Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Canadian Xenophobia?

Brandon Pirri is finally getting his due. After being oddly spurned last season by Hockey Canada for even an invitation to the tryout camp for the Canadian junior team, and being an even more odd omission from the summer camp in Newfoundland this year, he's been granted a release by the Chicago Blackhawks to accept an invitation to this year's camp in Toronto.

Louis Leblanc, recently of Harvard, is getting another crack at making the team as well, after being one of the final cuts last year.

What do they have in common? Well, neither one is still playing in college - Pirri is the only Canadian invitee with a professional contract playing in a professional league, and Leblanc has made the jump to the QMJHL after signing a deal with the Canadiens.

Now, they're not the only college affiliated invitees that are going to be in Toronto. Hockey Canada also announced that Jaden Schwartz of the... Saskatchewan Hockey Association? And uh, Riley Sheahan of the... Ontario Hockey Federation? What the...?

Yup, that's exactly how team Canada announced its four collegiate invitees on Monday - by excluding their affiliation with their programs: Colorado College for Schwartz, Notre Dame for Sheahan, Minnesota-Duluth for Dylan Olsen, and Miami for Reilly Smith. The "don't care" attitude rolled on when the roster was published - colleges grudgingly admitted, though little care was used to get them right. Schwartz is listed at Hockey Canada's website as belonging to "Colorado (WCHA)." Well, at least they got the league right, even if he's apparently playing in Boulder for the non-existent Buffs. Sheahan is given "Notre Dame (NCAA)" as his team, which would be akin to saying that Leblanc was from "Montreal (CHL)." Someone was really paying attention to detail there.

OK, we get it, Hockey Canada. You don't like us. You've made that abundantly clear. If Schwartz, Sheahan, Olsen, or Smith make the team, they'll be the first college players to wear the Maple Leaf in the World Junior Championship since Wisconsin's Cody Goloubef in 2009 - the second straight year that only a lone Badger was on the squad.

Now, we're not suggesting that Canada needs more collegians to successful. Most of the best young Canadian players do play in major junior, after all. But the degree to which good, qualified Canadians who come south of the border to ply their trade in the NCAA are being spurned is, quite frankly, a joke.

Brandon Pirri can't even get a phone call when he's in Troy, but the second he signs a pro contract, suddenly he's worthy for potential inclusion even though the summer camp is usually a prerequisite for making the team down the road? Yeah, there's nothing fishy there. Is there any possibility that Pirri, Leblanc or Denver's Patrick Wiercioch could have been big parts of a gold-medal winning Canadian team last year? Instead, the home team got to watch a team made of a healthy mix of collegians (like Jerry D'Amigo) and major juniors (like Cam Fowler) from the US strike gold.

That's a lesson the Canadians should take to heart. We've got our own stakes in the CHL-NCAA war, but we aren't about to exclude guys like Jeremy Morin, Brandon Archibald, and Emerson Etem just because they chose major junior over college. That's because we're putting together our best team of players under the age of 20 - not the best Americans playing in the United States.

The US camp roster won't be released until next Tuesday, but we can get a pretty good idea of what it will look like by looking at the 42 players that were at the summer camp that was held in Lake Placid. Of that group, 27 (64.3%) are currently playing in the NCAA. 12 (28.6%) are currently playing in the CHL. Two (D'Amigo and Kyle Palmieri) are playing in the AHL, with one (goaltender and North Dakota commit Zane Gothberg) still in Junior A.

Compare that to the Canadian roster just released. Of the 39 names on the list, a whopping four (10.3%) are from the NCAA. Pirri is the lone AHL representative. The rest - 87.2% - are from the CHL. That's not to say that the gulf is altogether unexpected. Like we said, most of the best young Canadians do play in the CHL. But look at the last four Canadian WJC rosters. Of 88 roster slots available, a grand total of four (Goloubef in 2009, Kyle Turris in 2008, and Jonathan Toews and Andrew Cogliano) went to collegians. That's 4.5%.

4.5%? That's the only slice of good Canadians that play in the US? How can that be? There were four collegians on the Canadian Olympic team this year - Dan Boyle from Miami, Dany Heatley from Wisconsin, Toews, and Duncan Keith, who played at Michigan State, and the talent pool was not as restrictive, at least not by age, for the Olympics. Two of their captains, Chris Pronger and Sidney Crosby, at least flirted with the idea of playing in college (Pronger committed to Bowling Green before choosing major junior, while Crosby played at Shattuck-St. Mary's, a Division I pipeline, to get away from hostile crowds at home).

Plenty of worthy Canadians choose the college route today. Are they being punished for their choice? The attitude emanating from Hockey Canada seems to indicate as much - the four current collegians in camp seemingly being extended an invitation only grudgingly. Was a potential spot playing in the World Junior Championships a reason for Pirri to leave Troy, or for Leblanc to leave Boston? It almost certainly wasn't the deciding factor but it could have at least been a cherry on top. The WJC gets a tremendous amount of attention in Canada. Playing on the team is considered a huge honor.

The whole CHL-NCAA war is foolish anyway. Hockey Canada doesn't need to be feeding it, nor should they be punishing Canadians who decide that more time in the weight room and more time reviewing video is a better route to the NHL, or those who decide that a real education rather than false promises of an education are better for their own personal growth. We're not demanding more collegians on the Canadian junior team. USA Hockey isn't punishing Americans who play in Canada. There's just no reason for Canadians playing in the NCAA to be treated like lepers.

5 comments:

  1. Tom, you were doing well until the last paragraph when you played that "false promises of an education" card from the NCAA propaganda factory.

    The CHL and CIS are partners. For every year you play in the CHL you get a year's scholarship (tuition, books, fees) to the school of your choice after your Junior career. Play four years with the Wheat Kings? Get four years of school paid for (and yes, I'm glossing over the fact that there are minor differences between the WHL, OHL and QMJHL educational plans).

    Get cut from the CIS hockey team? Still get your four years of scholarship. Don't want to play hockey anymore? Still get your money. Don't like university and want to go to police academy or firefighting school? Still get your money. Want to go to a community college or technical school and study a trade? Still get your money. Want to attend school in the States? Still get your money (albeit to the maximum of Canadian tuition in your home/Junior province).

    How is that a false promise? Unless you are one of those chauvinists who believe every American schools is superior to Canadian universities (and there are world ranking bodies who can correct American "exceptionalists" on that false logic).

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  2. I might add that the UNB hockey team set a team record last season for number of Academic All-Canadians - ten!. You need to have 3.5 GPA for AAC.

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  3. David, you're spot on about the CHL-CIS relationship as we talked about when you were on the podcast, but the CHL frequently likes to claim to young players from both Canada and the US that are examining the NCAA route that they can get and education WHILE they play in the CHL, and that simply doesn't become the case. If a player does move on to the professional ranks, more likely than not, they do so without the benefits of the education they thought they'd be getting in the CHL. I'm just not seeing it.

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  4. And I would counter with the one-and-done's like Pirri or Toews. Is one year of an NCAA education that much better than part-time while playing Junior?

    I would agree that anyone who thinks they can play Major Junior hockey and study full time is being sold a bill of goods, but I am not so certain that is truly the CHL message. Yes, they aggrandize a bit how many CHL players "attend" school while playing hockey (when most are doing online courses part-time) but you can't deny the strength of their post-CHL program as it is actually STRONGER than the NCAA -- American schools can't guarantee four years of scholarship, no matter if you play hockey or not, but just the first year.

    I will admit I don't like the scorched earth tactics right now between USA Hockey and Hockey Canada. From my perspective, and bias, it certainly looks to have amped up since Paul Kelly came aboard at CHA, with a push back from Hockey Canada. We Canadians may be mild mannered and polite, but you mess with hockey ...

    The CHL is very much NHL focused, and let's be honest the NHL is very CHL focused. NCAA players, unless you are an absolute stud, are discounted versus drafting a CHL player. It is an old mind set, still prevalent in pro hockey, that most college players don't have the "right stuff" do survive in the pro game. They don't play enough games, yadda yadda.

    The big brains at Hockey Canada think much the same way, and don't forget it is marketed as the World JUNIOR championships in Canada, not the Under-20 championship. So yes, the CHL mafia does pretty well control the selection process for the Canadian team, so it should be no surprise that they discriminate against kids playing south of the border.

    I don't like it, but that the way it is. And as you probably know, the World Junior Championship is absolutely HUGE in Canada, way way ahead of interest for the often ignored World Championship in the spring.

    Like I said, I was agreeing with your comments right up until the last paragraph ...

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  5. Well no one can study full time and play CHL hockey. And CHL students who "attend" university are usually taking online courses part-time. Maybe the CHL aggrandizes this a bit, but I don't think to the level and frequency you are hinting at. But I could be wrong.

    But is that so much better than one-and-done guys like Pirri or D'Amigo? Is one year on campus that much better than three or four years of part-time study?

    Also, let's not compare apples and oranges. Many CHL players, like their not athletic peers, are not educationally inclined, and might not have the grades to get into a CIS or NCAA school. No one seems to have the stats on "academically eligible" hockey players who choose CHL over NCAA and don't receive post secondary education after hockey. So lots of guys get out of the CHL and play minor pro hockey and don't go to school. And? Any kid who can play hockey can play in the CHL, while only a subset of those kids would have the academic credentials to play in the NCAA, or use their post-CHL education fund to go to a CIS school.

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