The balance between the need to win now, and the desire to develop young athletes for the next level, is one that every junior hockey club worldwide assesses with every decision.
And while the 2017-18 Notre Dame Hounds Junior ‘A’ is an exceptionally young outfit in a veteran-laden Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, coach Mylymok feels there should be no tension between those two vocations.
“No matter what, we want our guys to feel the pressure of winning,” he says, “because they are going to feel it wherever they go.
“For us, it is always about getting guys to play somewhere when they are done with us. I don’t promise them anything, I just tell them that if they do come here, we will do everything in our power to find them a home after they’re done. My philosophy is that winning is important, you can’t be in last place; so we want guys to learn how to win, how to do the little things, how to hold on to leads, and to not take anything for granted. Understanding all those things are key to what gets a player to the next level.”
To date, two Hounds juniors, and four call-ups, have committed to universities or teams at the next level. Notre Dame high school alumnus and 2000-birth-year defenceman Tim Gould has accepted a scholarship offer to play for the prestigious University of Maine in NCAA Division I for the 2019-2020 campaign, while fellow ND alum Jack Flaman will head to the University of Acadia in Canadian University hockey next year.
Affiliates Luke Mylymok (University of Minnesota-Duluth), Nolan Renwick (University of Maine), Brad Morrissey (University of Maine), and Quinn Schmiemann (Western Hockey League) all practice regularly with the Junior ‘A’ club and have played at least one game with the team this year.
For Gould, a Moncton native, the situation at Notre Dame continues to be instrumental in making him an NCAA Division I calibre prospect.
“There is no doubt that being at ND has made me a better player,” he says.
“ND gives us all the tools and equipment to get better. It's a personal choice: you can either sit in your room or walk over the gym/training center to work on your skills. If you are willing to put in the hard work, we have a full gym, rapid shot machine, shooting lanes, stickhandling area, so it’s really a next-level type of set up for us. So far this season it's been a very successful one, but I don't believe in taking anything for granted.”
Flaman’s case is different than Gould’s, in that the 20-year-old chose the WHL route, and went on to play in 168 games, for four different franchises, before landing full-time back with the Hounds in December.
As the Canadian Hockey League (of which the WHL is a part) officially pays its players directly, the American collegiate system regards it as a professional league, and therefore renders its alumni ineligible for the NCAA.
The CHL and USports (as Canadian University sport is now known) have a deal, however, that allows franchises to include years of tuition at a Canadian post-secondary institution in player contracts, and thus Acadia, in beautiful Wolfville, Nova Scotia, is a perfect fit for Flaman.
“I think if you don’t want to keep playing after your junior career is done, you shouldn’t be playing junior at all,” says Flaman.
“I want to keep going, play as long as I can. I know it’ll end one day, but I hope it’s no day soon. They gave me a good offer, and it’ll be cool to go to a new place, a new part of the world, with a good hockey team. It’s also a great school, and though I had a lot of offers, I felt Acadia was the best one for me, and so I’m happy with my decision.”
As much as it would be ideal for all junior players to be in it for goal-oriented purposes, that is clearly not always the case, as the perks of prestige are often made the primary motive.
Nevertheless, Mylymok plans to continue to take specific aim at players and people who see the next level as their reason for suiting up.
“It is a certain type of athlete that wants to come here,” he says.
“One that is dedicated on an off the ice, one that sees living in the prairies, 30 minutes out of Regina, as a positive. It is their own little bubble out here, their own little oasis if they want it to be. For a real hockey player, playing for us should be a dream. I tell people Notre Dame isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is for the type of player that I want on my team anywhere. I want guys that want to work out, to buy in and be passionate about the process. Truth be told, the guys that really make it anywhere are obsessed and passionate about the game anyways, so we try to skip the other stuff and go after guys that are like that.”