August 31, 2011
Writing about the turf war, so-called, between the Canadian Hockey League and NCAA never fails to make for good reading — and Craig Custance's Sporting News feature about hockey's two solitudes does not disappoint.
Save for some vague comments by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, it is a bit of a rehash, but it hits all the marks. There's the usual bit of cognitive dissonance — Michigan coach Red Berenson telling a roomful of teens, ""You're giving up the four best years of your life," followed by an observation six paragraphs down that college hockey folk are most annoyed by missing out talents such as Patrick Kane who never would have spent four years at university — and some reiteration that major junior teams are paying players beyond what's been called "permissible benefits." It's almost like a smoke-'em-out strategy. (How did that work out for President George W. Bush again?)
"The amount of money under the table in those leagues is rampant," said RPI coach Seth Appert, who just ended his term as president of the American Hockey College Association. "That's against NCAA rules, no matter how we slice it."
Said Berenson: "I know some kids have been paid, there's no question about that. I can't tell you what the OHL allows or what they don't allow. I know some kids that have been paid."
In a conversation with Sporting News, one player weighing the decision confirmed he'd been offered a significant financial package to play in Canada, saying it's not an easy thing to turn down.
"Everybody has their price," he said. (Sporting News)
Perhaps to his credit, CHL president and Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch has realized there's no putting the toothpaste back in when it comes to the paying-players story.
It sort of erupted about three weeks ago after comments College Hockey, Inc., executive director Paul Kelly made to the Boston Globe. Branch addressed it again on Tuesday, pointing out that having a few deep-pocketed franchises throw money at a player could hurt the CHL, which operates in major cities and towns of less than 30,000 people alike.
"First of all, as I understand the statement from Mr. Kelly, was that a CHL team offered a player and/or his family $300,000. I'm not sure if it was necessarily paid orif that exchange took place. I did reach out to Mr. Kelly. We have missed each other and I do look forward to connecting with him because hopefully he can provide information. I know the three leagues [OHL, QMJHL, WHL] are committed to their affairs and making sure all of their teams are following the policies we have in place.
"Payments such as that are certainly not part of what we are and what we wish to be and so forth. I think, we all recognize from time to time over the years, there has been certain indiscretions, you might say. I do know, the great work [Western league commissioner] Ron Robison, as an example in the Western Hockey League, have done great work to enhance their scholarship programs to create a level playing field for all teams, as is the case in all leagues." (The Pipeline Show, audio)
Beyond the cross-border shin-kicking, the rest pretty much comes out in the wash. Most of us are adult enough to know the CHL and NCAA each pull their weight with producing NHL-calibre players. Most also know the oft-repeated line about major junior providing the fastest route to the NHL is only true for a handful of special players. For the other 90 per cent, it might be more agent-speak. Fortunately for college hockey, some players, with Denver-bound New York Islanders second-rounder Scott Mayfield being a prime example, are starting to see through it and realize being a two- or three-year collegian would not be so bad.
That might segue around to the main point. While it's sexy journalistically to talk about a turf war, really, all this is about Canadian, U.S. and European players being more educated about their options. Framing it that say doesn't have the same sizzle. However, the part of Custance's piece that struck a chord probably came from WHL manager of player development and recruitment Tyler Boldt. That might be a good place to leave this for now.
Part of [Boldt's] job is educating young players, including correcting misinformation he believes circulates about his league. His position exists largely because of the effectiveness of Kelly's campaign.
Yes, it's a fight, but there's a positive. Hockey-playing teenagers now are more educated about their options than any group before them. Glen Bates, a 16-year-old from Michigan, estimated that he's attended at least 10 College Hockey, Inc. seminars.
"It's increased people's thirst for knowledge," Boldt said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.