The days of players in their early teens committing to a Division I school to play hockey are over.
According to a Friday story in College Hockey, Inc., the NCAA’s Division I Council has approved rule changes that will forbid coaches from talking to recruits prior to Jan. 1 of the recruit’s sophomore year, even if the recruit initiates the conversation.
And coaches cannot make a verbal offer to a recruit until Aug. 1 prior to the recruit’s junior year.
The changes will reportedly go into effect on May 1.
Before the changes were approved, prospects were able to initiate dialog with coaches at any time and coaches could make verbal offers at any time.
University of Maine head coach Red Gendron is in favor of the changes, saying it protects the players.
“It creates a structure we all can live with,” said Gendron. “You can recruit successfully without putting undue pressure on families and younger players. It’s positive for college hockey in many ways.
“The bottom line is it’s in the best interest of everyone involved in college hockey, players and coaches. It’s a positive step,” he added.
He said under the old structure, it expedited the recruiting process “earlier than it needed to be.”
Gendron received a verbal commitment from Oliver Wahlstrom when the Yarmouth native was 13 and he was the youngest commit ever in college hockey at that time.
Wahlstrom ultimately decommitted from UMaine in favor of Harvard but then changed his mind again and wound up at Boston College this past season. He has since signed a professional contract with the New York Islanders, who drafted him in the first round.
Gendron explained that under the old structure, if you didn’t try to receive a verbal commitment from a player you thought could help your program, another school would scoop him up.
But Gendron also pointed out that a verbal commitment isn’t binding — as was proven by the Wahlstrom situation. Only when a player signs a National Letter of Intent is it binding.
College Hockey Inc. Executive Director Mike Snee told College Hockey Inc.: “All of us in college hockey are excited about these changes. Early recruiting and especially early committing in college athletics does not put young aspiring athletes in a healthy or fair spot.”
“A 14 or 15-year-old shouldn’t feel the pressure of deciding what college they want to attend,” said Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin told College Hockey Inc. Sandelin’s Bulldogs have won back-to-back NCAA Division I titles.
The ruling might appear to give an edge to Major Junior teams, who have very few restrictions when it comes to contacting a potential player.
Since players receive stipends from Major Junior teams, they are deemed professionals in the eyes of the NCAA thus rendering them ineligible to play U.S. college hockey.
But Gendron doesn’t think it will help Major Junior or hurt U.S. college programs.
He said most players won’t join Major Junior teams until the same age that colleges will now be able to offer a verbal under the new structure.
Besides, college players are making dramatic impacts on the NHL. Two years ago, College Hockey Inc. reported that 32 percent of NHL players came from U.S. college hockey.
UMass sophomore defenseman Cale Makar won the Hobey Baker Award this season, played in the NCAA title game last Saturday night and, two nights later, scored a goal for the Colorado Avalanche in a Stanley Cup playoff win over Calgary. He played more than 20 minutes in the next playoff game for Colorado.
Jack Eichel, who won the 2015 Hobey Baker Award at Boston University, left BU and played immediately for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres without ever playing a minor league game.
“It is clear right now that college hockey has a much better development model than Major Junior,” Gendron said. “College players have more practice time at an age where they should be refining their skills and improving their strength and fitness.”
Teams in the Quebec Major Junior League play 68 regular season games which is exactly twice as many as college teams are allowed. So they have limited practice time and their road trips can be extensive.
U.S. college teams play mostly on weekends.
Gendron also noted that college players are required to balance academics and athletics as well as their social lives. It requires time management and those skills better prepare them for pro hockey.