Midget ‘AAA’ team will ‘ruin’ Muskies: Bliss

Shane Bliss, head coach of the Muskie boys’ hockey team, understands there’s an interest in bringing a Midget ‘AAA’ team back to town.
He’s just upset the push has gone so far.
“I have a lot of parents who are going in support of this [Muskie] program who are very disgusted and disappointed in the talk of this ‘AAA,’ and parents have wanted to make it very clear that they don’t want to be part of something that’s going to ruin 40-something years of tradition,” Bliss remarked.
“They also can see that this team [Muskies] has a very bright future together, and they don’t want to be associated with trying to bring it down,” he added.
The Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association currently is discussing the possibility of bringing a Midget ‘AAA’ team to town—a team that some, Bliss included, are afraid would run counter to the Fort Frances High School program.
FFMHA president Wayne Strachan insisted the health of the Muskies’ program is important to the association’s decision.
“I would like it to be known that [FFMHA] is not out to ruin any other hockey teams in this town,” Strachan said in a statement issued shortly after a meeting here Monday night, admitting the association also has its own Midget ‘AA’ program to protect.
Bliss agreed that was a concern.
“To water all three teams down by adding a third team in the same age category just doesn’t make sense to me, but apparently some people think they need to do that,” he noted.
The debate over a new Midget ‘AAA’ team here came to a head in a lengthy discussion at Monday night’s meeting that dragged out proceedings for four hours.
Strachan confirmed the FFMHA has made preliminary contact with the Manitoba Midget ‘AAA’ league—and that Hockey Northwestern Ontario has given it permission to do so.
But he insisted—through the statement—that the association will take due course in regards to pursuing a team.
“We know this is a big decision to be made and [FFMHA] will take all the right measures in making it.”
After Monday night’s meeting, Strachan referred all questions to the statement. But days before he had said, “I don’t know why it’s being made a big issue as of right now.”
Bliss doesn’t, either, but said he didn’t “want the boys to be brainwashed that they have to go and play AAA.”
“Some parents feel their boys need to play ‘AAA’ Midget in order for them to have a chance to be succeeding in hockey, which is wrong,” he stressed.
Rather, Bliss said the key to a hockey career is to have the right skills and attitude—and that the Muskie program is just as good a way to break into junior ‘A’ as any.
“Nobody’s being held back,” he remarked. “It’s tough as a teenage boy growing up playing hockey because you talk to all these different programs and teams. . . .
“They have to realize that whenever you go somewhere, they’re going to make their program seem like the best thing ever going.
“This program’s history [the Muskies] has been around a lot longer than I have, and it speaks for itself,” he added, citing a number of examples of Muskies getting drafted by the OHL.
The Muskie program also has a relationship with OHL teams like the Peterborough Petes, who have let it be known to Bliss that they will take a look at any player in his program he deems exceptional.
“That comes because we know that program does a good job,” said Petes’ GM Jeff Twohey. “I’d happily come up to Fort Frances to see them.”
Bliss said he wants parents to be more aware of the recognition the Muskie program carries outside of Northwestern Ontario.
“I just firmly believe that they, in their minds, feel the only way for their son to be noticed is to play ‘AAA,’” he said. “It’s not the truth. It’s not even close.”
Bliss also doubted the longevity of a Midget ‘AAA’ team in Fort Frances.
“We have always had a high school hockey program in town and we always will have a high school program,” he noted. “A ‘AAA’ team will be a flash in the pan.
“It comes, it’ll be here, and it’ll be gone,” he warned.
Strachan declined to name those pushing for a local Midget ‘AAA’ team, adding he did not believe they would speak on the issue publicly at this time.
Bliss said he’s aware of the pro-‘AAA’ contingent, but focused on his place in the controversy rather than get into specifics.
“My qualifications are second to nobody in the minor hockey system,” he said. “No matter who coaches the program, there’s going to be naysayers—people in the crowd who can do better.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” Bliss reasoned. “As long as you’re involved in this sport, in this country—not just this town—that’s the way it is.”