Former NHLPA head and the executive director of the new College Hockey Inc., Paul Kelly sat down with USCHO.com for a chat, and covered a number of interesting topics facing the college hockey world.
There were a couple interesting topics discussed and apparently I have lots of thoughts on them.
The first schools mentioned by Kelly were Arizona State, Delaware, Kentucky and Penn State. Later on, he talked about adding schools in major cities like Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, and somewhere in California.
Of those, I think Penn State is the most likely and has the most chance of success. In an ideal world, if I got to pick two places to drop college hockey programs, I'd probably choose USC and UCLA. California is the biggest area where college hockey is losing Americans to the CHL simply because playing college hockey requires moving far away from home to play junior hockey and earn scholarship and then going far away from home to play in college. Denver has cleaned up on some kids from non-traditional areas lately simply because it's as close to the west coast as you get in college hockey. USC and UCLA are both in a major metro area, are really well known schools, and would have a natural rivalry with each other. There's also the added benefit that with two more teams way out west, you could have three smaller, much more regional conferences in the west as opposed to two overstuffed conferences right now.
Some of the other cities are less appealing. Theoretically the idea of a team in a major city is nice, but the problem is that you have to have a school attached to it. The University of Illinois-Chicago already tried a team back in the 90's and it failed, because UIC just isn't going to draw much buzz in Chicago. Same goes Washington DC. Navy would be nice addition just because it's another team, and the more opportunities out there, the better, but a service academy isn't going to be drawing kids away from the CHL. Pitt moved to D-I club hockey fairly recently. I guess that would be the next best choice, especially if Penn State got in the mix.
-College teams getting younger
The theme of getting colleges to take more 18-year-olds rather than warehousing them in the USHL for a year or two was mentioned a couple of times.
The problem with colleges wanting older, more mature and developed players is that CHL teams have more flexibility when it comes to signing younger players, since they can cut and trade them. For a very good, but not quite top-shelf 16-year-old hockey player deciding between the CHL and NCAA, he may have the CHL telling him he can sign a contract and play for them right away, while the college recruiting him is telling him they want to see how he does in the USHL--where he might not make a team or seriously contribute for another year or two-- before they're really ready to make a serious offer. Again, it's a particular problem in California, where there are lots of players that could develop into nice players, lots of WHL teams, and limited scouting opportunities for most colleges.
I think one of the big selling points for college hockey is the level of play it offers, and making teams younger just dimishes that. As it stands now, the players that are good enough to come to college as 18-year-old freshman are forced to work harder and become more complete hockey players to fit into the college game, rather than developing bad habits as a top-line superstar.
The main issue College Hockey Inc., and college hockey in general, will have to deal with when it comes to dealing with the CHL is the CHL waving the false promise of "the fastest route to the NHL" under every decent player's nose, when the odds of that happening are fairly slim. So slim, in fact, that for all but a select few players, the focus should be on just making the NHL, rather than getting their as fast as possible, and a player is much more likely to take his best shot at that at the age of 22-24 than he is at the age of 20. In that case, an extra year in the USHL--which has improved tremendously in recent years--maybe isn't the worst thing for a players future.
The other main selling for college hockey is that for all but the very, very select few who make millions in the NHL, college hockey still offers the ability to earn a four-year degree and pursue a career in minor pro hockey, while the CHL still forces players to choose between getting an education OR a career in minor pro hockey--and as the numbers bear out, you guess which one the kids who've been bred to play hockey the previous four years of their life choose more often.
And of course the other problem is that I'm not quite sure how you mandate something like that. It's something teams do because it makes their team better. It's a shame to lose out on some of those kids, but the quality of play in college hockey is still outstanding, and it's still sending more and more kids to the pros without them, so I don't think it's worth cheapening the quality of the game.
Oh yeah, and he said junior leagues like the USHL should start taking more 16 and 17 year olds. Somebody in Minnesota-likely a high school coach--just had their head explode.
Kelly said he'd like to see more exempted games to make the schedule a little longer, but that it would be a really tough sell with the NCAA, which kind of goes along with my theory in regards to the WCHA tournament that it's pretty unlikely that the NCAA would be willing to stretch the season out any longer.
He also had an interesting idea about more showcase games including events at big name venues like Madison Square Garden, the Air Canada Center(College hockey and Allen's Pub? I'm in.), outdoor games, and traveling international teams.
All interesting ideas that maybe won't make a ton of impact, but should help increase the visibility of the game, and honestly, things like this are probably where College Hockey Inc. can make the most progress. As much as people talk about expansion, or other sweeping changes, there's some major limiting factors standing in the way of those things happening. Starting small is likely the only place real progress is going to be made.