College hockey's recruiting battle with the CHL

collegehockey.jpgFans of the NHL alone may not be aware, but in the youth ranks there’s a bit of a border war going on between NCAA college hockey and the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) where major-junior hockey is played. The two sides compete for the same players of around the same age. For the longest time, Canadian juniors seemed like the one and only way for young players to make their mark to get noticed by the NHL and live their dreams of playing professional hockey. As always, times are changing and more and more talented kids from both the United States and Canada are finding their way into college hockey.

This, of course, does not sit well with the CHL to have to compete for players, especially some Canadian players. With a renewed sense of success and a better ability to gain support and media recognition in the United States, college hockey is taking things more serious, even hiring former head of the NHLPA Paul Kelly to be the top man in College Hockey Inc., a group meant to drum up support and the growing popularity of college hockey.

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy had a must-read piece today discussing how the efforts of Paul Kelly and College Hockey Inc. might be going all for naught thanks to legislation the NCAA is trying to pass to rein in recruiting in other sports.

The NCAA is currently considering a rule to ban scholarship offers to student-athletes until the summer after their junior year of high school (a.k.a. Grade 11). The rule is aimed at the powerhouse college sports such as basketball and football, but would apply uniformly to all disciplines, hockey included.

And while there is no rival for NCAA football or basketball, college hockey must compete against Canadian major junior. The new rule would make an already uphill battle almost insurmountable in some cases.

“The truly elite player, these guys are being identified when they are 14 or 15 years old,” said Paul Kelly of College Hockey Inc., a pro-NCAA group. “The rule would mean schools couldn’t talk to kids until after July 1 of their junior year. Most kids at that point are probably 16, maybe 17 or even 18.

“There would be a period of time of two years where they would be drafted by CHL teams and would be listening to them, with NCAA schools having no chance to talk to them.”

With those kinds of restrictions, college hockey would be facing an even tougher uphill battle to try and convince elite-level hockey players from either side of the border and Paul Kelly knows it. There’s just nothing he can do about it should the NCAA decide to make a ruling like that. Also coming into play here is that once a player plays in the CHL, they aren’t allowed to play college hockey. The same cannot be said going the other way as players can leave college or break college commitments to play in juniors.

As for the CHL, they’d be more than happy to have that ace-in-the-hole to have against the NCAA. With the number of great players that have been coming across from Canada to play in the US to give them a less-rigorous schedule and chance to get a serious education from a top American university, the lure of playing hockey as a career might be far too tempting for many players, especially when players can start out in lower level juniors and decide from there. It’s much easier to sell a player on their league if it’s right there in front of them, something that college hockey’s lack of media presence in America hinders.

While the NCAAs rules and restrictions on just about everything hurts them in this battle, other sports don’t have such issues and this potential new rule doesn’t pose a problem for football and basketball problems in any way. After all, NCAA football and basketball teams are only competing with one another for players and not leagues from Canada.

With the NCAA being such a overriding, rule-happy organization, harming one sport that doesn’t generate a ton of money while protecting two sports that do should be a big deal for them, but hockey presents such a unique situation for them that it may not even come up on their radar. Paul Kelly is going to have a bit of work ahead of him to help straighten things out if the NCAA wants to stay viable with the CHL.

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    NBC and NBCSN have you covered for Hockey Day in America

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    With two games on NBC and then two more on NBCSN, your Sunday should be jam-packed with Hockey Day in America action. A look at the hockey hotbed of Warroad, Minnesota adds a delectable cherry on top, too.

    If you need a guide to this party of pucks and patriotism, look no further than this post.

    Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

    John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and the dominant Capitals take on Ryan McDonagh and the Blueshirts. The Metropolitan Division represents some of the NHL’s upper crust, so don’t be fooled by the Rangers being the first wild card while the Caps are tops in the East; both of these teams can go. Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will be there to call the action.

    MORE: For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

    Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC

    Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk will be in the booth for this battle between teams that met in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final series in 2008 and 2009. Along with usual suspects like Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg, these teams feature American scorers such as Dylan Larkin and, of course, Phil Kessel.

    Chicago Blackhawks at Buffalo Sabres, 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

    The action shifts to NBCSN as Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks hope to teach Jack Eichel and the upstart Sabres a lesson or two. The Blackhawks are in playoff position, as usual, while Buffalo is rallying to try to make a push of its own. Gord Miller and Joe Micheletti will be your guides.

    MORE: Islanders forward Brock Nelson’s journey from Warroad to the NHL

    Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

    Hockey Day in America’s coverage closes off with this matchup between David Backes‘ Bruins and Joe Pavelski‘s Sharks. Randy Hahn, Andy Brickley and Bret Hedican will take you through this match between the Pacific Division’s top team and a Bruins team fighting to stick in the East playoff picture.

    Barkov’s beautiful goal pushes Panthers into playoff position

    SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 26: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers circles the net with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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    The Florida Panthers just won’t be denied as they end the night in the East’s top eight.

    It’s fitting, then, that Aleksander Barkov wouldn’t be denied on his game-winner against Los Angeles on Saturday.

    Barkov bursts beyond multiple Kings, fights off what would have been an obstruction penalty and then beats Peter Budaj by the narrowest of margins to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead 15 seconds into the third period. They would never relinquish that edge to Los Angeles, winning their fourth game in a row.

    In the process, the Panthers – a team that seemed to be fledgling when it fired Gerard Gallant – now find themselves in the East’s top eight. Heck, they’re actually above the wild card fray by a hair.

    Before we get to that … just bask in the glow of this Barkov goal:

    Again, it was such a small window to beat Budaj, too:

    (If the Panthers’ place in the standings doesn’t sway you into taking them seriously, maybe note plays like that and the fact that Barkov has 20 points in his last 17 games.)

    OK, so with this win, the Panthers did some serious leapfrogging. They now rank third in the Atlantic Division (thanks to a game in hand on Boston) and have more points than Toronto as far as wild card concerns go, anyway.

    Atlantic Division rankings

    1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 games
    2. Senators – 68 points in 56 games
    3. Panthers – 64 points in 57 games

    Bruins – 64 in 58
    Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
    Sabres – 62 in 59
    Lightning – 58 in 57
    Red Wings – 56 in 58

    From a wild card perspective

    Third in Atlantic – Panthers – 64 points in 57 games
    Second wild card – Bruins – 64 in 58

    Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
    Islanders – 62 in 57
    Sabres – 62 in 59
    Flyers – 61 in 58
    Devils – 60 in 58
    Lightning – 58 in 57
    Hurricanes – 56 in 54
    Red Wings – 56 in 58

    Everything’s so close that the Panthers can’t pop champagne bottles, but they’re also very much in control over their hopes. While it never hurts to see your competitors stumble, the Panthers can take care of business. They “control their own destiny,” to use silly sports parlance.

    And considering how they’ve been playing lately, they might be as tough to handle in the playoffs as Barkov was to stop on that outstanding 3-2 goal.

    Stars made Dave Strader’s return to the booth special

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    It was a special night as the Dallas Stars beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime, but the most memorable moment wasn’t the win or Antoine Roussel‘s hat trick.

    Instead, it was how the team embraced Dave Strader’s return to the broadcasting booth as he continues to fight cancer.

    Don’t be ashamed if his comments to the Dallas Morning News leave you emotional:

    “This is the first time, to be honest with you, that for four hours I didn’t feel like I was sick at all,” Strader said after the game. “Maybe it was the adrenaline high, but I really, really feel great right now.”

    Again, the team really did some great things to welcome him back, but the highlight was saluting him after the game. Incredible stuff.

    “What a gesture by the boys … meant so much to me and my wife! Thank you.” Strader tweeted after the game.

    As this post notes, Strader is expected to do play-by-play for four more Stars games.

    Add allowing center-ice goal to Brian Elliott’s rough season

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    So far, there’s just one goal in tonight’s Calgary Flames – Vancouver Canucks game. And it wasn’t a good one.

    The Canucks couldn’t manage a shot on goal for more than half of the first period, maybe putting Brian Elliott to sleep … as Alexander Edler scored the 1-0 goal from center ice on Vancouver’s first shot that actually got on net. Ouch.

    It’s already been a tough season for Brian Elliott, who came into Saturday with an .898 save percentage.

    Elliott was perfect through the rest of the first two periods, so we’ll see if Calgary can overcome that gaffe.

    Update: The Canucks ended up winning 2-1 in overtime. Ryan Miller was the better of the two goalies in this one.