College Hockey Roundup: Paul Kelly Resigns; More Trouble at BU; Hunwick for Hobey?

Early Monday evening, it was announced that Paul Kelly was resigning from his post as executive director of College Hockey Inc. The announcement came from the Hockey Commissioners Association, which oversees College Hockey Inc. The news came as a total shock for pretty much everyone not directly involved in this.

From College Hockey News.

“The HCA would like to thank Paul for his service to CHI and wish him the best in his future endeavors,” HCA President, and ECAC commissioner, Steve Hagwell said in the statement.

However, the statement also said that the commissioners may choose to “chart a different course” for the position. The HCA has not said anything about a replacement, but may hire someone in the interim.

The timing and somewhat abrupt end of Kelly’s tenure set alarm bells off. The way the statement reads from the HCA made it sound as though this resignation was less than voluntary.

The muted well wishes and the “chart a different course” line made it sound like there was more than meets the eye. And perhaps there was, as Todd Milewski of USCHO reported:

Sources described a falling out between the commissioners and Kelly that had been a while in the making, based on a difference of opinions on College Hockey Inc.’s scope.

But the final straw, the sources said, was Kelly recently approaching athletic directors from some ECAC Hockey schools about meeting to give College Hockey Inc. a more leading role in the administration of Division I men’s hockey.

Kelly gave a different account to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com:

“Time to move on. I told them I’d give them two-three years to get the entity established and operational,” Kelly wrote in a text to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun. “It’s been 28 months and it’s time for a new challenge. Although I did enjoy being of service to the college; great group of coaches, media and other personnel.”

Notice that the commissioners didn’t warrant a mention, unless they’re the “other personnel.”

In Kelly’s two-plus years at the helm of College Hockey Inc., college hockey had a voice in the fight to keep recruits from going to Major Junior. Kelly was able to say things the coaches and commissioners couldn’t or wouldn’t, even if many times it ended up as controversial.

Kelly, as former head of the NHLPA, came to CHI with name recognition, a strong background as an accomplished lawyer and proven leadership. His connections within the hockey industry were likely as valuable as his resume itself.

The organization can survive without him, for sure, but this situation raises some interesting questions. If Kelly did indeed seek out more power, what kind of power was he looking for? Why did he feel he needed it?

It is clear that the Hockey Commissioners Association and Kelly were on different pages as to what direction College Hockey Inc. should be going in.  To be honest, I think a good portion of people who cover or follow college hockey closely don’t have a clear vision for it either. It’s such a unique entity.

While we may never fully understand what happened to lead to Monday’s announcement, it does call attention to one of the more complex issues: The structure of power in college hockey.

Ultimately, it is the conglomeration of athletic directors that hold the power in the sport. They are the ones that hire and fire conference commissioners, who are apparently the ones that hire and fire the leader of College Hockey Inc.

At the end of the day, the conference commissioners really don’t hold a lot of power. Let’s not forget, they were left at the side of the road while this summer of realignment blew up the college hockey universe, dismantling the WCHA and delivering a fatal blow to the CCHA. It was an effort completely driven by athletic directors and continually mishandled by the men the conferences hired to guide them.

The NCHC was born out of an increasing frustration with the direction of the WCHA and commissioner Bruce McLeod in particular. Realignment brought two once proud conferences in the WCHA and CCHA to their knees. So I can understand if the commissioners were a little jittery about who controls the power.

Perhaps the reason college hockey continually gets in its own way is because of the lack of a consistent vision. With 57 athletic directors and five conference commissioners, the view of where college hockey is and where it should be is fractured.

The athletic directors and commissioners all have a stake in the future of college hockey, but none can chart a course that will work for everybody. There are so many individual interests in college athletics that it becomes very difficult to make a move that will benefit the group as a whole.

This is a problem across college athletics, but one that could be particularly damaging to college hockey that has a unique set of circumstances to other NCAA-sponsored sports.

A potential new course for College Hockey Inc., would be to work as consultants to the athletic directors and commissioners, to look at things more independently. There have been too many cooks in the kitchen for far too long. Granting College Hockey Inc. some autonomy and some breathing room might not hurt.

I still don’t really know what the Hockey Commissioners Association does beyond overseeing College Hockey Inc., and handing out monthly awards. Is it necessary with what little power the commissioners actually possess? With all due respect to the five men charged with managing the conferences, it’s difficult to say college hockey is headed on a clear path to the future. No one really knows what realignment will bring. It could be positive for the game, it could blow up in everyone’s faces.

If there is a new course for College Hockey Inc., it should be up to the new executive director to evaluate the landscape and take control of that course. If college hockey wants to stop getting in its own way of future success, it needs a strong individual to help plot a path of least resistance. It will be impossible to please every school and every conference, but an independent voice could go a long way in creating a brighter future for college hockey.

I’ll be following this story closely as it continues to develop.

Until then, here are a few more takes on Kelly resigning:

Western College Hockey Blog
Ciskie Blog

UPDATE (3:30) — Nate Ewell has been named interim executive director of College Hockey Inc., after having served as communications director since the middle of last season.

Ewell is a dynamic public relations professional. He came to CHI after serving as vice president of communications for the Washington Capitals. A Princeton alum and former Michigan State hockey sports information director, Ewell is deeply passionate about college hockey.

This was absolutely the right hire in the interim for College Hockey Inc. Ewell has a deep background in college hockey. He also has a significant knowledge of the current landscape and challenges faced by college hockey and a desire to find solutions.

He could be the guy that fosters College Hockey Inc. into the new direction the commissioners appear to want it to go, if he chooses to be that person. I wouldn’t anticipate Ewell simply being the commissioners’ puppet, however. Ewell has strong ideas and opinions and could be a great leader for the future, if he wants to do it.

More Trouble at BU

A bad off-ice season for Boston University got worse when defenseman Max Nicastro was arrested Sunday morning. Nicastro appeared in court today in handcuffs, where he was charged with two counts of rape.

Nicastro’s arrest comes 10 weeks after BU’s leading scorer Corey Trivino was arrested on numerous counts, including sexual assault. Trivino was dismissed from the team.

Nicastro has been suspended until the investigation is completed.

It is important to point out that neither player has been convicted of any crime yet, but the amount of trouble their in is awfully deep.

Head coach Jack Parker has come under fire a bit, with many a pundit wondering if the multiple instances of alleged wrongdoing is a culture issue at BU. Parker addressed those concerns with the Boston Globe.

Parker is a legend in college hockey, but these last 10 weeks have left a bit of a black eye on the program. Parker has dealt with misbehavior swiftly in the past, having dismissed players like Vinny and Victor Saponari (Trivino was suspended at the same time as those dismissals).

A coach can’t be with his players 24/7, but whatever message of being a good citizen he’s been delivering to his players is not connecting. I have a hard time hanging this on Parker, but it speaks to an issue that will require greater attention.

College athletes get in trouble. It’s happening weekly across the country. College students get in trouble in general, but athletes get more attention. They are rightfully held to a higher standard.

It is time for college hockey players to stand up and make a commitment to being better than this. Sexual assault charges are incredibly serious, and under the umbrella of sexual assault lies some of the most despicable crimes a human being can commit.

Trivino and Nicastro are innocent until proven guilty, but college hockey players nationwide better take a lesson from this.

The entitled mentality that many hockey players across this continent can lead to these situations. It’s a hard mentality to break, but for the personal development of these players, more has to be done to make them understand.

The message is simple. Respect women. Respect your fellow human beings. For a game that commands respect on the ice, this shouldn’t be a very hard lesson to learn.

Now let’s get back to the on-ice topics…

Hunwick for Hobey?

With every win the Michigan Wolverines rack up, the stronger the case for goaltender Shawn Hunwick to garner more serious Hobey Baker consideration, with a strong push from Michigan backers, obviously.

The former walk on has appeared in every game but one for the Wolverines, more out of necessity than anything else. In back-to-back years, Michigan lost prized goaltending recruits Jack Campbell and John Gibson to the Ontario Hockey League. Hunwick’s back up is walk-on Adam Janecyk, who has had very limited experience. Without Hunwick, Michigan probably wouldn’t have a prayer.

Does a player being most valuable to his team make him the most outstanding player in college hockey? If Hunwick is to have a chance at winning college hockey’s most prestigious individual award, that is the argument voters will wage internally. It’d be hard to argue a player has meant more to his team this season than Hunwick, but has he been truly outstanding?

A rough patch in November may be a sticking point, as the Wolverines went winless in seven straight.

However, Hunwick’s numbers have remained pretty solid. He’s posted a 20-9-3 record, 2.05 goals-against average and .932 save percentage, with four shutouts.

That said, only two goaltenders have won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, and the last guy to do it was Ryan Miller in 2001.

Miller’s 2000-01 campaign for Michigan State will go down as one of the greatest season-long performances by a goaltender in the history of college hockey. That’s what it takes to win the Hobey.

Miller won 31 games, posted a 1.32 goals-against average and set an NCAA record with 10 shutouts.

Hunwick is a great story, an important part of the Michigan Wolverines and by all-accounts a great goaltender.

With Colgate’s Austin Smith having one of the best goal-scoring seasons in the last decade, Jack Connolly on pace for a career year at Minnesota Duluth and Maine’s Spencer Abbott leading the nation with 52 points, the Hobey field is awfully crowded.

Hunwick would have to put on an insane show over the last few weeks of the season and into conference tournament play to garner finalist consideration.

Hunwick at the very least belongs in the conversation, but Ryan Miller and first Hobey goalie, Minnesota’s Robb Stauber probably won’t be getting any company this year.

LINKS

RANKINGS ROUNDUP:
USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine
USCHO
Pairwise

College Hockey PROSPECTive is a fairly new blog that has been churning out a lot of great content regarding college recruits. There have been many features and Q&A’s with some of the hottest recruits.

Not necessarily college hockey, but notable: Former college hockey beat writer for USCHO and Yale alum, Katie Baker was named by AdWeek’s readers as the “Best Sports Journalist/Commentator” for its Sports Media and Marketing MVPs. Katie has been hitting home run after home run at Grantland, so you best be reading her stuff.

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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.
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One Response to College Hockey Roundup: Paul Kelly Resigns; More Trouble at BU; Hunwick for Hobey?

  1. mattgajtka says:

    Ewell has some strong opinions alright…including alleging conspiracies against the Capitals on his Twitter account when he was employed by the team. Sorry I lost some respect for him in that role.

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