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The Kid Who Was Better Than Gretzky

The World Juniors are always great entertainment for hockey fans. At least here in Canada the Christmas-time tourney is the most anticipated event on the hockey schedule outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

These kids are some impressive in the way they handle the immense pressures they face. The media and fan exposure, especially when the tournament is held in Canada, is unlike anything most of these kids have ever encountered. Then there is pressures from coaches and national federations. And, oh yeah! NHL and other scouts are judging their every move, and therefore greatly impacting their lifelong hockey dreams.

Not often enough are the pressures of youth and junior hockey stars face brought to the forefront. Even midget level kids and below are often targets of on ice bullies, hazing teammates and unrelenting parents, sometimes their own. Teenagers are pressured into leaving their home, often move 100s of miles away, to pursue an unrealistic NHL dream or at least a US college scholarship. If they are really good, they have to deal with growing distractions from NHL scouts and agents, pressuring coaches and physical trainers, pesky media, and outside interests.

And all this before they graduate high school. Oh yeah, education, that all-too-often forgotten about demand.

When you think about it, it is amazing as many of these kids make it as far as they do. For many, the game ceases to be fun.

You have to wonder for every Wayne Gretzky who thrived in these conditions, how many other great hockey players quit early or burned out.

The answer is many. Take for example Bob Goodish.

Goodish was a superstar youngster who played against Gretzky from ages 8 through 16, from peewee hockey to the OHA. Goodish was a 6'0" 195 lb defenseman at age 14, a can't miss prospect that Gretzky will tell you was the best youth player he ever played against.

In an interview with Mike Brophy for the book Total Gretzky, Gretzky said this of Goodish:
"I can always remember my dad saying, 'Play like (Goodish) and you'll play in the NHL. He had everything; he had speed, he had hockey sense, he had size. In peewee he was probably a better player than me."
Now that is saying something. He later called Goodish the best minor hockey player he had ever seen, with Paul Reinhart a close second.

Goodish would join the OHA's London Knights, but would soon fizzle out. His undistinguished junior career got him no interest from the NHL draft, only a training camp tryout offer from the Colorado Rockies. He turned it down, heading off to university instead. He got a degree in business, and became a stock broker and mutual fund salesman.

In the same Brophy article, Goodish said:
"I was a victim of junior hockey. A lot of people took the fun out of the game for me, the way they treated people. The coaches, the managers, the owners, they're in it to make money. I understand that. The thing is, (we were) just kids."
There is no doubt in my mind that some kid, somewhere quit the game as a teenager because it no longer was fun for him. I have no idea who that player was, but his unfulfilled destiny was to become the greatest player in the history of hockey.

Comments

Westy said…
Wow. You hit this dead on. As a victim of the burnout syndrome, I understand this completely. I fought burnout through Juniors and 3 years of ACHA D1. My senior year came and I couldn't do it any longer. Not comparing myself to Goodish, but you see it at all levels...great players come and go.

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