Hockey fans who follow the Sudbury and area minor hockey scene closely, especially as it pertains to the AAA ranks, can be forgiven if they're feeling like they have heard it all before. The truth is, they probably have.
The latest round of discussions included a meeting a week ago Sunday that included a new twist.
There is, apparently, at least some talk of a proposal that would call for the folding of the Nickel City Midget AAA Sons prior to the 2014-2015 season, with the local minor midget AAA team (or minor midget AA elite, to be more precise), looking to step into the Great North Midget League as a replacement.
Now, there is no way to even come close to doing justice to the complexity that is minor hockey in this region in a short newspaper column.
But these most recent talks, and general chatter in the arena hallways, does merit the raising of some salient points.
While there is no doubt a number of stumbling blocks, it would be fair to note where a growing consensus exists.
The reality for both local midget AAA teams is that numbers are a concern and have been since both opened training camp this fall. In fact, those discussions have been on an off-and-on basis for at least the past few years.
Part of the reason is due to the emphasis and draw of the minor midget squads in recent times. But as was quickly acknowledged at the time of the folding of the Soo North Stars program, minor midget hockey is far from being the only culprit.
There does seem to be some merit to the argument that the Sudbury basin could comfortably support a AAA midget team that would focus primarily on second- and third-year midgets, and a minor midget team working only with newcomers to the age group.
Conceptually, this brings into play the question of reverting back to a single AAA entry across all age brackets to represent the Sudbury region.
For those not in the know, two AAA entries have been iced from minor peewee through to major bantams for the past few years — one representing the SMHA (Sudbury Minor Hockey Association), the other representing the outlying areas via the Nickel City Sons.
It has become obvious, in chatting with a good number of coaches, team officials and parents, there is a need to merge the two groups. That said, the feeling is not nearly unanimous.
Some contend having two distinct groups carries with it the advantage of exposing more young athletes to AAA hockey, a fact that should strengthen the area talent base down the road.
There is, however, a critical flaw in this thinking. Carried to an extreme, it would make even more sense to ice perhaps four AAA teams locally, truly maximizing the potential exposure to that level of hockey.
Of course, it would be quickly countered that Sudbury could not ice four even reasonably competitive AAA teams at every age group.
Which brings us back to the debate of having two teams in Sudbury. It would be difficult to argue that the city's teams have been consistently successful against anything other than the bottom half of AAA teams in the province in recent years.
It seems to me the time is right to move forward in areas where there exists consensus. The move to a single AAA organization is a good starting point. The notion of having that group headed by an equal representation of SMHA and Nickel City members would seemingly provide a very solid second step forward.
From there, one would hope, a base is set. No one, not even an eternal optimist like myself, would suggest any of the above recommendations is about to cure all that ails minor hockey these days.
There is plenty of work that still must be done, a very long road to be traveled. But -perhaps it's finally time to take the first step.
Randy Pascal is the founder of SudburySports.com and a contributing sports writer for Northern Life.