TORONTO– There comes a time in a young prospects career when he needs to make a choice as to where he will play his junior hockey. Many players, including a majority of Canadians, choose to play in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). Other players, including some Canadians, will take a different path; American college hockey. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) isn’t new to the sport of hockey, just not as recognizable here in the north. The top division in the NCAA consists of five conferences and 59 teams. Even without the same exposure as the CHL, It has developed many NHL talents dating back to Montreal Canadiens legend Ken Dryden, who led Cornwall University to the 1967 NCAA championships.
The factors involved with making a decision as to where you play can be as simple as location and family; like Leafs LW Joey Crabb who attended Colorado College,
“I grew up with University Anchorage Alaska right there. Colorado College, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Denver and all those teams; I grew up watching them. Couple of my cousins played in the WCHA too so I always imagined myself playing college hockey,”
Toronto Marlies LW Jay Rosehill had his own reason to attend the University of Minnesota-Deluth, and considering he’s from Alberta, location was never a concern,
“I just felt like I was a late bloomer and I had more developing to do. I saw a lot of guys that I grew up with go to the CHL and get kind of sucked in by the glitz and glimmer and ended up doing nothing with their career. So I wanted to make sure I gave myself enough time to get to the pro ranks…..I don’t have any regrets.”
Other NCAA players on the Marlies roster this season are G Ben Scrivens (Cornell), D Mike Brennan (Boston College), D Jeff Finger (St. Cloud State), D Josh Engel (Wisconsin), D Simon Gysbers (Lake Superior State), FW Danny Richmond (Michigan), C Brayden Irwin (Vermont), captain Alex Foster (Bowling Green State), RW Jerry D’Amigo (RPI) and C Christian Hanson (Notre Dame).
Hanson, who perhaps is the most recognizable college player on the roster, had his own opinion when looking at the two development programs,
“Two different things. CHL tries to prep the guys a lot quicker for pro hockey. They play an 80 game schedule whereas the college schedule is 35; maybe 40 max. And you have to balance athletics and academics.” Adding why he chose the school he did, Hanson said, “it was a long decision. I talked to quite a few people and had a couple different options and in the end I decided between religion, athletics and academics, Notre Dame was the best fit for me…. I absolutely loved that place, it hold a special place in my heart.”
Of the 12 players in the system that have played for the Marlies this season, Finger and Foster are the only two who were here before General Manager Brian Burke. In his short time in Toronto, Burke has either signed or traded for the 10 others. Not being one to shy away from his decisions, after signing Hanson, Burke told Leafs TV that,
“I can careless where the player comes from. We intend to build this team with junior players, college players and European players. If they start playing hockey on mars than we will draft players from mars.”
Burke himself played NCAA hockey for Providence College from 1973-77 and was teammates with Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson.
A slightly different path, but still involving education, C Darryl Boyce spent two seasons at the University of New Brunswick before turning pro in 2006.
With the NCAA program having graduates with the names of Paul Kariya, Dany Heatly and Jonathan Toews, it is difficult to say that the American college path to the NHL is a right or wrong choice, but instead it is another gateway for players to develop and push towards the top level. When a hockey career finishes, many players will retire but some will continue on with jobs within the NHL; scouting coaching etc. Hanson on the other hand has a degree in financing. Not a bad side back up plan.