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College Hockey Fights Back

Dec 7, 2009 – 2:00 PM
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Bruce Ciskie

Bruce Ciskie %BloggerTitle%

USA Hockey recently invited 29 players to their tryout camp for the IIHF World Junior Championships, which begin Dec. 26 in Saskatchewan. Of the 29, ten of them will never play one second of college hockey, no matter what their eventual path to the pros is.

That's because nine players on that roster have relinquished their right to play college hockey by crossing the border into Canada and playing major junior hockey. Another has committed to playing major junior, bypassing a chance to go to college. A prominent figure in professional hockey is now working to change the trends.

Paul Kelly was removed as the executive director of the NHL Players' Association Aug. 31. While the union has struggled to find permanent leadership, Kelly has indeed landed on his feet in what could prove to be a very important role.

He has become the executive director of a venture called College Hockey, Inc. The biggest part of Kelly's job will be to help prevent elite young players from crossing the border and choosing major junior hockey over college hockey for their development.

Kelly has been traveling around the country in recent weeks, trying to meet as many college hockey people as he can while spreading news of his new job. While in Duluth, Minn., Saturday, Kelly did a few media interviews, including one with radio station KQDS-AM.

He explained his very simple mission with College Hockey, Inc.

"To raise the profile of college hockey across the United States," Kelly said. "Our primary mission is to stop the flow of talented young players from the United States up to the major junior leagues in Canada, and also to make it more palatable for talented young Canadian players to come down and play for our colleges and universities."

Kelly noted that the major junior leagues in Canada have done a good job promoting themselves as a top destination for young talent. Part of the problem, Kelly said, is the fact that colleges haven't really put up any kind of a united fight against the Canadian leagues -- primarily the Western, Ontario, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey Leagues.

So far this season, there have been two high-profile examples of players starting the college season, then bolting to major junior. Those players -- former Boston College forward Kenny Ryan and ex-Minnesota Gopher defenseman Sam Lofquist -- are now on major junior rosters and will never again be able to play college hockey.

"The only way to stop those midseason departures," Kelly said, "is to register all U.S. college players with USA Hockey. Once you register them with USA Hockey, they require a transfer from USA Hockey to go north into Canada. Unless (the school) was willing to grant their permission for a departure, and USA Hockey was willing to grant permission, he wouldn't be able to leave and play in Canada."

Because a large number of these midseason transfers are made at the behest of the team that owns a player's draft rights, Kelly said part of his mission would be to work with NHL organizations.

"We are going to have contact with the scouts," Kelly said. He said there are organizations -- he specifically cited Toronto -- that are supportive of their prospects playing college hockey.

Kelly is fully aware, as is anyone who follows college hockey, that it's highly unlikely anything notable will be accomplished overnight. In the end, what Kelly is trying to do is just get people to think more about the options these young players have when they are 15 and 16 years old.

"The college route is still an equally viable path to the NHL," he said. "We want to expose some of the myths that the major junior programs have been perpetrating across the United States, telling these kids about all the rosy things that go on in major junior. Frankly, it's not all that it's cracked up to be, and some of what they promise these kids never actually comes to fruition. We want to get information into the hands of these kids and their parents so they can make an informed choice."
Filed under: Sports
Tagged: paul kelly