Former Vancouver Canucks Goaltender Reflects on Hockey Then and Now
By Cassandra Irving ©2018
Born and raised in the north end of Hamilton, former Vancouver Canucks goaltender Frank Caprice started playing hockey at the age of eight at Eastwood Park.
“I started as a goalie. At that time, Eastwood Park had a larger, covered arena and a smaller open rink. I started in the smaller open rink,” recalls Caprice. His dad was battling with leukemia at the time, so Caprice says his mom put him in hockey to give him something to do. (Sadly, his father passed away that same year, so he never saw Caprice play.)
“In order to be at practice on time, I would get up at 4 am and my older sister would walk with me 45 minutes to the arena. I can still remember how cold it was!” says Caprice. “There were a lot of kids who played back in those days because it was a lot less expensive than it is now. Everyone I knew played.”
Caprice went on to become Vancouver’s ninth round selection, playing in 102 NHL games over the course of six seasons. In the 1990s, he played professionally in Italy and Britain then retired in 1999 and moved back to his hometown of Hamilton. Having played at all levels, Caprice says there are a few significant differences in the game since he was young.
“The first thing is the salaries. When I played, the highest paid player on the team made $350k. Players who are just coming into the league make double, if not more, than that now,” he says.
“Second, there is much more focus and money put towards fitness and health now, both physically and mentally. When I played with Team Canada at the World Juniors (he won all three starts and the team won gold), we would eat fast food after some of the games. It was the same when I played for the London Knights (Major Junior A hockey team). Nowadays, Team Canada travels with a chef!”
Caprice says the third major difference is the media exposure. “Technology has changed the game exponentially. There was no TSN, SportsNet or ESPN when I was playing, much less Twitter and social media and cell phones.”
When asked what he believes to be three most challenging things for young players to deal with in the Canadian system today, Caprice says it’s the cost, the physicality (or, lack of), and finding a coach who truly loves the players and has no hidden agenda.
“Number one is the cost; not only to play but all the other costs associated with it, like travel, equipment, hockey schools and all the little extras that come along with playing these days. Also, fair treatment can be challenging, especially when it comes to getting good ice time or finding coaches who coach for the love of the kids and not because of their own agendas. Back when I played, most, if not all, coaches never had a child on the team, so everyone got treated fairly. I can’t say the same for today--at least, that has been my experience with my four kids.”
Finally, Caprice laments the lack of physicality in the sport in the development stages. “I think taking body checking out of hockey at too young of an age has hurt Canadian hockey. Don’t get me wrong, kids should play clean and safe with no hitting from behind, but body checking is part of the game and, if taught at a young age and controlled by the refereeing, it can be an effective part of the game.”
For more information on Frank Caprice, visit NHL.com.
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Cassandra and Frank partner together to run hockey camps for youth in Aspen, Colorado. For more information, check out GameOnCamps.com/hockey
Cassandra Irving is a former NCAA Women’s Basketball Player and the founder/executive director of GameOnCamps.com.