TORONTO– When it comes to players de-committing to school programs, Toronto Maple Leafs’ VP of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin, knows the NCAA has a flaw in their system that needs to be addressed.
Players enrolling in college-hockey programs and then leaving early, or not attending at all, seems to happen often and leaves schools stumbling for other recruitments.
While each players’ reason to ever play college hockey varies from being a “late bloomer to a focus on education,” if given the opportunity some will leave and go north to play major junior in the Canadian Hockey League.
“It’s a very volatile situation right now and I think it’s at a crossroad for the NCAA,” said Poulin. “When I played you could play major junior and then go to college. Colleges closed that door. Not an NCAA rule. Colleges closed that door because they didn’t want to assist the major juniors. I could see a situation where they re-open that door because kids are forced to make a decision at a very early age and then when they, maybe, get there it’s not the situation they predicted.”
Poulin, himself, is a college product and holds Notre Dame in high regard. He credits his education for giving him the option to enter the business side of hockey that he’s involved with today.
He played four seasons at Notre Dame from 1978 to 1982, then 13 seasons in the NHL, before returning to his alma mater for another 12 years as part of the faculty.
10 of those years he was the schools head coach while the other two he worked as the Athletic Director and dealt with issues such as player recruitment.
With Notre Dame putting as much, if not more, focus on education as they did player development, Poulin was proud of what his players got from his program when he was behind the bench.
“I think in my 10 years, I believe I had three players not graduate in four years,” he said.
Since 2009, the year Poulin joined the Leafs, Toronto has drafted eight NCAA products.
Three of them have already de-committed to their school programs after playing one year or less.
Most recently 2011 first-round selection Tyler Biggs chose to leave Miami of Ohio and pursue his development with the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals.
“As far as Miami goes I had great coaching staff that helped me work on my game offensively,” said Biggs. “Nothing negative as far as the program goes I just wanted to do it for my career. I think I have the experience to go into the OHL right away.”
2009 second-round selection, Kenny Ryan stepped foot on Boston College soil, and even played in an exhibition game, but jumped at the chance to play for the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires.
“I was committed to Boston College but I decided to go to Windsor,” he said. That was a long discussion and process but it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made.”
“College hockey is great and a lot of benefits come from it. But, it’s not for everyone,” he added.
Jerry D’Amigo, a sixth-round selection in 2009, left RPI early with the expectation of turning pro at 19 but after stumbling with the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies he was sent to the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers to round out his game.
“Coming out of college I expected to be pro,” said D’Amigo. “At first I was skeptical of playing junior. I was a college boy and that was my roots so it was hard to go to Kitchener, but it was great.”
Each player, ultimately, left their school for their own reason. While he doesn’t believe players who leave school early lack commitment, Poulin does think some players lose out in other ways of developing.
“The thing we don’t like to see is a player change his commitment,” said Poulin. “That’s a challenge because I see it now all over. I think players lose the ability to fight through something, to really battle through adversity.”
2009 fifth rounder Eric Knodel (New Hampshire), 2011 seventh rounder Max Everson (Harvard), 2011 sixth rounder Dennis Robertson (Brown), 2011 fifth rounder Tony Cameranesi (Minnesota-Deluth) and 2012 fifth rounder Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Deluth) are the remaining Leafs’ prospects still committed to their programs.