest skater with the hardest shot.  Donny played professional hockey with the LOS ANGELES KINGS of the NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE.  Donny was born February 2nd. 

MURRAY MEYERS, too, played on that same BRONCOS team.  Murray’s father was a grain buyer in Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan and also did some farming in my hometown, Vanguard, Saskatchewan. Murray went on to play pro with the VANCOUVER BLAZERS and CINCINATTI STINGERS of the WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION.  Murray’s birth-date is February 9th. 

I should point out that especially in their home towns, off the ice, these January and February and March boys of winter were alpha pups. When on the ice, however, the boys were competing among their peers to be alpha pups, with age, size, and ability, mascularity and baditude, being the determining factors.  

Off the ice, Johnny and Donny and Murray were very much the alpha pups.  Donny was an alpha pup because he was the top scorer.  Johnny was an alpha pup because he was the oldest and the toughest and ... the CAPTAIN.  Murray, however, was not an alpha pup on the ice.  Fortunately for Murray, being an on-ice alpha pup is not requisite to making it to the pro league.

BRAD HORNUNG (NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE SCOUT) and I attended another WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE game last night, our second game in two nights, the REGINA PATS playing host to the RED DEER REBELS.  On the 23 player roster for the REBELS, one was born in January, five born in February, and six born in March.  A total of 12 out of 23 players with birthdays in January, February, and March, or in another term, 52.17% … the very same percentage as that of the REGINA PATS ROSTER!

With the REGINA PATS winning over RED DEER, my favorite player, WILLY (COLBY WILLIAMS), #5 for the PATS, was selected as the FIRST STAR of the game.  “He was planned as the perfect hockey baby,” states his dad.  Colby was born January 26th, the same date as Wayne Gretzky.  Colby, indeed, is an alpha pup, but … had he been born on another date, he may well have been sitting in the stands, with us watching the game!    

According to Brad, back in the mid-eighties when he played for the REGINA PATS, the quintessential alpha male at the time was KENNY MCINTYRE.  KENNY, an alpha male both off and on the ice, was the best bantam player in the province when he was drafted by the REGINA PATS.  And when Kenny played for the PATS he was the toughest guy on the team.  He was the toughest guy, too, when he played for the SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS and MOOSE JAW WARRIORS, all teams being in the WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE.   
But Kenny’s birthdate is … JUNE 5TH!

Over 40 percent of the elite hockey players on the planet were born between January 1st and March 31st, but Kenny was born in June.

Hmmm …



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