In the Age of the Customer, line of business (LOB) executives are increasingly leading technology decisions, sometimes taking over completely from the IT department. These business leaders are looking to a new set of hyper-specialized “shadow channels” to help them plan, implement, and integrate the technology to drive business value. In this session, we assessed the impact on vendors, partners, distributors, and explored what is required for success in this new channel ecosystem.
Check out my 28 minute Forrester keynote from Rackspace Solve Partner Conference this week in NYC:
I am very excited to be joining the amazing team at Forrester today as Principal Analyst - Global Channels. Most of my 23 year career has been inside the channel, gaining experience from Fortune 500 companies such as IBM and Lenovo, midmarket companies such as Autotask, and a 5 year startup journey with ChannelEyes.
This blog has been home to over 100 different articles about the channel (among other things). I am fascinated with how partners, vendors and distributors have navigated the changes in technology, business models, and most recently, the customer buying journey over the past 35 years. With over 160,000 views, there are many others that share my passion!
Forrester is an idea company, where smart, motivated, curious people bring a diversity of opinions and the courage of their convictions to collaborate on ideas that change the course of business. Most of all, bring a point of view. I’ll get to work with innovative clients at emerging and established brands around the world; these are the business and technology leaders who I can inspire and who will inspire me. The Forrester experience is built on a singular, powerful purpose: to challenge thinking and lead change.
Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR) is one of the most influential global research and advisory firms in the world. They work with business and technology leaders to develop customer-obsessed strategies that drive growth. Forrester’s unique insights are grounded in annual surveys of more than 500,000 consumers and business leaders worldwide, rigorous and objective methodologies, and the shared wisdom of our most innovative clients. Through proprietary research, data, custom consulting, exclusive executive peer groups, and events, the Forrester experience is about a singular and powerful purpose: to challenge the thinking of their clients to help them lead change in their organizations.
The global IT channel have proven to be remarkable change-agents, both in front of their customers and inside their own businesses. Thinking about the amount of churn over the past 35 years can be downright dizzying.
Starting from the first disconnected PC's to last week's WannaCry ransomeware attack, channel partners have transitioned their skills to dozens of new technology opportunities. At the same time, they have transformed their business models from resell, break-fix, installation, maintenance, to solution providing and recurring managed services, among others.
The one thing that has stayed relatively constant over these decades is how customers decide and procure technology. Led by CIOs and IT departments, channel partners and vendors have fine-tuned their product and messaging mix to capitalize on this customer buying journey. Over the past couple of years, driven by cloud and the growing acceptance of SaaS business ecosystems, this journey just took a hard right turn.
Analysts are now reporting that 72% of technology decisions are influenced and/or made by line of business executives (Gartner). These leaders of departments such as sales, marketing, finance, operations and HR are increasingly taking ownership of their own digital transformations. In fact, it is predicted that this number will rise to 90% by the year 2020.
Here are some other startling numbers that are reflective of this new buying journey:
29% of technology decisions have no involvement by the IT department. The business executives are building the solution without internal help and in many cases are using external talent to advise on things like security, backup, compliance, disaster recovery, etc. (Forrester)
52% of business executives are using business-unit budgets to buy technology as opposed to assigned technology budgets from IT departments. (CompTIA)
58% of business executives are significantly involved in deciding and hiring third party services firms to implement and integrate these projects into the back-end of their company. (Forrester)
73% of B2B buyers prefer buying from the web, or self-service functionality from the vendor. Reselling technology and taking a margin will soon become a relic of the past. (Forrester)
68% of purchases through distribution are now categorized as simple or transactional. This is because business buyers are doing the upfront research, building the solution, and in the absence of self-service options, are purchasing at the part number level. (National Association of Electrical Distributors)
Business leaders are clearly looking for full-service solutions and are putting together the resources and teams to make it happen. They are increasingly relying on a new set of influencers including SaaS ecosystem partners, industry-based professional services firms, ISVs, born in the cloud firms, and the startup community. These shadow channels are discussed in detail here.
There are three reasons why I feel this will be a difficult (and futile for many) transition for channel partners:
B2B Marketing Weakness - As the book The E-Myth masterfully outlined, most SMB channel partners are technicians at heart and haven't focused on the sales and marketing skills required to scale their business. Now that there are ten times the amount of buyers at each customer, this weakness will be amplified. Many vendors are also guilty of focusing only on the IT buyer and have a serious visibility problem with the new buyer as well, assuming their products and services are even relevant in this new world.
Lack of Sophistication - About a decade ago we started a march towards specialization. The secret to success was becoming verticalized in certain markets and industries. The new buyer is looking for a level of hyper-specialized skills around business outcomes. In this new world, "vectorization" is now required which means having skills germane to the line of business itself, customer size and segment, sub-industry, geographic nuances and business technology application and how it integrates with the organization as a whole. Further discussion of vectors is here.
May Not Have The Will To Change - This industry is about 35 years old, and most of the traditional channel started their companies in the 1980s with IBM, Apple or Compaq or in the early 1990s with the rise of Microsoft. It doesn't take long at an industry event to see that the aging channel is not being replaced by millennials. In fact, IT does not rank in the top 10 of desirable industries for college grads today (CompTIA).
After all of the technology and business model twists and turns, and with 40% of the channel planning retirement in the next 7 years (CompTIA), there may be a lack of energy or enthusiasm for this latest curveball.
This is more difficult than adding a new technology practice or specialty to the line card. I even think this is harder than changing a revenue model. Working with a completely different buyer, with different preferences, motivations, requirements, and levels of influence will profoundly challenge the channel like nothing before it.
I decided to have fun with some data over the past week.
I started by downloading the 337 Channel Chiefs from CRN's annual list (2016 version) and ran them all through Linkedin to see what insights I could come up with.
I decided to focus on 10 attributes that could shed light on the road to becoming a Channel Chief. The data had some obvious edge cases, but statistically, it formed a relatively tight bell curve around the averages.
The 10 Attributes I looked at:
1. City where Chief lives
2. Are they still working at the same company (a year later)
4. Age (estimated based on undergrad date and other factors)
5. Attained Masters degree or above
6. Number of companies worked for in career
7. Time spent in current company
8. Time spent in current role
9. Did they have channel roles leading up to Chief role (if not, what?)
10. Size of company, and impact on above attributes
Before we get to the rules, why would anyone ever want to be a Channel Chief?
The head of indirect channels for an organization is (by far) the best job an individual could hope for! Spending your time traveling the world to glorious destinations, hosting parties and galas for partners, spending millions of dollars in marketing funds, and striving to drive more boondoggles than last year.
All this while not being held accountable to senior management. Perhaps it sounds too good to be true. But wait, it gets better...
What could be easier than dealing with people who are passionate about your products and want to promote them to the world? How hard could it be recruiting this fan base and keeping them motivated by dozens of expensive programs? Oh, and look at that, another industry magazine just put you on the cover!
Sounds good so far, but how do Chiefs get a free pass internally from management?
Easy. Channels tend to be nebulous – not only hard to measure because of their indirect nature, but time-delayed as you are collecting data through a complicated multi-tier supply chain. Sales in, sales out, end user reporting, return on invested capital - these are metrics that confuse even the best CEO.
The VP of Sales gets the brunt of the pressure because direct sales are easy to measure, forecast and build KPI’s around. And most CEO’s out there didn’t rise through indirect channels. In most cases they were engineers, direct sales leaders or financial people.
So, is a Channel Chief is basically a rock star without responsibility or accountability? Not quite.
These common perceptions actually make the job harder. The average tenure of a Chief is only 4.2 years – contrast that to the average CEO at 8.1 years. If the job was that great and liberating – why the short stay?
1. Channels take a very long time to develop.
Trying to explain to a CEO who is (very publicly) measured quarterly that developing an effective channel takes years is not a very popular conversation.
2. The indirect organization is usually the red-headed stepchild.
Getting access to top people, technology, resources or investments is last in line behind the sales, marketing and product teams.
3. The Rodney Dangerfield Effect.
Because it is not understood by other executives, it can be glossed over in senior management and board reviews. While the commitment to channel differs by company, the attention it gets is, in many cases, out of alignment.
The end result is a high pressure job, without adequate support and dubious respect.
A Channel Chief is a part-time sales leader, marketer, finance and operations exec, lawyer, motivator, counselor, trainer, product manager, strategist, economist, support agent and futurist.
If this is the life of a rock star, perhaps it is not as fun and rewarding as we once thought. It truly takes a special individual to step into the above chaos day in and day out and maintain a sense of humor.
So, do you still want to be a Channel Chief? Read on.
Armed with a nice big spreadsheet of data (and a number of strategic VLOOKUPs and COUNTIFs), here are the rules to becoming a Channel Chief:
1. Live in California
More specifically, San Francisco. About a quarter of all Chiefs live in California, with the majority of those (60%) living in the Bay area.
2. Don't get too comfortable
I analyzed the 2016 CRN list on purpose, to see how many of them stayed put after making the list. A year later, upwards of 25% of them are now working for different companies! Even more have been promoted internally into new responsibilities. This is not a "set it and forget it" profession.
3. Unfortunately, the gender gap exists here too
The Channel Chiefs are 77% male on this CRN list. Unfortunately, it gets worse when you narrow down this list to choose only the most senior from each company (248 companies). At this point it jumps up well into the 80's. As an industry we NEED to do better - check out this analysis of the Top 100 Global Women in Technology groups that I compiled recently.
4. Be born before the first moon landing
Specifically 1968. The average channel chief on the list is 49 years old. While there was a wide range of ages, most were clustered tightly around mid 40's to mid 50's.
5. Don't rely on an MBA for career progression
Almost three quarters of the Channel Chiefs do not have a masters or above degree. While college degrees number in the high 90's, most Chiefs relied on career progression to get to where they are. More on that to come.
6. Move companies to achieve higher positions in the Channel
The average number of companies the Chiefs worked previously for was 4.8. Many used company changes to elevate from Rep to Manager, Manager to Director and Director to VP. Larger companies are the exception where some have progressed internally for a few decades to get that coveted title.
7. But don't move companies too often
With only 4.8 company stops on average, the average Chief has spent 8.7 years at their current company. You may not get hired as a Chief right away, but one or two promotions may land you there within 4 years.
8. Prepare your career (and family) to be somewhat transient
The average tenure for a Channel Chief is 4.2 years. If you remove the Fortune 500 sized companies, where the stays are much longer, this drops down to the 2-3 year range. Moving jobs and moving cities is very common in this group of 337 people. Very few are employed in their hometown or college town.
9. Don't be too concerned if you haven't worked in the channel previously
Half of the Chiefs came from different backgrounds including sales (most common at 50%), general management, marketing and product management. While the progression of Channel Account Manager (CAM) to Channel Manager to Channel Director to VP Channel to SVP Global Channel is the most common, it is not the only way. Reference #6 above on how to make those jumps faster.
10. Be careful on size of company you work for
If you are looking to be a Channel Chief at a Fortune 500 company, jumping to smaller companies to get higher titles doesn't seem to work. The better bet is to start in the mailroom and plan for a 20+ year career of linear progression. If you want to be a Chief at a midsize company, multiple jumps as a VP (especially in the same product category) seems to be the best path. I can see a recruiting trend here, where they seem to target the Chief of their competitors.
If you haven't figured out by now, the title of this article was meant as click bait. There are no guarantees in life, or in the channel.
However, if you do know what you want, there are certain tactics you can deploy to elevate your chances of success. Luck plays a role as well - fast growing companies in exploding product categories tend to hire underneath their current employees. This results in rapid career progression.
At some point in this growth, usually after a sizable round of financing or IPO, the company will hire a senior, recognized Global Channel Chief to play the adult in the room. This person usually comes from a Fortune 100 company.
Well, there it is. For those of us who have spent our careers in the channel know that it is an equally exciting and frustrating place. Under-recognized, under-funded but filled with some of the best people I know. 75% of all world trade goes indirectly, and these are the heros that make it happen.
Have channel industry sales executives forgotten why we need a channel to build business? Is this even a legitimate question to be asking? Of course, we all know the reason for a channel. It is to expand a vendor’s reach in the market through capable, enabled, and motivated business partners that can generate new customers for our brands.
Partners provide vendors a multiplier effect by cross-selling a vendor’s brand to many of a partner’s current customers. This working relationship is a win for both parties because when a partner sells a vendor’s brand they also can sell additional partner-delivered services. At the same time vendors gain new sales they would not have generated on their own.
So why do so many channel sales executives seem to misunderstand this basic concept of the purpose of a channel? Let’s better define the problem.
Why Channel Sales is Off Track with Their Channel Strategy
The Partner Sales Manager Role - Given the intense pressure of quarter-to-quarter sales targets at public companies, many have transitioned the traditional role of a Channel Account Manager (CAM, PAM, RCM, etc.) to a 90% direct sales role and 10% and fading role of a traditional channel manager. This traditional channel manager role as a business consultant, enabler, trainer, and motivator has morphed into a part-time or even smaller role to make way for a shorter-term focus on closing deals - today, tomorrow, and the next day. More channel executives have turned the focus of their teams on developing and closing deals for their partners vs. the role of activation, enablement and sales-assist of partner developed opportunities.
The pressure of delivering short term channel sales sacrifices the development of enabled and motivated partners that are capable of developing sales opportunities on their own. As a result, partners have become too dependent on the PSM to identify, develop, and close most or all the opportunities within their client portfolio. This process is crippling the multiplier effect of having a channel and reducing the self-reliance of a partner organization to become a competent and motivated seller.
The Channel is More Important Today than Ever Before
It is important to take a step back. The channel organization’s role in a company has steadily increased in visibility and value over the past ten years. In the past, many channel departments would be buried under layers of sales, marketing, operations or financial management.
With over 75 percent of world trade flowing indirectly across all industries, many CEOs have elevated the role of the channel chief directly into the boardroom as a key member of the management team. One of the consequences of this added exposure is the pressure to drive KPIs that are directly reported to the board in private companies, and publicly in listed companies.
The New, More Complex Role of Channel Managers
The channel organization has a myriad of responsibilities to their partners that include sales, marketing, operations, support, finance, legal and supply chain. In fact, the average channel professional has 75 distinct roles.
The Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2016/10/the-sales-role-multinationals-need-in-emerging-markets) recently stated that the most successful channel managers look more like general managers than sales managers. We know that channel managers often don’t have direct control over the sales process of a partner, they use other skills to enable, engage, and drive revenue. This includes:
Understanding the nuances of a specific territory, including competitive strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, which allow a channel manager to build a strategy with a partner on a deal-by-deal as well as macro level. Sales managers tend to be much more tactical in nature, and most strategic planning is at a customer or deal level.
Good channel managers understand that enabling a partner is critically important and so they spend their time ensuring that they are covering the details such as solution creation, logistics and compliance. It is more than just selling a deal, it is ensuring that all the ducks are in a row so that many downstream deals can be closed as well. This is the multiplier effect of having a channel.
The economics of running a channel territory are much different that running a sales territory. Beyond things like revenue targets, contract profitability, and pricing strategy, channel managers must also focus on areas such as inventory management, partner cash-flow, and distribution terms.
There is a real danger in focusing a channel team too much on revenue and tactical deal flow. While the win rate per opportunity may be higher in the short term, the multiplier effect of self-sufficient channels will hurt long term success. Striking the right balance of a channel team between driving deal revenue and channel enablement, engagement and strategic planning is imperative. It is the classic “teach a person to fish” analogy.
There are a few difficulties in the measurement of this channel role, especially as it is reported to the senior management team. Many of the KPIs are soft by nature, and that doesn’t play well in a boardroom where sales and marketing professionals are managing now to the seventh decimal point. As it is a longer-term investment, it doesn’t play well in the daily/weekly targets that businesses are being driven against.
Another danger in focusing a channel team too much on sales is that they may miss the changing dynamics of the partners they are working with. Channels in all industries are going through a major transformation brought on by multiple factors including digital transformation, demographics, new competitive pressures and economic realities post 2008.
In the IT channel, for example, there has been a roughly 30 percent decline in the number of partners since 2008, with an additional 40 percent of remaining partners looking to retire in the next seven years, according to CompTIA. By the end of that seven year window, over 75 percent of the channel will consist of millennials. An effective channel manager would see these shifts happening and refine programs, incentives, messaging and even coverage to support it.
End Customer Buying Process is Forcing More Changes in the Channel
Another major shift in channels is being driven by changes in the customer buying journey. Ten years ago, the CIO made 90 percent of technology decisions in an organization. Gartner is forecasting a complete reversal by 2020, where 90 percent of those decisions will now be made by business professionals in the lines of business. For example, the VP of Sales or VP of Marketing is now the main buyer of technology solutions – not the IT department.
This new buying journey, once called rogue or shadow IT has generated new areas of influence called the shadow channel. (http://www.jaymcbain.com/2016/10/the-rise-of-shadow-channels-5-new.html). A channel manager will understand that a customer VP of Marketing may not have IT in the room during a technology decision - and there is a good chance their traditional partner won’t be in the room either.
Having a macro level strategic view will guide a channel manager to make sure their organization is in the right customer discussions and exerting the right influence. This could involve getting closer to accountants, digital agencies or legal firms. It could also include diving deeper into other company’s ecosystems, building an independent software vendor (ISV) program, or even participating in the startup arena around the solution areas.
Having a channel manager focused too much on sales will hinder the multiplier effect of channels, drop the satisfaction of current partners who are looking to brand themselves and become more self-sufficient in the marketplace, and miss the ever-changing partner and alliance ecosystem.
With 75 countries complete on the World 100 tour with Michelle, we are leaving to check off some more in the Pacific Islands starting on February 6, 2017.
This time, a consulting engagement takes us to Sydney, Australia on Valentine's Day. Looking around the region, there are a number of islands - some hard to get to, some easy (and famous) as honeymoon destinations.
We have all seen images above from places in the Islands - of cottages on stilts on top of amazing turquoise waters. As a kid, I would always hear of places like this and wonder what it was like to explore.
The trip starts on February 6th out of Newark airport, where Michelle, Brooklyn, Cali and I will embark on a 22 hour journey through Hong Kong to arrive in Phuket on February 7th. We will be staying at the Vijitt Resort:
Next, we fly over to on February 9th, routing through Singapore. We will be staying at the Bali Mandira Beach Resort & Spa:
Next, we fly over to Sydney on February 12th, on a direct flight. We will be staying at the Westin Sydney Downtown:
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Next, we fly over to Vanuatu on February 15th, routing through Brisbane. We will be staying at the Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu:
Finally, we fly over to Fiji on February 18th, connecting directly. We will be staying at the Radisson Blu Resort Fiji Denarau Island:
The trip home is interesting as we stay one night in Los Angeles before taking a morning flight back to New Jersey. We were lucky to use up a bunch of different kinds of airline and hotel points on this trip.
The permutations and combinations of destinations with flights and times was interesting to say the least!
Here is what the trip looks like on a map:
The goal of hitting 100 countries is firmly in reach. This is the latest map:
As long as I can remember, I have been playing hockey. Over four decades and thousands of games later, I still lace them up a couple times a week, year-round.
I joke with my American friends that it is, by law, that all Canadian children must play hockey. The reality is a bit different. A few years ago, soccer overtook hockey in Canada for those aged 3-17 and youth hockey is losing thousands of players each year.
The reasons for these changes can be attributed to demographic shifts, immigration patterns, cost of equipment and ice-time, right down to the increased dangers of injury of young players. The most recent World Cup of Football (Soccer) achieved similar TV ratings as the Stanley Cup, with 82% of the population watched a part of the coverage.
Some other random facts...
Last week the Canadian Men's World Junior team lost in a shootout nail-biter with the USA.
Last years Stanley Cup playoffs did not have any Canadian teams participating.
The percentage of Canadian born players in the NHL has steadily declined, most recently to less than half of all players:
An interesting side effect as the professional game has become faster and more skilled, an increased number of Junior eligible players in Canada are electing to wait and play US College hockey (NCAA) instead.
I am not suggesting that hockey will lose its place in Canadian religious lore anytime soon, but perhaps in a generation it will be competing for mindshare.
For me, hockey was a way of life growing up. Another popular story I tell is living in Edmonton and Calgary was a blessing for watching NHL hockey. Either the Oilers or Flames were in the Stanley Cup Final EVERY year from the age of 10 to 17! (Not to mention winning 6 out of those 8 Cup chances)
The memories of such greats as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Lanny McDonald and many others would shape the way I looked at the game.
My Personal Story
Special thanks to my mom, Gloria, for organizing these pictures into a scrapbook that I cherish.
My first ever memory (probably 3 or 4 years old) of lacing up the skates was on an outdoor rink in St. Albert, Alberta, Canada. Even though the temperatures were frigid, playing would make me sweat and heat up. I would therefore pick up some speed and do a Superman dive face-first along the ice. The cage on the front of the helmet would grind the ice and throw cold chips into my face. It would feel like heaven!
Here is a shot of the Flagstone Park rink in a bit warmer of temperatures:
Organized hockey began at 6 years old with the:
1978-79 St. Albert Warriors
Back: Jay McBain, Chris Osgood, Doug Sadler, Darren Gammon, Ian Gray
Front: Chris Vallevand, Ian McKinley, Sean Chartrand
(By adding names manually throughout this blog hopefully some will get a Google Alert and re-connect! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @jmcbain)
Don't worry, the picture quality improves over the years! This was an old Polaroid that the scanner did a better job on than it really looks.
Hockey fans with a careful eye will see, seated next to me, the 10th all-time winning goalie in NHL history. With 3 Stanley Cups under his belt and one of only 6 goalies to ever score a goal by shooting a puck directly into the opponents goal, Chris Osgood, or "Ozzie" for short, provided some wonderful memories for Detroit Red Wings fans during the 1990's and 2000's. I would play with Chris for a few more years before he strapped on the pads and achieved hockey stardom.
The first few years also had my dad as a coach which was wonderful.
1980-81 St. Albert Legion
Back: Ernie Wilks (Asst.), Bill Sadler (Asst.), Jim McBain (Coach), Jack Talbot (Asst.)
Middle: Jay McBain, Doug Sadler, Doyle Lefebvre, Chris Findlay, Paul Robson, Stevan Betts, Chris Osgood, Chris Talbot
Front: Shelley Sebastianelli, Raymond Der, Ryan Reynolds, Mike Wilks, Bernie Failing, Ian McKinley, Darren Gammon
One of my favorite memories from this team were Shelley's sweater spelling out "SEBASTIANELLI" from elbow to elbow to fit on her small frame. The other was Raymond, who was still learning to skate, with his mom yelling "the other way Raymond" from the stands. He did score a goal later in the season and we celebrated like winning the Stanley Cup.
1982-83 Braeside Hawks (Tiny Mite "BB" - Calgary)
Back: Ed Melville (Player Personnel), Les Payne (Referee), Ernie Panich (Manager)
Middle: Ed Melville, Colin Payne, Ricky Robbins, Al Krawchuk, Michael Jans, Jay McBain, Pat Mallany, Trent Norcross, Brock Hlavsa
Front: Kurt Panich, Teeder Wynne, Fred Wynne (Coach), Alastair King, Hugh Mallany (Asst.), Sean Mallany, Troy Calder
Moving to Calgary in early 1982 was a turning point where hockey became a more serious endeavor. As the story goes, legendary coach Fred Wynne heard that I had just won a major track meet for Braeside Elementary school and he said if I can skate as fast as I could run, I would be all set.
Although we were just 10 years old, we had home and away jerseys, dressed up for games, treated our Hawks jacket with respect and carried ourselves with confidence of playing on a special team. That feeling never left me and Fred was (and still is) the best coach I have ever had outside of my father.
If you ask me about being a team player, I think back to what is was like being a Hawk.
1984-85 South-West Devils (Peewee"B")
Back: Jim McBain (Asst.), Dave Price, (Asst.), Trevor Mirosh, Jason Kaiser, Colin Payne, Jason L'Hirondelle, Jay McBain, Chris Hunt, Sterling Dorish, Cory Hoople (Manager), Anthony Falvi, Les Payne (Coach)
Front: Alastair King, Ed Melville, Roger McDonald, Ken Ruddock, Teeder Wynne, Jason Price, Trent Norcross, Curtis Hoople
A couple of things stand out playing on this Devils team. First, our coaches name was Les Payne. Repeat that a couple of times out loud. Every time we were skating hard in practice we kept thinking less pain...less pain.
Well, the pain must of been worth it because it was the only time in over 4 decades of playing I have even gone through the regular season undefeated. I remember Ed Melville and Teeder Wynne having a magical play behind the net and scoring about a billion goals. I also remember Les Payne between each period saying to "just play our game".
We never knew what "our game" was - but hey, it worked!
1985-86 South-Four Rangers (Major Peewee"BB")
Back: Bruce McDonald (Asst.), Brian Campbell, Rick Robbins, Jeff Jones, Pat Cowen, Jason L'Hirondelle, Jay McBain, Roger McDonald, Kenny Ruddock, Allan Krawchuck, Dave Price (Coach)
Front: Teeder Wynne, Eddie Melville, Curtis Hoople, Trent Norcross, Jason Price, Mitch Earley, Trevor Mirosh, Brock Hlavsa
With our undefeated season behind us, and without the magic of Les Payne's "our game" we returned to earth this year. This was the final year before things got more serious again in hockey - making the big Bantam teams.
1986-87 South West Royals Gold (Minor Bantam"AA")
Back: Dale Hird, Rick Robbins, Matt Rallison, Terry Spink, Troy Henderson, Pierre Mercier, Ivan Eagletale
Middle: Al Chambers (Manager), Rob Prpic, Riley Will, Rob Simpson, Chad Willoughby, Colin Chala, Darcy Simonelli, Jason Kaiser, Monty Mattson (Trainer)
Front: Brad Steed, Mike Moore (Asst.), Jay McBain, Rick Bailey (Coach), Gord Cushing, Chris Sowlak (Asst.), Jason Scullion
Making the "AA" team was the equivalent (4 years before) to making the Hawks. It carried a prestige walking around school in the leather Royals jacket and probably inflated my ego more than it should have.
The competition was now much more fierce around the city and rivalries that would last for years were started. This is also when the scouts became much more involved. At this age, players are starting to mature into potential professionals and the Junior teams in Canada are on the prowl for talent:
1987-88 South West Royals Blue (Major Bantam"AA")
Back: Jason Kaiser, Chad Willoughby, Terry Spink, Mike Jans, Mark Wood
Middle: Jim McBain (Manager), Brad Purdy, Alan Krawchuk, Jason Frizelle, Darin Witt, John Sallis, Gord Cushing
Front: Curtis Hoople, Darcy Simonelli, Gary Woodward (Coach), Jay McBain, John Cameron (Asst.), Matt Rallison, Chris Akins
This was the season that I told my parents that hockey was becoming stressful. Parents were much more involved and boys hormones (combined with ego) are running so high that it wasn't fun anymore.
The pressure was on to make the 'AAA' hockey team the following year and try to play in the WHL after that. At this point, kids still think they have a shot - which isn't really true. Unless you are already chosen at this age through the above WHL camps, it is tough to become a pro as a late bloomer.
My ego was as high as ever, being captain of the team. Also in 1987 was the first year of high school, and making the football team as well. So, track in the morning, football after school and hockey at night - with chasing girls in-between. Luckily, at the time, our school marks didn't need to start rising until Grade 12 which gave me some breathing room (which I used every breath).
1988-89 South West Royals Gold (Minor Midget"AA")
Back: Rob Simpson, Jason Kaiser, Brad Purdy, Rob Bensen, Matt Rallison, Ricky Robbins Mark Wood
Middle: Angela Young (Trainer), Tyler Komaryk, unsure, unsure, unsure, Jay McBain, Matthew Fell, Mike Jans
Front: Brad Steed, Darcy Simonelli, Bob Metcalfe (Asst.), Chad Willoughby, Mark Frank (Coach), Jason Konoff, Gordon Betts
The next 2 seasons were the most impactful in my life. I was the final cut from the 'AAA' team in 1988 and was sent to "the minors" in Midget AA. It was a humbling experience as the 'AAA' coach mostly avoided our section of the city and took the cuts from other regions. I wondered how he planned to win against other teams using their cuts, but he had a real problem with the cockiness and ego that our team brought to try-outs and decided to teach everyone a lesson.
The hard part is that I was kept on the team for many weeks and I would see each player make it when they started wearing brand new blue and gold pants. I never was given those pants and, even though I thought I was one of the better defencemen, was cut down to AA.
I write more about the this and the other most important moments in my life in the butterfly effect blog.
I knew then my NHL hockey dream was over - but the news came just in time - allowing me to significantly raise my grades and earn early acceptance into the University of Lethbridge.
Two things happened that capped off my competitive career - one bad and one good.
1. The famous Mac's AAA tournament was played in our hometown of Calgary and somehow we were allowed to participate as a AA team (perhaps there was a no-show). We played the AAA team I was cut from as part of the tournament round-robin. We jumped out to a quick lead and had them on the ropes deep into the third when they came back to beat us with a 4 goal flurry.
I wasn't around by this time as I was taking all kinds of penalties and playing a revenge game against the coach who cut me months earlier. I was going to show him I thought. My ego got in the way and I was kicked out of the game. If you look closely at the picture above, I am in street clothes and shoes after the game.
2. The good part came the next year when, stocked with a number of good players (because of the coaches cuts in our region) we went on to WIN the Provincial (State) Championships as huge underdogs. I was playing with friends and we were much more relaxed, enjoying hockey again for the first time in a few years. We played younger, more feisty teams but we took the City Championships and then traveled and won the big prize.
What a way to finish youth hockey and head off to college!
1990-91 Taber Oil Kings (International Junior Hockey League)
An interesting and fun story happened while I was at the University of Lethbridge. I was playing in an intramural game where I scored about 8 goals. The coach of an IJHL - International Junior Hockey League team approached me after and offered me a contract.
I didn't have to practice with the team - just play. Every weekend I loaded up on the bus with the team and we traveled around to different cities in Canada and the U.S. It was something straight out of a movie!
Post-competitive play (AKA: Beer League)
I have been able to play hockey weekly since leaving college and the IJHL. When I joined IBM in 1994, I would travel every year to the Prairies Classic where we competed with other Western Canadian regions of IBM.
When I joined Lenovo in 2005, we had an annual game where we played against IBM for charity. Somehow the little company no one had heard of at the time, won 3 straight years!
In 2009, I moved to the US with Lenovo to work at HQ in Raleigh, N.C. I found a group of Canadian ex-pats (mostly nurses and medical professionals from Newfoundland) and we were able to grab a league championship:
In 2011, I moved up to Albany, NY and was able to play (and win) in the USA Hockey Classic Tournament in Lake Placid - on the same ice as the miracle in 1980!
Do you believe in miracles?
Finally, today I play with a team in the Capital District Hockey Association (CDHA) and we also won a league championship in 2016:
So, that is my hockey story.
I would love to play forever. In fact, there are several examples in Canada of men playing into their 90's. That is a lofty goal, but one worth pursuing in my books.