Oh, for the good old days when youngsters were allowed to play – and enjoy – a variety of athletic activities.

The winter, of course, was owned by ice sports like hockey and figure skating with some soccer thrown in on snowless weekends; the autumn had football and basketball while the spring through summer brought about hockey, track and field and lacrosse.

Then hucksters and over enthusiastic parents got into the act. Up sprang off-season training programs that sliced into the time set aside for other sports. Instead of running October to march, hockey suddenly had seasons from September to June, immediately followed by summer leagues, conditioning camps and hockey schools.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with extra training sessions for the teenagers who show exceptional potential in a particular activity. But for eight and nine year olds? Nuts! Let the youngsters enjoy their childhood. Parents should check their fantasies of super stardom for their offsprings in a closet and allow the kids to experience the freedom of play without pressure.

It is interesting to note what hockey great Wayne Gretsky wrote in his National Post column in March, 2000:

“If sport has a high point of the year, it must be the first week of spring.”

“…When I was growing up, I used to love this time of year. It was when I put my hockey equipment away and I was absolutely ecstatic to see the end of the hockey season. One of the worst things to happen to the game, in my opinion, has been year-round hockey and, in particular, summer hockey. “All it does for kids, as far as I can tell, is keep them out of sports they should be doing in warmer weather. I could hardly wait to get my lacrosse stick out and start throwing the ball around. It didn’t matter how cold or rainy it would be, we’d be out firing the ball against walls and working on our moves as we played the lacrosse equivalent to road hockey.”

“All the good hockey players seemed to play lacrosse in those days and everyone of them learned something from the game to carry over to the other – things athletes can only learn by mixing up games they play when they are young.”

The list of athletes who mixed-and-matched hockey and lacrosse is lengthy. Recently penned articles make much ado about hockey superstars Gretsky, Doug Gilmour, Cliff Ronning, Joe Sakic, Gary Roberts and Cliff Ronning having dabbled in lacrosse.

But many more have played major junior and senior  lacrosse and hockey to greatness.

Canadian Lacrosse Hall-of-Famers Bucko McDonald, Newsy Lalonde, Lionel Conacher and Jack Bionda all saw action in the National Hockey League. Current top hockey players with lacrosse history are:

Adam Oates – three-time OLA junior MVP, 582 junior and 93 senior lacrosse points before averaging a point a game in his 1,000-plus game NHL career;

Paul Coffey – 64 points in 25 games with Mississauga juniors before entering a hockey career of over 1,300 games with Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, Hartford, and Boston;

Joe Nieuwendyk – 1984 Minto Cup MVP with Whitby, he went on to average a point a game in his 800-plus career with Calgary and Dallas;

Brendon Shanahan – ex-Etobicoke junior, Brendon earned two Stanley Cup rings while brother Brian played an important role in five Mann Cup championships. Brothers Dan and Sean also played both sports.

Retired NHL’ers with major junior and senior lacrosse histories include Barry Ashbee, Norm Corcoran, Pat Egan, Skip Teal, Adam Foote, Tom Fergus, Colin Patterson, brothers Doug and Paul Evans, Ken Hodge, Marv Lumley, Bill Allum, Bob Goldham, Ed Sandford, Stan Jonathan, Rick Lapointe, Rick Dudley, Willi Plett, Doug Favell, Gerry Cheevers, Paul Shmyr, Al Rollins, John Ferguson, Dunc Wilson, and Ryan Walter.

Walter, incidentally, spent several summers moving through the South Burnaby minor lacrosse system with two close buddies, Dwayne Lowdermilk and John Swan. In 1978, Ryan was drafted second overall by Washington, the same year New York Islanders drafted Lowdermilk and Montreal selected Swan. Ryan played over 1,000 NHL games while Lowdermilk played minor pro hockey and Swan enjoyed a 529-point senior boxla career while earning a law degree.

Other lacrosse players drafted by NHL teams were Peter Vipond, Bill Gregoire, Greg Spenrath and Jason Ward.

In addition, NHL hockey officials Eddy Powers, Red Storey, John McCauley and Bruce Hood, plus coach Tom McVie, all had lacrosse backgrounds.

Undoubtedly, there are many more who enjoyed playing both sports. They were lucky to have fun playing their way to the tops of more than one sport.

Parents: let your kids do the same.

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