College hockey will get boost

Posted June 18, 2009, at 1:08 a.m.

College hockey should get a significant boost from USA Hockey’s new American Development Model and an $8 million grant given to USA Hockey by the National Hockey League, according to University of Maine coach Tim Whitehead.

USA Hockey is hiring regional managers to implement the program and one who has already been hired is former University of Maine defenseman, Old Town High School assistant and Brown University head coach Roger Grillo, who will be responsible for New England.

College hockey coaches have always been handicapped recruiting against Canadian Major Junior teams because of the restrictive policies mandated by the NCAA. Major Junior teams have virtually no regulations so they can contact players at a much younger age.

If a player elects to play Major Junior hockey, he is considered a pro in the eyes of the NCAA because the players receive a monetary stipend. That makes them ineligible to play hockey for a U.S. college.

Grillo pointed out that their new blueprint for player development, based on age-appropriate training programs, is “exactly what college hockey is.

“You have a 4-1 to 5-1 ratio of practices per games,” said Grillo. “It has been proven, scientifically, that’s what develops you. When you play a 70-plus game schedule like Major Junior teams and then you add in the travel, it hurts their development.

“They’re worn out, they don’t get enough [practice] repetitions. The less time spent traveling, the more time spent on developing. And they get quality coaching,” he added.

Grillo said their blueprint also emulates the European formula which also stresses much more practice time than game time.

College hockey teams are allowed to play just 34 regular season games although there are exemptions (i.e. playing in Alaska or in the Ice Breaker Tournament) that enable teams to play two more.

The blueprint stresses balance and Grillo said, “The beauty of college is that it is all about balance. We want our kids to be multi-faceted and have normal lives.”

The NHL gave USA Hockey its $8 million grant last year. That was up from the $1.2 million given to them by the NHL a few years ago.

Major Junior is highly subsidized by the NHL, according to Whitehead.

Major Junior does lose a share of Canadian players to U.S. colleges, also.

Negotiations are ongoing about the allocation of the funds but Whitehead is optimistic that college hockey will get its share and he is excited about the new blueprint.

“This is a big development,” said Whitehead. “This is very important. It’s great to see this new vision from USA Hockey. It’s directed toward steering kids to college hockey. It will help us promote college hockey and recruit elite players.”

Whitehead pointed out that more than 100 U.S.-born players played Major Junior hockey last season.

“There is no reason for our U.S.-born kids to head over the border when they have unbelievable institutions and great coaching in college hockey,” said Grillo. “About 26-28 percent of NHL players are former college players and that will keep increasing.”

Whitehead said Grillo, with his extensive college background, is a great choice for the new position.

“He’s such a solid person and thorough hockey guy,” said Whitehead. “His heart is in the right place. He’s very talented and a perfect match for hockey in New England. He knows college hockey so well.”

UM hockey alumni weekend set

The biennial University of Maine hockey alumni weekend will be held on July 18-20.

The alumni hockey game will be held on Sunday, July 19 at 5 p.m. at the Alfond Arena.

There will be a golf tournament at the Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono on Monday with registration beginning at 7 a.m.

A shotgun start will begin at 8.

There will be a silent auction and a luncheon following the golf tournament.

Those seeking more information may contact Pat McBride at 581-1099.

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