Last Saturday, I was on the Pipeline Show-you can hear the interview here, I'm on the Oct. 23rd show-and one of the things I was asked about is why nobody in the college hockey world had really commented on Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki releasing senior Erick Belanger, and juniors Taylor Stefishen and Mike Folkes before the start of the season. Taylor Stefishen, who eventually signed with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, made it seem as though the split wasn't all that amicable. Anyway, it was a fair question to ask, and since I kind of stammered through an answer in the short interview, I figured I may as well comment on it here where I've got the time and space to be a little more thorough.
It's certainly nothing shocking in the hockey world for a new coach to want to build his team with "his players". That's true for any level of hockey anywhere. And maybe that's why it wasn't reported on more. Players getting cut from a team when a new coach comes in at any other level of hockey is likely to only be mentioned in the 'Transaction' section of the newspaper. Even in college hockey, which gets held to a little higher standard since player movement is more difficult, it's fairly commonplace for a few players to disappear off the roster when a new coach comes in. Nobody is decrying Dean Blais for telling a few players, either on his team, or who had a verbal commitment to UNO, to look for somewhere else to play so he could bring in more of his recruits. It's unfortunate, but that's just the way the system works. But what leads me to believe there may be more to this than what is being said is that Osiecki didn't cut these three to make room for "his players". He cut them in return for no players.
Osiecki was hired early in the summer by Ohio State, and while he picked up a few commitments over his first summer, they were all for 2011 or later. There are no players recruited by Mark Osiecki on this year's Buckeye team, and there was no possibility of adding any new recruits to the current roster after cutting those players so late into the fall.
The argument could be made that he's making room for new recruits starting next season, but if that were the case, he could have let those players play out this season and Erick Belanger would have graduated and come off the books anyway. Stefishen and Folkes could have played out the year as well before not having their scholarships renewed at the end of the season. If anything, being released when they were was perhaps of benefit to them, since it allowed Stefishen to play an overage year in the WHL before going pro, and if Folkes' wanted to transfer to a different school, his odds of transferring are much better with two years of eligibility left rather than one.
Add in Osiecki's comments from CCHA Media Day about some upperclassmen not putting in any work over the summer, it really seems like Osiecki's intentions weren't all that sinister. He simply felt his team would be better off without those three players on it. They were maybe victims of a new coach coming in and dealing with some of the older players a little harsher to send a message that there would be a change in culture around the program, and perhaps their release could have been handled in a better way by the OSU coaching staff, but every coach has the right to fill out his lineup the way he sees fit.
The Pipeline guys do bring up an interesting point about the NCAA's transfer rules. I've always been in favor of a player sitting out a year, simply because there still is the academic component to NCAA hockey, and you don't want players switching schools on a whim because he may not be getting the right ice time, or he sees another school that might have a better year. Sitting out a year is a serious enough thing that a player isn't going to do it unless he really feels like he needs to get out of a school.
But there has been a growing opinion, not just in hockey, but also football and basketball, that players should be given the opportunity to transfer without penalty in the case of a new coach coming in. It's a difficult decision, because you don't want an entire team of players jumping ship and leaving a program in shambles any time a new coach comes in, but with playing and coaching styles becoming so specialized, there just seems to be a lot of these types of situations where certain kids get left out in the cold when a new coach comes in.