The U.S. National Junior Team’s candidates hit the ice this morning in Camrose, Alberta, officially opening Team USA’s preliminary camp for the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Twenty-eight players arrived in Camrose, with the notable absence being Justin Faulk, still with the Carolina Hurricanes. Mike Morreale of NHL.com caught up with Canes GM Jim Rutherford the other day for the latest on Faulk’s situation:
Rutherford told NHL.com via email that “no decision will be made [on whether the Hurricanes release him to USA Hockey] until the final possible date of Dec. 20.”
Rutherford went on to say that “this will be a tough decision for us. As much as we would like him to participate in the WJC, he is playing as a top-four defenseman with our club at this time.”
So the clock ticks on Justin Faulk, officially. Dec. 20 is the date of Team USA’s first exhibition contest against Russia. It is likely USA Hockey would like Faulk to be in Camrose no later than Dec. 21 so that he can get a little practice time with the team and be available for at least one pre-tournament game to get acclimated to Dean Blais’ system.
As Rutherford notes, Faulk is earning top-four minutes on a National Hockey League team. That may be all we need to know. With Faulk not joining camp right away, and the possibility that he’d miss five or more NHL games, the chances of him being made available seem to be dwindling.
The whirlwind of news surrounding Charlie Coyle’s departure from Boston University yesterday is probably a bit unwelcome due to the timing. Multiple sources have indicated the news was meant to be kept quiet until the conclusion of the the World Juniors. That certainly would have been the preferred route, but these things always have a way of getting out.
Guy Flaming of The Pipeline Show caught up with Coyle at the airport for the big center’s side of the story.
According to Coyle, everything happened kind of fast and up until his arrival in Alberta, nothing had been made official. However, he admitted to Flaming that the decision had been made, not because of struggling academics, but because he wanted to focus on hockey 100 percent. So Coyle has signed with the Saint John Sea Dogs, of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and defending Memorial Cup champion.
It’s another chapter in the CHL vs. NCAA saga, and it plays out in front of the highly visible World Junior Championship… in Canada.
Leaving school for a new team in the middle of a season is a rather big event in a player’s life, especially considering Coyle is a native of the Boston area and has not played away from home before. It can be a big distraction, knowing that he’ll be in a bit of a different world upon the conclusion of a rather significant tournament.
This will not play a role in Coyle’s status for Team USA. He is expected to be a key contributor after his surprise star role on last year’s team. However, this could be a potential distraction for Coyle, and perhaps also Adam Clendening, Coyle’s now former BU teammate and roommate and fellow USA camper.
Having a rather significant piece of news break regarding one of your key players the day the team gathers for camp has to be a bit unsettling for the USA staff, but as Coyle explained to Flaming Friday:
“I have a pretty level head, you have to just throw that aside and when people bring it up I’ll have to say that I’m focusing on [the WJC] and that’s what I’m going to try to do,” he said, “It’s off my plate now.”
When the World Junior Championship is held in Canada, the media can be one of the bigger distractions for the players. Coyle is going to be asked many questions about his move from BU to Saint John. Based on his comment, he plans to deflect the questions, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be thinking about it. It’s not an ideal situation for the player or the U.S. team, but it appears Coyle has a handle on it.
As long as he’s able to shrug off this somewhat life-altering decision, he should be able to compete at his usual high level and be a key contributor.
Now, tossing the World Juniors aside for a second, this is a very significant movement in the CHL vs. NCAA battle.
Coyle is a first-round draft pick and was a key part of the trade Minnesota made at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft to acquire Devin Setoguchi from San Jose. He is considered one of the Wild’s top prospects.
It is incredibly rare for a player with as high a profile as Coyle to pull the chute on his college team mid-season for apparently greener pastures in the CHL. In 2008, Kyle Okposo left the University of Minnesota, but that was to sign his first contract with the New York Islanders.
It is also rare for Boston University to lose a player to anyone. As one of the premier producers of NHL talent among NCAA Division I hockey programs, the school has a magnificent track record.
Coyle cited the desire to focus 100 percent on hockey as his reason for leaving school. Here is an issue that the NCAA will never, ever be able to shed. These kids have two major responsibilities if they go the NCAA route. They have the demanding schedule of Division I athletes and the sometimes equally demanding academic schedule of class time, studying and more studying. The athletes have to stay eligible, which for most DI hockey players hasn’t been a problem, and apparently wasn’t for Coyle. He simply wanted to focus on one thing and not the other.
That said, it is always going to be an issue for the NCAA. When Coyle goes to Saint John, he has one responsibility. Play hockey. He also gets to play on one of the most talented teams in all of the Canadian Hockey League.
When it comes to the CHL vs. NCAA battle, there are always going to be kids that are meant for school and those that aren’t. Apparently Coyle felt he wasn’t meant for school.
Just to answer the question as to why any player wouldn’t want to solely focus on hockey: There is a personal development benefit of school. Not only does a player get a good education, the responsibility of balancing hockey and school forces these players to mature. They have to prioritize and manage their time well, which are difficult-to-acquire skills. Some teams like to have a player that brings that off-the-ice maturity to go along with the on-ice talent. That’s not to say Major Junior players can’t acquire that maturity and personal development, it’s just in a different way.
In the end, juggling those responsibilities is not going to be for everybody and that’s just an issue that the NCAA has to accept, which they of course do without batting an eye.
They’re called student-athletes for a reason. Some kids will choose that they only desire to be one of those.