There's a certain gray area inhabited by the Canadian junior hockey leagues. The teens who pull on the juniors sweaters aren't quite pros, but they aren't really scholastic athletes, either. They don't go to school on the same schedule as American teens, focusing more on hockey and subjecting themselves to more pressure than the average teenage hockey star.
Still, what one 16-year-old was subjected to in a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League went far beyond what any impressionable teen should expect to endure when he goes out to play his chosen sport. As reported in Prep Rally's Canadian brotherly blog, Buzzing the Net, QMJHL superstar prospect Nathan MacKinnon had to play in front of a crowd that included grown men in diapers and full baby outfits, all teasing MacKinnon for refusing to play for their town's team.
MacKinnon now competes for the Halifax Mooseheads, who landed the teen widely expected to be the top pick in the 2013 NHL draft after MacKinnon refused to play for Baie-Comeau; the B-C Drakkar had drafted MacKinnon first overall in last year's entry draft.
To be fair, the B-C fans' baby outfits were fairly elaborate and certainly took a lot of planning, as you can see in the clip above. Still, for any grown man to subject himself to wearing a cloth diaper, rubber ducky innertube and a hair bow just to make fun of a teenager raises a number of issues about the larger life priorities of those particular fans.
Still, it also illuminates a bit of a Catch-22 scenario for the QMJHL. The almost entirely Quebec-based league is known for a deep sense of fan avidity rarely matched in North American professional sports. That crazy fandom creates a competitive environment that is seen as an ideal melting pot in which to test whether a teenager really is a promising future NHL star.
Yet it also puts impressionable teenagers in the line of fire of super fans like the baby men of Baie-Comeau. Whether that is truly healthy or not is probably a matter of interpretation more than anything else. For the record, MacKinnon scored his team's only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Drakkar, baby outfits not withstanding.
If nothing else, MacKinnon's comments after the Mooseheads' loss indicates his maturity was more than up to the task of the baby wearers. In fact, it proves he is probably more mature than the B-C fans are already.
"I didn't mind it, to be honest with you, " MacKinnon told Halifax radio broadcasters. "Those things don't bother me. Fans are going to be fans. It's something that you got to deal with. You can't let it get you distracted."