NCAA/CHL Battle Heating Up [UPDATED]

The college hockey world has been mainly focused on the constant realignment talk, but there’s another big story developing over this summer and it’s not a good one.

In recent weeks, three of the four college-committed players selected in the first round of the 2011 Entry Draft have decided to go to the OHL. J.T. Miller, previously committed to the University of North Dakota, has reportedly signed with the Plymouth Whalers. Jamie Oleksiak, who would have been a sophomore at Northeastern signed with the Saginaw Spirit last week. And the latest: I was informed by two independent sources that Connor Murphy will drop his commitment to Miami University and will sign with the Sarnia Sting. That is expected to be announced soon.

That leaves Tyler Biggs, a Miami recruit, as the only first-round draftee that has yet to drop his commitment in favor of the OHL. Biggs reaffirmed his commitment to Miami on the Pipeline Show Tuesday night. His rights are held by the Oshawa Generals.

Biggs is a Toronto draft pick. Brian Burke has a special connection to Miami and likely wouldn’t push Biggs in one direction or another. Burke knows Miami can develop his first-round pick. That said, Biggs just lost his college roommate in Murphy and there’s no doubt Oshawa has the full-court press on the power forward. You just never know.

The hits didn’t stop there. I was told last night by a reliable source that John Gibson, easily the top goaltending recruit in all of college hockey, will forego his commitment to Michigan to sign with the Kitchener Rangers. Michael Spath later confirmed this report via text with Gibson and Michigan head coach Red Berenson issued a statement saying, “John Gibson has decided not to attend the University of Michigan or to play college hockey.” This particularly stings for Michigan in that this is the second straight year they’ve lost the top goalie recruit in the country, as Jack Campbell was a previous Michigan commit before signing with Windsor.

Earlier today, I also got word that Reid Boucher, who was the leading goal scorer for the U.S. Under-18s at the World Under-18 Championship, also will be headed to the Sarnia Sting. Boucher, who was selected in the fourth round by New Jersey, has one year of high school left and was slated to play in the USHL next year before heading to Michigan State in 2012-13. Looks like plans have changed and Sarnia has itself another huge coup, while college hockey takes another hit.

[UPDATE (7/29): J.T. Miller signed with the New York Rangers Thursday, and Plymouth officially announced Miller signed with them on Friday morning. John Gibson's signing with the Kitchener Rangers was made official Wednesday afternoon. Connor Murphy's signing with the Sarnia Sting was announced Wednesday, shortly after this post was published. Just minutes prior to this update, Sarnia also announced that it had signed Reid Boucher. That's a rough couple of days for college hockey.]

Not only has college hockey lost the players that saw their profiles raise after being drafted this past June, they’re losing some top-end youngsters as well.

Three players that wouldn’t have been on college campuses until 2013-14 at the earliest have also gone north. Former BU recruit Anthony DeAngelo, who skated for Cedar Rapids in the USHL this year, signed with Sarnia earlier in the summer. Adam Erne, another BU recruit who played in the USHL last year, was traded to the Quebec Remparts and is expected to sign. Most recently, Brandon Shea, who had previously committed to Boston College and was slated to play at the NTDP this year, has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Moncton Wildcats.

These three players are top-end 1995 birth years. Unlike their older counterparts who are more developed, we don’t know how good these guys will be in the next two years. We know how good Miller, Oleksiak, Gibson and Murphy are. So college hockey losing those guys hurts a little more, for now at least. However, seeing three high-profile youngsters head north is bad news not only for college hockey, but the USHL as well.

So what does it all mean? This isn’t a post to argue college or Major Junior is a better option, because that’s a silly apples and oranges argument. Each path has benefits unique to individual players and it is impossible (and unfair) to make a blanket statement of one being better than the other.

As a fan of college hockey, I think there should be concern, though. Concern that this summer is going to become the norm and that more elite players are going to choose the CHL over the NCAA, thus hurting the level of play in college hockey.

Does a summer like this give off the impression that the CHL is actually better? To me it doesn’t, but to people unfamiliar with the development process it just might. Most importantly is this signalling to other prospective players that the CHL is clearly the “better” option?

Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald wrote about the NCAA’s perception problem, and makes a ton of valid points while focusing on one case. Neate Sager of Buzzing the Net had a counterpoint that I think may have taken Schlossman’s column slightly out of context, but still made valid points along the way.

I count eight (what I would consider) top-end, high-profile players that have chosen the CHL route after previously committing to a college, all of which are mentioned above. The optics of this are not good for college hockey. In this case, it is not necessarily the quantity of players choosing the CHL route, but the quality. The good players have influence over the next class coming up, without ever having to say a word.

I posed the question on Twitter as well, asking my followers: Knowing however much or little you know about this topic, which is better? CHL or NCAA? Most responded with “it depends on the player,” which I think is correct. It does in some ways. I’m not fully on board with that though, only because I believe if a player is good enough he’ll make it to the NHL regardless of path. I had to ask the question though, to see if that perception that one is better than the other exists. I was impressed and surprised to see the majority of people who answered couldn’t pick one over the other or say one was better.

A few folks have asked whether all of this realignment talk has had any affect on the players’ decisions. I would have to say no. It might have a little influence, but having been around top-end teenage hockey players, realignment is likely a tiny blip on their radars. The only thing on these kids’ minds is going to the NHL, in almost every single case. That player is going to make the choice that he and his family (or in some cases his NHL team) feel is the best path to get him to the NHL as quickly as possible.

Another issue at hand is the lateness of these broken commitments. Neate Sager had a great take on this very topic today. Regardless of what side of the debate you’re on, the college teams are getting royally screwed with these late defections.

I’m not going to criticize a kid for changing his mind. I’ve been around long enough to know that it happens far more than any of us would like. However, the teams that are just a month away from fall practice have to entirely shift plans for the season. They may have to find replacements. They can only hope they’ll be as lucky as Notre Dame was last year in being able to call in T.J. Tynan who was scheduled to play one more year of junior and went on to lead the team in scoring after Kyle Palmieri went pro. Odds are, that won’t be happening. It’s a shame for those schools to have such little time to recover.

At the end of the day, college hockey is a great path for pro development and shouldn’t be considered an inferior product to the CHL. It is just… different. That said, these high-profile defections deliver quite a blow to the college game. What is left to do? How does college hockey keep this from continually happening?

I guess that’s up to College Hockey, Inc., the commissioners and head coaches to figure out, but there really is no easy answer in this whole ordeal. I take issue with people saying the CHL “stole” a player, because at the end of the day, the choice is the kid’s (though its fair to say the CHL teams can be extra persuasive). College hockey has to find a way to make sure more kids are choosing it as opposed to the CHL.

It has been a long summer, and it might get longer, for college hockey. As a fan of the college game, I hope we continue to see a great on-ice product and more college kids making it to the NHL.

All that said, we all have to understand that these kids have options and there is never going to be an absolutely correct answer for which option a player should take. It’s one of those things that makes hockey’s development system entirely unique and often times entirely confusing.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL, NHL Draft, NTDP. Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to NCAA/CHL Battle Heating Up [UPDATED]

  1. Pingback: Preseason Top 10; Hobey watch; major junior defections | Rink and Run

  2. Well put, Chris.

    The biggest points of contention here, from the NCAA perspective, are that kids are not honoring their commitment and are changing their minds at the 11th hour, which makes it difficult — or impossible — for college coaches to replace them. I get this, but after years of this happening, I would think that college coaches would have learned to accept it as part of the package when recruiting top-end talent. A National Letter of Intent is not a legally-binding contract that forces a player to attend college. What it means is that if the player attends college, they will attend College X. Now, many kids will say “I’m going to College X” as opposed to giving the qualified statement “If I go to college, I’m going to College X” because, if they do, they’re not as likely to get scholarship offers.

    Instead of playing the guilt card and asking players to honor their commitments despite advice to do the contrary from NHL teams and advisors or agents, they should look at the root of the problem, play to their advantages, and get creative about the solution.

    1) NHL teams who push their players to the CHL do so because the schedule is longer. The NCAA should consider expanding its schedule longer by adding a mid-week game.

    2) The NCAA features older players which is attractive from a development standpoint. It also doesn’t have the same restrictions that the AHL has on admitting teenagers. If the NCAA considered removing its ban on former CHL players, those who were genuinely interested in college would play major junior as 16- and 17-year olds (instead of junior A) then could step up to the college ranks at 18 or 19. The downside to this is some would see college as a one or two-year transition between junior and pro, but that’s already the case for many players. Also, doing this would allow the NCAA to turn the tables on the CHL and start recruiting kids out of major junior. This all depends on the NCAA reversing its long-held view that major junior is professional. In major junior, most of the kids are billeted, fed and educated with a little spending money. It’s really not that much different than a kid getting a full ride scholarship at Division 1 school.

    I think that NCAA has a lot to offer players, and for many of them, it is the best option. A player such as Kyle Turris, for example, made the right call to go to Wisconsin but didn’t stay there long enough.

    What the NCAA has to realize, though, is that they will continue to lose players unless they change the way they operate. The situation reminds me of this quote from American author William Arthur Ward. “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

    College Hockey needs to adjust the sails.

  3. Rusty says:

    Good stuff Chris. It is a major concern for the NCAA and the USHL. I don’t think I have the solution on what college hockey needs to do in order to make itself more attractive to these players, but obviously there is a problem somewhere. It doesn’t help the USHL either during the process of bringing top players into the league when that young talent sees these players opt for the CHL instead of the NCAA.

    One thing that isn’t mentioned is the power of agents. They are pushing a lot of players a certain way, and let’s not kid ourselves, CHL teams are offering top players big money (wonder if they are filing that money on their taxes??). Money that is provided by the NHL to CHL clubs is being used in this effort to lure kids up north. Is this what “development dollars” is all about?

    It is up to the individual players. The freedom of choice is a great thing. I don’t agree with some of the choices, but those players will have to live with those choices. They have basically limited their options by making this choice however. Giving up an opportunity to have the college experience and college education (and I don’t want to hear about this CHL education package because anyone with any sense knows that is a joke and a small percentage actually benefit from it). They have also shortened their window as they better make something happen by the time they are 20 or else they find themselves with no contract, no education, and no direction.

    USHL and NCAA is a route that can get players to the NHL. Sure they both can get better, but we can all be better at what we do. There is a perception problem for sure and hopefully the good people working hard at it can change that perception because a lot of good players are going to get lost making choices that limits their future options.

  4. Al says:

    Some big news and good dialogue here. One alternative thing to add to Ryan’s address without getting into a grand scheme is allowing a minor adjustment of having the players attend school a couple of weeks (or so) early to get ahead academically. Then with that possible window open, allow the player to attend a pro camp as a “work experience” or “apprenticeship” program. They wouldn’t need to get paid for it but rather just sign a indemnity clause. A pre and post season could be done. There is a current 48 hour window (but I think recently expanded) wherein the player can attend a respective NHL team’s development camp. I dont think that platform is much different.

    I remember when Jason Whitlock commented on the overseas departure of basketball’s point guard, Brandon Jennings, there was going to be some change. The move never seemed to cause a mass exodus of players but if it did I am sure there would be a meeting of the minds.

    Of course the biggest hurdle is the NCAA. Perhaps they should ponder the quote that Ryan referred to, and adjust the sails.

  5. Anonymous says:

    First of all, the headline “NCAA/CHL Battle Heating Up” to me does not sound proper.

    NCAA is roughly defined as a American college sport organization that oversees and makes rules for all college sport teams including eligibility rules for their student-athletes. It’s more or less related to academic world.

    CHL – Canadian Hockey League – an umbrella hockey organization for OHL, WHL and QMJHL in Canada. They are considered professional hockey league for Junior players. Here we’re talking about businesses, about $$$$. The only problem is their players can not get into American colleges when their Jr days are over and they can not get into NHL.

    I’d like to add also that there’s one thing that wasn’t mentioned in the article is the power of GMs and Coaches, most of them are Canadian-born, in the NHL. I am not surprised if an American kid who was drafted by NHL clubs are pressured by their NHL teams to go CHL route. If that’s what it takes to get their draftees ready for NHL, that’s their business and so be it. I’d like to know more about it if anyone has any perspective on it. I’d like to see how these American young men turn out once their playing in Canada is over and hopefully make it to the NHL in a few short years.

    Talking about CHL and American colleges, does Canada NOT have any college for their kids to go to ? then they have to go to the US to go to college ? I truly believe that American college scholarships are for American kids who are eligible to get one. The only question remains: what if an American kid go to CHL, can not make it to NHL, then what kind of option does he have ? Here in America, no one cares.

    • To Anonymous 8 pm: Yes Canada has colleges and have college hockey that is made up of ex CHLers. Every year a kid (Canadian, American, European) plays CHL Hockey he gets one year of schooling paid for for any school in Canada and the ability to play CIS Hockey (Canada’s version of NCAA). Only one stipulation is once you play a year an a half of pro hockey, you lose your scholarship money.

      So if a player tries to play in the minors for two seasons he looses his scholarship. If he plays a season in the minors and what reason decides to use his scholarship he accrued playing in the CHL he can enroll in a school, play CIS hockey even though hes pro. An example Mike Danton

      • Anonymous says:

        Let’s just talk about Hockey, not NCAA basketball, it’s another beast all together. If you want to talk NBA pro basketball, let’s move to another forum, at another time.

      • Anonymous says:

        When did that happen ? Never heard that until now. Canadian kids go to the US to attend colleges, or get hockey scholarships.

    • Anonymous says:

      Many go and play College Hockey in Canada after playing in the CHL

  6. Anonymous says:

    Question: How many young American hockey prospects take the CHL route and make it to the NHL in the last 10 years ? There’re sure a few more, but honestly I only heard of one: Patrick Kane of Chicago Blackhawks.

  7. Bobby Ryan, Dustin Brown, Zach Bogosian, Ryan Callahan, Scott Gomez, Brandon Dubinsky, Craig Anderson, Keith Yandle, John Carlson, Cam Fowler, David Legwand, Jason Bacashihua, Chad LaRose, James Wisniewski to name a few

  8. Paul says:

    The balance has tipped to the CHL because the perception (if not the reality) is that the entry age into the NHL is getting younger. That means if you are going to take a shot at the NHL you need as much experience as possible at an early age. Player-perspective translation: How do I make the most of my hockey development during the most critical years–which are 16, 17, 18, 19 years old? Well, given that most players don’t even start college until 19 the answer for more and more players is enter a developmental league focused on THAT age group.

    The realities of earlier adolescent maturation are becoming a bigger and bigger problem for the NCAA. This is becoming a problem for NCAA basketball too.

    As for education, the CHL education package allows a kid to obtain the equivalent of a 4-year scholarship (4 years of college tuition) after having completed his 19-year-old season. That is about the time when that same kid would ENTER an NCAA program. Of course, entry into the NHL would greatly discount the educational benefits promised by either route because of the fantastically high salaries and fame.

    • Anonymous says:

      Let’s just talk about Hockey, not NCAA basketball, it’s another beast all together. If you want to talk NBA pro basketball, let’s move to another forum, at another time. I assume that’s you’re American (otherwise you don’t know a whole lot about basketball in the US.

    • Anonymous says:

      Paul, nobody wants to go Canada to attend college …. trust me. It sounds as if there’re not enough colleges and universities in the US that American kids got to migrate to Canada to get education.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t seen it reported in the American news media, until then everything is just hearsay.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Paul, I’d say, the balance has tipped to the NHL, not CHL, because they pay CHL millions to develop young prospects every year. CHL works for us Americans I think.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Again Paul, I’ve never heard of an education package offered by the CHL. Got to check to see if it’s not a lie. When did that happen ? Even if it did, I wonder how those CHL kids could study and play hockey at the same time ???? It’s impossible, can’t happen ….

    • Conan says:

      They’re high schoolers too, some of them also take college courses either in person or online. And another thing about CIS hockey, it’s not NCAA or CHL hockey for sure, but the top teams are actually very good. In fact, the University of New Brunswick beat Maine in an exhibition game, at Maine no less. I’m not one to stick up for CIS/CHL hockey, but I just had to set the facts straight.

    • Anonymous says:

      anonymous your should get your facts straight before you enter into a discussion… In the CHL every player gets one year of schooling for every year played. You say you don’t know how the kids can study and play hockey at the same time… Isn’t that what the NCAA student athletes are doing…l

      One other thing being in a WHL market it is my understanding that all team in the CHL are not connected in anyway to the NHL…Now if you are talking about the AHL or the ECHL those teams are connected..

      By the way not all CHL teams are in Canada…
      Go Everett Silvertips…….

  12. Anonymous says:

    Fun talking to you guys.

    Bottom line: NCAA or Major Jr, it is the choice for those young American prospects to make, along with their families (parents) in conjunction with the NHL club who hold their draft rights. It’s billion $$$$$ business that no one has any business meddling with. Btw, why not USHL ? and I understand there’re 3 OHL teams based in the US, 2 in Michigan ?

    • Paul says:

      Anonymous: And one in Ohio.

      Also, there are five U.S.-based WHL teams that comprise the U.S. Division: Everett, Seattle, Portland, Tri City, and Spokane.

      I believe the only U.S.-based QMJHL team moved this year.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Paul & Nathan, out of 17 names of American players in the NHL that you guys mentioned, at least half a dozen are not regular (I don’t want to name names). They mainly play for their minor AHL clubs, bounce around AHL and NHL as they’re recalled & assigned if needed. As for Peter Mueller, the last I heard is he is still on IR list with the Avalanche.

  14. Paul says:

    Most of the players we named are pretty young. Bowman, a Colorado native, for instance, played in the WHL the year before last. Many of the guys on Nate’s list are young too.

    This is consistent with the general theme that the problem of U.S. players opting to play in the CHL is greater now than it was 10 years ago. That is why they recently created College Hockey Inc. I am afraid that the recent realignment in college hockey will not help the cause..

  15. Anonymous says:

    One last note before call it the night. Correct me if wrong, CHL carries longer seasons, 7 to 8 months long a year plus playoffs, they play 2 or 3 games a week, practice up to 2 sessions a day. 1 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon, up to 5 days a week. Each player gets paid a small monthly stipend just enough for room and board, maybe a little leftover for pocket change, doing nothing but learn and practice and play hockey year round. It’s good for a selected few who know well ahead of time exactly where they’re going. If this’s not like a pro career, tell me what is.

    As for NCAA, it’s NCAA, playing sport games in an academic environment, getting scholarships, playing sports and get an education at the same time, it’s a free ride for most of us. It’s a deal that can’t be matched anywhere. Of course, they can make it to NHL too with dedication and hard working. There’re some NCAA hockey athletes who spend only a year or 2 at the college level before they make their big jump to NHL.

  16. I was at work and was just listing players off the top of my head…Out of the guys I listed maybe 2 are fringe players….Another big name Dustin Byfuglien…Others include Brian Boucher, Rob Schremp, Nick Palmieri…I dont think I will win this argument since you are looking for “super star status” players. Obviously you will rattle off Americans left in right that came from NCAA because thats the main path to the NHL for American kids. Americans are flocking to the CHL more and more each year.

    I covered the Lewiston Maineiacs (QMJHL) which folded after this season. Their day to day was kids were in school from 8am-12 pm and practice from 1-2:30. It could be different for each team but I highly doubt many teams have two on ice practices a day. Players dont have to pay for room and board, the team pays the billets for expenses like for food.

    As for the CHL Education Package heres some info.

    http://chl.ca/page/whlinfo

    http://chl.ca/page/ohlinfo

    http://chl.ca/page/qmjhlinfo

  17. Pingback: Fairbanks and the WCHA; Western Michigan; Frank Serratore | Rink and Run

  18. Pingback: College hockey coming to Versus? CHL / NCAA Debate | Red, White & Blue Line

  19. Anonymous says:

    Great article on the slanted view of Americans losing their hockey players to Canada. Canadians have never argued when their top level Basketball, Baseball, and Football players are all IMMEDIATELY snapped up by the NCAA, forgoing a Canadian education in hopes of making it pro, but of course, Americans will whine as soon as it starts happening the other way.

    The simple fact of the matter is this: If you are a hockey player with any sort of serious talent, you will be in the NHL before the age of 22. Making a commitment that you will have to break, and leaving college without a degree is not worthwhile for a lot of players, especially when there is a clearly superior league that grooms you for playing pro hockey, and only deals in players aged 16-20.

    If you are considering hockey as a career, the choice isn’t even remotely close. The CHL completely blows the doors off of anything the NCAA can offer, and gives you 10X the exposure among pro scouts.

    • Chris Peters says:

      I think you might have read the post wrong. I also wholeheartedly disagree with your statement that the choice isn’t even remotely close. Additionally, if you think a player who skates in the NCAA, USHL, prep schools, high schools, etc., in the U.S. are getting 10x less than their CHL counterparts, you’re just being ignorant.

      I hate the argument that one is better than the other. For some players that may be true, but the good players can play anywhere. They will get seen, they will get developed and if they are good enough, they will make it to the NHL.

  20. Jay says:

    I’m American and I live in a city with a CHL team (seattle). The reason the CHL constantly gets the top players is because it is built around the NHL. You get a 72 game schedule and cost of living finances. This whole U.S v.s Canada thing is for people looking for a fight. Ask the WHL all 5 of it’s U.S based teams bring in good crowds and money. I have been to some college games they don’t compare to the level of play of CHL players, and really it’s because the CHL games are more comparable to NHL style games.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Want to play pro hockey? Go to the CHL. Not sure and have academic ability? Head to NCAA. BTW, Tyler Biggs father also played for Oshawa. Sooner or later, he will too. One more point…Unlike the NCAA, CHL scholarships are guaranteed. One year for each year you play and that can’t be taken away.

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