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"Go back? Likely, they were not playing."
You're wrong about that - last year 2 or 3 went back to high school and they were stud USHL players but you hit it on the head for the reason. They wanted to bring a state title to their home town.
It's also the dilution of talent. Too. Many. Teams.
We went to Detroit couple of years back and played against Little Caesars, Honey Baked, Victory Honda. Got to know some of the local parents. They shared with me that they laugh at what we call AAA hockey.
If you put a team together and keep them together, truly develop them by bringing good skills coaches in, MA can compete. The 2000 and 2001 Flames teams were examples. Couple of dads that were smart enough to realize that. Now some of those players are headed to Plymouth this year, some undoubtedly will next year.
And it was only a year ago that MA had three selections in the first round (two played together on the '97 SSK). Now we're in a down cycle. And it could last a while. The word is getting around that USHL is the way to go. It's changing fast. The top players aren't sticking around to play against 15 year olds.
The biggest problem for the failed forward moving to the blue line is the skating. A lot of kids can't effectively make the pivot both ways and surprising as it sounds it sometimes never comes. Numerous college forwards struggle and even look at David Krejci when he plays at the top of the P.P. unit. If the puck comes out of the zone he has to turn his back to the puck and exit the zone - skating forward and then address the puck carrier. You see it all of the time in the youth game when a forward has to cover the point for the new breed of puck rushing defensemen.
Many of the local better defensemen do it the other way. They hone their skating skills at an early age and then move up front for 3-4 years and then they go back to D. Infact if my defensemen had to do it over again I'd recommend learning to play up front for a few years after he developed his defensive skating.
I have a good contact that's a coach in the NHL. We've talked about these "puck moving defensemen," and it's already a fad that's peaked and is trending downward at that level. If you look at the Penguins, they move the puck north-south. Teams are using a 4 man attack to counteract the packed three-man-back neutral zone, and the amount of D to D is pretty minimal. Other teams aren't there, because they haven't drafted/developed that player. It'll hit the college and Junior level, then the HS level.
It's incumbent on the dads of big D men to get them to be better at that breakout pass, and to work on their hands. Of course, it would be nice if the wingers could catch a puck at the half board. Or be at the half board to begin with.
Interesting post. For the last few years it has been the often undersized, fleet footed, dangling defensemen that has gotten the local high school and junior coaches all excited. This to help them deploy their four man offensive zone attack. Being in position - not getting caught deep in the offensive zone, handling traffic in front of the net, having anything that resembles a reach or a shot from the point has all taken a back seat to 'wow' factor of a puck carrying water bug. I saw the coaching staff on my son's high school team a few years ago fall in love with this type of play with absolutely disastrous results.
The fair-haired boy then moved on to a Prep school team and the high school was 'stuck' with two responsible defensemen who were both over 6'3" / 6'4", they could skate and they played the traditional positioning they learned from playing top-end select hockey. The difference was night and day. The team could rely on these boys, the forwards had confidence knowing they were covered on the back-end and the goalie wasn't seeing stupid turnovers in his own end and odd-man rushes 5-6 times a game.
One freelancing defensemen can screw-up the entire team.
As funny as this sounds a couple years ago there was this local guy who had some connections to junior teams in the western part of Canada. He came out to watch my son's high school team play a couple times, I had spoken with the guy over the years so I knew him a bit. He was looking at one of the defensemen on the team, the kid was totally under the radar, liked playing hockey and was just a quiet kid but good at other sports too so he had some choices. The kid might have been one of the best 2-3 high school defensemen in the region, so the scouting guy goes up to the kid's dad and says, "call me when your son hits 6'3 and then I have a spot for him on a team in Canada" (at the time the kid was maybe 6'1") "I have direct orders that I cannot bring the team any defensemen under 6'3"." The kid ended up hitting 6'3" or 4" but didn't have any interest in playing college hockey but that is how sized crazed some teams are.
"...you can count the number of Mass U16 defensemen who can make a tape to tape breakout pass on one hand."
That's good because there are about 10 kids that can actually catch a pass that hits them on the tape! $200 sticks and the puck bounces off them like they have springs in them.
I think it's a lot of smaller factors. One is, hockey is THE sport in the state. And as such, it attracts more and better athletes than our pool here. Two, having lived there the hockey culture runs deep and the level of coaching at the youth level comes from some of the best hockey guys in the US. Also, every park has an outdoor rink or two or three where the kids can play for hours a day - similar to what may have been here years ago. And like here, the kids from ex-players are given a leg-up to get into the family business and they just have a lot of ex-players. The interesting thing in the upper Midwest is they're starting to get the pull into 'club teams' but it is rare that a kid feels the need to spend the $. Midwest sensibility trumps the need to buy their way toward their dreams.