UND's game against Clarkson will impact the futureWINNIPEG, Manitoba — Paul Kelly is excited about tonight’s unique game here between the University of North Dakota and Clarkson, but admits that probably not everybody feels that way.
By: Brad Schlossman, Forum Communications Co.
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Paul Kelly is excited about tonight’s unique game here between the University of North Dakota and Clarkson, but admits that probably not everybody feels that way.
Sure, it’s a critical nonconference game that could shape the NCAA tournament picture at the end of the season, but the contest has deeper meaning than that.
It’s a move by UND to increase its profile in Manitoba, while trying to gain an edge in a red-hot battle between college hockey teams and Canadian major juniors to lure talented young players its direction.
Kelly, the executive director of College Hockey Inc., said recently that he hasn’t heard any criticism about the game from major junior teams directly, but acknowledges that “it is my guess they would prefer it not happen.”
“I think it’s a very good thing,” Kelly said. “A lot of credit goes to North Dakota for being the moving force behind this. We’re all about informing kids about their options. This is a chance for kids from Manitoba to see, live and in person, the level of play. I would like to see more do it in the future.”
UND has been at the center of the battle between colleges and Canadian major juniors, which are made up of three leagues — the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The NCAA considers these professional leagues because many players are under contracts. If a player signs with a major junior team, he gives up college eligibility.
During the summer, just two weeks after shaking hands with UND coach Dave Hakstol at the NHL draft, first-round pick J.T. Miller informed the school that he was ditching his plans to play for UND and would instead play major juniors. That move has left UND shorthanded at forward this season.
The spotlight on UND has continued through this year as two of the team’s top commitments — forward Stefan Matteau and defenseman Jordan Schmaltz — have been consistently pursued by the major junior teams that hold their rights. Both players could be first-round NHL draft picks in June.
Schmaltz, whose father and uncles played football at UND, has consistently rebuffed major juniors. Matteau, whose father coaches in the QMJHL, hasn’t completely ruled out going across the border.
“North Dakota recruits elite players,” said Kelly, who will attend tonight’s game, “and elite players are going to be in demand from major junior clubs. It’s an inevitable part of our business. (The battle) will always exist. That’s my sense. We just want to make sure it is done respectfully.
“It is our position that once a kid signs a letter of intent, demonstrated his intent in written form, he should be off limits and should not be continually recruited until at least after his freshman year. The continued recruiting of players after they’ve committed in writing to colleges, we find that conduct to be unacceptable. We’ve communicated that fact to them and the NHL. We’re hoping to bring some order to the process.”
College Hockey Inc., was created two years ago in order to help the colleges with this battle. Colleges are often limited in their contact with young players because of NCAA rules, while major junior teams draft players and try to sign them at ages 14 and 15.
Kelly and co-workers Nate Ewell and Jeff Dwyer have been conducting seminars in Canada to help educate young players about college hockey throughout the last two years. They will hold another one in Winnipeg this morning in conjunction with the game, which has been dubbed the U.S. College Hockey Classic.
“I think it’s going to take another year or two to see the full effect of our efforts,” Kelly said. “No doubt, we will see fewer U.S. kids leave the country and more kids from outside the country elect to play NCAA hockey. We’re expanding the player pool. Now, it’s up to colleges to close the deal.”
Schlossman is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.