Friday’s announcement by Hockey PEI that two more U16 AAA franchises will be joining the Nova Scotia U16AAA Hockey League is incredible news.

Growth in this area of the game is much needed and will provide players across the league with a phenomenal opportunity for more development, but like anything in the game of hockey it will be met with some resistance from the “old school” hockey guard.

U16 AAA hockey is all about growth and development, any expansion or growth at that level is not only great for players it’s great for the game.

The funnel effect within the game from the U15 to the U18 level is well documented and one transition that’s potentially insurmountable for a vast percentage of players. As we all know everyone develops differently and at their own pace or rate. Some within the hockey world believe that’s too bad so sad and that’s just the way it is, live with it and don’t gripe or bitch about it.

That cross-section of the hockey world don’t see the benefit of the league they see it as watering things down yet again. They would probably think a different tune if it was their kid.

From harshest critic to a massive supporter, at times the hypocrisy within the game is laughable. Unfortunately, the U16 AAA level is still a hidden gem. Hidden gem or flat out ignored.

I’ve written a few articles on that topic and have heard all sorts of criticism which comes with the territory, but some people can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to the importance of a league like the NS U16 AAA League.

The one and only negative effect that U16 AAA programs is having is on some high school programs, which is unfortunate, but that’s the only and I mean only negative effect of having a developmental league.

From a scouting perspective it’s imperative that teams have eyes on high school hockey in this region as well.

Obviously, U-16 programs are all about developing players and giving them an extra year of growth. It’s not about wins and losses, it’s all about development.

Sadly, some people around the hockey world will never darken the door when it comes to watching “Minor Midget” (what they refer to it still) or U-16 games.

As a scout if you’re not watching these games throughout the season you’re not doing your job.

“Oh those players are long-shots to make it.”

That take or perspective is clearly quite something.

There’s countless stories out there with regards to late-bloomers excelling after a year of U-16.

Obviously, some hockey minds disregard those stories and consider them all one-offs.

Players playing at the U-16 level shouldn’t be focused on the draft or stats or numbers, they should be focused on the process.

“You have to run your own race.”

That analogy comes to mind when considering the path of players who are currently playing U-16 hockey.

Countless young players are taking full advantage of playing at that level or extra year of development and parlaying that into an opportunity at a higher level the following year.

All these young players need is an opportunity to get more reps, touches or game action.

U-16 action might not be as sharp or crisp, the players still have some gaps in their games, but the caliber of hockey is still very high and deserves the attention of scouts from all over the hockey world.

You see this level of hockey is all about making solid projections, not rolling the dice or trying to find diamonds in the rough. Throw the draft percentages out the window, these players need some extra time to develop, they need some extra time to grow.

The latest QMJHL CSR Final List had no players from the Nova Scotia U16 AAA Hockey League on it. One would assume that would be incredibly disheartening for anyone involved within the league.

There’s a massive demand for U16 AAA leagues because of the aforementioned funnel effect, which would give more players an opportunity to grow not to water down hockey which is still a belief or mindset that people have.

You see where you played last year still means something. “They” or the powers that be can say it doesn’t matter, but it does and that’s the difference maker right now. That thinking will sink the league if “Major” programs don’t support or consider U-16 programs as legitimate and worthwhile options for development.

U-18 and U-16 programs must work together, but more importantly U-18 programs can’t hide anymore behind the promises of affiliation and not honour it.

U16 AAA hockey is great for the game. The wait and see approach when it comes to prospects playing there is detrimental to the game and purpose of the league.

At the end of the day, it comes back to the quiet talent.

There are so many young aspiring players out there with quiet talent. Their talents might be buried in the undercurrent of their team or within themselves. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean their talent isn’t there. You see my interpretation of quiet talent is that type of skill and talent takes times to grow, time to develop, time to surface. You can call it late bloomer if you wish, but quiet talent takes on a lot of different perspectives. Perhaps the hockey world doesn’t appreciate or truly valued quiet talent.

Obviously, quiet talent hides within players that might not be the flashiest. The quiet aspects of their skill set and the intangibles they possess takes some time to see, evaluate and project, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Quiet talent might be the honest, two-way players, the stay at home defenders or hard nose competitors, the grinders, that’s who the quiet talented players are.

Scouts often share stories of the first time seeing or viewing certain players. Everyone has one of those stories, “oh I saw this or that player when they played here.” Well, when it comes to quiet talent, the talented player might have been in front of you all along. Quiet talent is often missed, because all of the focus is directed towards the highflyers. Every scout and organization are looking for the diamonds in the rough, but moreover they are looking for the sure thing. The sure things doesn’t always materialize. The later round draft picks often surprise the most and make the largest impact on and off the ice, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if you have done your work and identified the quiet talents these players possess.

 It’s not about taking a flyer in the later rounds of the draft, it’s about the quiet talent. It’s all about time. Time for growth and development because when its time for the opportunity, quiet talent is more than ready to jump at the chance to show they belong.  

U16 AAA is a league full of quiet talent. Growth within the league is exactly what is needed to continue to grow the brand and help provide all of the players with quiet talent more time to grow.