Another packed weekend is in the books. Every Division I team has now played a game after the Ivy Leaguers got underway. This past weekend may have been the best yet, with several interesting and revealing series in conference play and teams beginning to get their legs under them.
To start off, however, our attention turns to something off the ice. Saturday, I wrote about the NCAA rules that make the Canadian Hockey League professional. The Canadian Hockey League Players Association has been apparently on a quest to change that fact in order to give CHL players an opportunity to earn an NCAA scholarship.
Coming up after the jump, the latest on the CHLPA and NCAA, a look at Denver’s offensive outburst to start the year, and ECAC teams that could make some noise on the national stage this year.
Guy Flaming of The Pipeline Show has been all over this thing, getting info from both sides and if Flaming’s last report is any indication, he may have been handed a bombshell.
Flaming obtained through the CHLPA a letter from Natasha Oakes, assistant director of academic and membership affairs. According to her LinkedIn profile, she specializes in compliance issues and rules interpretations.
In her email, Oakes offered an interpretation far different than any I have made myself as an admitted amateur or have been told by people inside college hockey, people you’d expect would know.
According to the letter, which is part of this incredibly informative and in-depth post here:
Per our phone conversations, our legislation indicates that a professional team is one that pays players beyond actual and necessary expenses or considers itself professional (NCAA Division I Bylaw 12.02.5). Per our discussion, it is my understanding the league pays its players a stipend that is beyond actual and necessary expenses; therefore, the players are considered professional.Our legislation in Bylaw 126.96.36.199.4 notes that ice hockey teams in the US and Canada classified by the Canadian Hockey Association (CHA) as major junior teams are considered professional under the legislation. As a result, even with the elimination of the stipend, these players would not have eligibility because of the classification of their hockey teams.If the stipend were to be eliminated and the association were to not classify the team as major junior, then they would not be considered professional per our legislation; however, you would need to consult with the CHA regarding the process of changing the classification.
This interpretation flies in the face of anything any of us have ever been told. The minimal stipend of $50 a week, which could easily be interpreted as actual and necessary expenses, and the major junior designation were not believed by me or anyone I’ve spoken to on the subject to be of significance in comparison to the players under NHL contract.
I’m not entirely sure how familiar Oakes is with the CHL, but not mentioning the fact that there are players under NHL contract in the league in her letter is telling. That is still a major hurdle, probably a bigger one than removing the stipend and changing the major junior classification. European players can lose games-worth of eligibility if a player under professional contract is sent down to his junior team. It happened already once this year.
Derek Clarke, the chief spokesperson for the CHLPA has a solution according to Flaming’s report, but it is one I have a hard time believing the CHL will have any interest in.
“When a player signs a pro contract, he can’t come back to the amateur league,” Clarke declared, “He should be entitled to go and earn the wage in the American Hockey League or somewhere in the farm system of the National Hockey League teams where they pay those players to play.”
Not sure the CHL is willing to make that change and it is one they would absolutely have to make to not be considered professional by the NCAA.
Flaming also reached out to Mark Bedics, a communications official with the NCAA, and he confirmed that the NCAA is having ongoing discussions with the CHLPA, and that there are some changes coming to streamline the NCAA’s rules in general (not specifically on this matter), but that no final decisions have been made and he was unable to confirm or deny if Oakes’s email was accurate.
So this is potentially a game changer, or it could be a non-starter. There are a lot of moving parts, but I remain skeptical that any significant change will be made in regards to allowing CHL players into the NCAA. There could be some huge benefits, but perhaps bigger problems that trickle down to every level of hockey if CHLers could become eligible for NCAA scholarships. In fact, it could negatively impact the NCAA in the end.
We’ll just have to keep following it as it progresses.
Denver’s High-Flying Offense
The second Drew Shore and Jason Zucker put pen to paper on their NHL contracts, I think a lot of us thought Denver was going to be in a world of trouble this season. Shore and Zucker accounted for 44 goals and 99 points last season. That’s a lot of offense to replace, not to mention veteran leadership.
Offense really hasn’t been an issue for the Pioneers so far, though. Through four games, Denver has scored 20 goals, five in each game and it hasn’t been what could be called an “easy” schedule either.
The Pioneers opened with a 5-1 win over UMass-Lowell, an NCAA tournament team a season ago. Then skated to a 5-2 victory over Air Force, another NCAA tournament team and traditionally sound defensive team. Denver then outscored Michigan Tech 10-3 in its opening weekend of WCHA play.
Junior Nick Shore, who posted 41 points last season, already has nine this year with team-bests in goals (5) and assists (4). It’s a sensational start to the season from the player Denver was expected to rely on most. Shore stepping up into the void left by brother Drew and Zucker will have to be a season-long thing if the Pioneers are to remain in the hunt.
Additionally, sophomore defenseman Joey Laleggia has been up to his productive ways with three goals and three assists to start the year. Laleggia parlayed a 38-point season as a freshman into a fifth-round selection from Edmonton at the 2012 draft. He is unquestionably one of, if not the best offensive defenseman in the country. Having that offensive support from the back end is huge.
To top it all off, the Pioneers have good depth in goal as junior Sam Brittain and senior Adam Murray have both appeared in two games and performed well. Brittain has a .970 save percentage, making 64 saves in two starts. Meanwhile Murray collected a .935 save percentage.
The Pioneers defensive group is a bit underrated as there’s a good mix on the blue line. David Makowski, who missed most of last season with injury, is a terrific two-way defenseman and already has three goals on the young season. Meanwhile there’s big Scott Mayfield who hits everything and has tremendous speed. Also, freshmen Nolan Zajac and Dakota Mermis have shown off their solid puck-moving abilities, while Montreal pick Josiah Didier and Chicago selection Paul Phillps accent the depth with good all-around abilities.
I’m not about to make a call on a team based on four games, but the way the Pioneers have opened the season is the kind of start that can propel a team to a highly successful season. Even without the big guns from last year, there might be enough for Denver to make a strong push all year long. Regardless of what the future holds, you better believe opponents are taking note of Denver.
EZAC? Maybe Not This Year
The oft-maligned ECAC gets criticized perhaps too much for its relative lack of elite teams. It’s not the WCHA or CCHA or Hockey East, but it’s not terribly far off either. That may be especially true this season.
Union, Cornell and Harvard each look like teams that could make noise on more than just a conference level. As constructed, each team has the ability to skate with anyone in the country and that’s going to make for an interesting race in the ECAC this year.
Cornell opened the season with a pair of wins against Colorado College, a fairly tough non-conference opponent. The Big Red can play stifling defense and have some pretty good team speed that will make them tough to play against. On top of it all is junior goalie Andy Iles who earned a shutout in the season opener. Cornell appears to be the frontrunner for the ECAC title, but both Harvard and Union will have a lot to say about it.
Union opened the year with a surprising 4-1 defeat at the hands of Merrimack, which has struggled to find consistency since that game. The Dutchmen recovered nicely however, rattling off three straight wins and scoring 17 goals in the process, albeit against weaker competition. A tie to UConn derailed some momentum, but the offensive potential of this unit is pretty intriguing. Kyle and Mat Bodie are already tearing up the scoring charts, with forward Kyle leading the way collecting a team best eight points. Meanwhile defenseman Mat has six points. Wayne Simpson, who posted 31 points last year, already has seven this season and could be another offensive standout this year. Goaltender Troy Grosenick hasn’t shown the form that made him a Hobey Baker candidate last year, but it’s only a matter of time. That makes Union a very intriguing squad.
Then there’s Harvard, a team that was good last season, but looks to have improved through recruiting. The Crimson played to 11 ties last season, but with the number of offensive weapons on this team, I’d expect them to seal the deal more this season.With just one game under its belt, a 5-0 win over Bentley, it’s tough to know exactly what we’ll get out of Harvard this year, but there’s reason for optimism.
Freshman Jimmy Vesey, the star recruit for this Harvard squad posted three points in his collegiate debut with two goals and an assist. He could be an exciting freshman to watch this season. Additionally, Harvard boasts defensemen Danny Biega, who is on everyone’s All-America lists after a 35-point performance last season. His strength, speed and skill make him one of the standout D prospects in the country. Another key for Harvard will be sophomore defenseman Patrick McNally, who posted 22 assists as a freshman last year. Another standout season from that pair of blueliners could make Harvard a bigger threat.
There’s also some good veteran talent up front led by seniors Alex Fallstrom and Marshall Everson and sophomore Colin Blackwell, not to mention another key recruit in Brian Hart. There are some really solid pieces for this team to compete.
Yale might be a step just below those other three this year, but the Bulldogs still have some serious talent on the roster. A couple of less-than-inspiring results to start the season — a 2-2 tie with Dartmouth and 3-2 win over Princeton — doesn’t breed a ton of confidence, but with guys like Kenny Agostino, Andrew Miller, Antoine Langiere, senior experience in net and an intriguing freshman class, there’s a chance for Yale to do some positive things this year.
It’s also important to mention the quick start by St. Lawrence and its dynamic duo of Kyle Flangan and Greg Carey highlighted last week. The Saints may not be at the same level as the previous three mentioned, but their offensive outburst against tough non-conference teams is notable. This is a team that could do some damage.
Quinnipiac and Colgate also look like they could be tough teams this year within the conference. Both have had some solid wins to start the year that put them on a positive track for the season.
It’s easy to bag on the ECAC, but the fact is, it’s a tough league to score in and whenever these guys get outside their conference, they’re tough outs. Especially with the three teams that could be considered top tier in the country, the ECAC deserves more respect this year. It could be a very exciting conference in 2012-13.
A few quick links to end the Roundup this week:
SBNation is putting more resources into covering college hockey, expanding on the work done by Chris Dilks at the fantastic Western College Hockey Blog to be more encompassing of the national scene. Check out their great work here. And follow their new Twitter feed here.