Monday, May 24, 2010

College Hockey, Inc. Responds To Western Hockey League

College Hockey, Inc. has responded to a statement from Western Hockey League Commissioner, Ron Robinson.

Robinson was upset with a message posted on the College Hockey, Inc. website that warned young players of the consequences of signing with a WHL team.

Here is the entire statement via College Hockey, Inc:

Late last week, Ron Robison, Commissioner of the Western Hockey League in Canada, held a press conference in which he leveled criticism at Paul Kelly. Specifically, Mr. Robison criticized a message that appeared on the College Hockey, Inc. website (www.collegehockeyinc.com) in which young players were warned that if they signed a contract agreeing to play for a WHL team in the future, that they would be considered “professionals” in the eyes of the NCAA and would forfeit any opportunity they might have to receive a college scholarship or play NCAA college hockey. In the web message, kids that were recently drafted by WHL teams (at age 14) were informed about the NCAA rule and advised to “not close any doors that may be open” to them at this point in their young careers – especially since they cannot play for the WHL team that drafted them for at least another 18 months.

Mr. Robison made the following remarks: “I don’t believe any … hockey association or authority … should restrict the movement of a player and his desire to play in the best development league in the world.” He went on to say that “we are disappointed in Mr. Kelly’s approach to the Canadian Hockey League. We are more concerned about the information being provided to families that, quite frankly, is not accurate whatsoever.”

Everything in the web message to young players is factually accurate. The same is true of the information being communicated by College Hockey, Inc. to young players in the United States and Canada. There are many benefits to playing NCAA college hockey, both in terms of obtaining an education and a foundation for life, and developing as a player and athlete with a proven and available path to the National Hockey League. College Hockey, Inc. is in the business of educating players and their families so that they fully understand the options and life choices ahead of them.

Contrary to Mr. Robison’s view, it is not College Hockey, Inc. that is attempting to restrict player movement. Drafting kids at age of 14, and then seeking to have them sign contracts forecloses options for these young players. These actions by the WHL are restrictive, and families of drafted players need to understand the consequences of signing contracts, playing games or attending try-out camps hosted by WHL teams.
Paul Kelly offered the following in response to Mr. Robison’s comments: “I believe in players’ rights and providing relevant information to young players and their families so that they may make informed decisions about their future. I don’t think it is healthy for our sport, or the families involved, that we are drafting players at such a young age and then asking them to take actions that will impact the rest of their lives. Unless and until we adopt a more sensible approach to recruiting, all of us involved in the sport bear a responsibility to educate young players in a respectful way and insure that they understand all options and career paths that are open to them. That is what College Hockey, Inc. has done and will continue to do. I certainly hope that the Canadian Hockey League shares this view.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Backstrom signs for 10 years, 67 million

By: Justin Creech
The Washington Capitals locked up another key cog in the teams long term future on Monday as center Nicklas Backstrom agreed to a 10-year, $67 million dollar contract extension to remain with the Capitals through the 2019-20 season.
With two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin signed through 2020-21, the Capitals have assured themselves of having their two best players in the organization for the prime of their careers.
Backstrom is coming off a breakout season in which the Gavle, Sweden native registered a career high 101 points (33g, 68a) becoming just the fourth Capital to reach the 100-point milestone (joining Ovechkin, Dennis Maruk and Mike Gartner) and the second to record at least 30 goals and 60 assists in the same year (Maruk, 1981-82).
Backstrom also proved to be a big time player in key situations as he scored several goals at key times for the Capitals. Backstrom scored two goals and added an assist in the Capitals come from behind win over the Chicago Blackhawks on March 14. Down 3-0 entering the third period, and having already lost Ovechkin to an ejection in the first period, Backstrom scored once in the third period then scored the game winner in overtime to seal the Capitals 4-3 win.
His biggest moment, however, came in Game 2 of the Capitals’ Eastern Conference quarterfinals series with the Montreal Canadiens. Backstrom recorded his first career playoff hat trick including the game winner 31 seconds into overtime to give the Capitals a 6-5 victory.
Monday’s signing was a big move as Backstrom was set to become a restricted free agent on July 1. But, it also locks up one of the league’s best young players.
At just 22, Backstrom has already surpassed the organizations expectations as he has registered 258 points in his first three seasons and has averaged 1.07 points-per-game in his first 28 playoff games. Backstrom is an elite center, and does a lot to do with Ovechkin possibly winning a third straight Hart Trophy.
The move, however, does somewhat strap the Capitals salary cap situation for the upcoming season. Along with Backstrom, the Capitals announced on Monday the signing of 2009 first-round draft pick Marcus Johansson to a three-year entry level deal for $2.7 million dollars. The Capitals are also expected to bring defensemen Karl Alzner up from the Hershey Bears, and still have to decide to do with pending restricted free agents Jeff Schultz, Erich Fehr, and Tomas Fleischmann.
All three had breakout season’s in 2009-10 as Schultz led the NHL in plus/minus with a plus-50 while Fleischmann and Fehr both finished with career highs in goals and points. Fleischmann finished with 23 goals and 51 points while Fehr finished with 21 goals and 39 points.
The most obvious of the three to return are Schultz and Fehr. Fleischmann’s production dropped significantly in the second half of the season as he scored just 16 goals in his final 60 games after scoring seven in his first nine.
Fleischmann was particularly ineffective in the playoffs as he finished with just one assist in six games, and was benched for the deciding Game 7 against the Canadiens.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

College Hockey, Inc. Hopes to Grow College Hockey

By: Justin Creech
The Hockey Commissioners Association (HCA) added another support element to Division 1 Hockey as College Hockey, Inc., opened for business on November 30, 2009. The Hockey Commissioners Association consists of the six commissioners of Atlantic Hockey, College Hockey America, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the Eastern College Athletic Conference, Hockey East Association and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association; the six conferences that play Division 1 college hockey.
College Hockey, Inc., headed by Paul Kelly, the former Executive Director of the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) who now holds the same position with College Hockey, Inc. Kelly held his position with the NHLPA from October 2007 until August 2009. Kelly was contacted in mid-September by the HCA about starting the organization from the ground up.
“We didn’t have an office, a name, a computer, we had nothing. So, it was creating an entity from scratch, and that sounded interesting and intriguing to me, so I agreed to do it,” said Kelly. “What I was interested in is I wanted to have a meaningful role in hockey. I thought this was such a role that I thought was a definite need for someone to become an advocate for the college hockey game in the country.”
Kelly moved quickly in assembling his staff as he hired Kevin Lovitt to be his Senior Director of Business Operations. Lovitt previously worked with Kelly at the NHLPA as the Director of Corporate Partnerships, but more important to his position with College Hockey, Inc., Lovitt has extensive experience in the sports marketing world having served as Senior Vice President at Octagon Worldwide, and having worked with IMG and the Integis Group.
“Paul asked me to be a part of this, and I was happy and proud to continue to work with Paul,” said Lovitt. “I think college hockey has done a great injustice to itself in terms of marketing the sport. Given what I saw at the NHLPA with a good number of the players who made it to the NHL, college hockey has been underserved in its importance in the development of players, not only for the NHL but also for professional life, life after hockey.”
Lovitt is a graduate of Brown University, having played hockey for the school from 1977-1981. Lovitt, as Kelly, feels college hockey has not taken advantage of all of its possible marketing avenues.
“College hockey has not taken an active role in pursuing those partnerships that could help the sport,” said Lovitt. “I think just the fact that guys have blogs and obviously have a great love for hockey, and there’s tens of thousands of these people, and I don’t think those interests have been well served.”
The next order of business was hiring a Director of Education and Recruitment. Jeff Dwyer, a graduate of Yale University in 2004 was appointed to that position. He actually pursued the position instead of Kelly and Lovitt courting him.
“When I first read about College Hockey, Inc., and what it encompassed and what they were trying to accomplish, I picked up the phone that day and tried to find a way to get in touch with [Kelly] because I had lived and played every level of hockey outside of being a regular in the NHL,” said Dwyer.
Dwyer, who was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 6th round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, played parts of five professional seasons with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League and the Gwinnet Gladiators of the East Coast Hockey League. Dwyer also played in Europe for one season with Cortina in the Italian Serie “A” League, and has minor league coaching experience having been an assistant coach with the Utah Grizzlies, also in the ECHL.
Dwyer referenced his time coaching in Utah while interviewing for his current position.
“We had to cut a kid one day and he literally sat on our couch and looked at us and said ‘I’ve got nothing, this is all I know how to do’, and we had to cut him for disciplinary reasons,” said Dwyer. “He goes ‘if you cut me and this gets around my career is over and what am I going to do with my life?’ Those are the things I experienced in the minor leagues and the things that affected me strongly. Besides that, I had such a great experience playing college hockey that I just thought I could bring a different aspect to this job having lived it and experienced it on a daily basis the last five years.”
College Hockey, Inc., is located in Newton, Massachusetts. Kelly chose the area because he wanted the main office to be located near one of the college hockey hotbeds.
Since their inception, Kelly and his colleagues have traveled extensively across the United States and into Canada meeting with college coaches and groups of young elite hockey players and their families to get College Hockey, Inc.’s name and its mission out to the college hockey world, and also to see which schools may be interested in adding a Division 1 men’s hockey program.
Kelly has spoken with the Naval Academy, which he deemed “a natural fit” as they already have a competitive club team. But, Kelly has also reached out to non-traditional hockey areas like the Midwest and the West Coast. Kelly has spoken with representatives from Indiana University and Iowa State as well Pac-10 schools such as Arizona State, the University of Southern California and the University of Washington, all of whom have mature club teams.
“All the schools have been very receptive, but them being receptive is only a small piece of the puzzle,” said Kelly. “You’ve got to get the right NCAA approval and then you’ve got to find the conference for them to play in. But, there is a lot of interest in the part of a lot of schools and we are going to continue with those discussions.”
One area of concern raised by current college hockey coaches that Kelly spoke with is recruiting issues. College coaches are bound by NCAA recruiting rules that state high school athletes cannot be contacted by college coaches until the conclusion of their sophomore year. Conversely, major junior leagues in Canada, which consist of 60 teams, are not bound by those restrictions thus allowing them to contact elite prospects as early as the age of 14. Major junior teams are also very well financed and have large scouting staffs which also give them a perceived edge over Division 1 colleges.
“Frankly, if you’re 15 or 16 years old the idea of being able to wake up in the morning and only think about hockey and not have to worry about a math test or a history paper due is pretty attractive,” said Lovitt.
Added Kelly, “It’s one of the reasons why College Hockey, Inc., exists.”
Kelly said education is the main area that he and his colleagues stress when meeting young kids who are thinking about a long term future in hockey.
“We talk to them about the fact that first of all it’s very hard to make it to the NHL,” said Kelly. “If you take all the players that play Division 1 college hockey and all the players that play major junior hockey in any given year, that’s about 2,500 players. Of that group in any year, the number that will actually make it to the NHL and skate say more than 10 games is about 5 percent. So that means that 95 percent will never become regular players in the NHL, and that being the case, they need something else to do with their life and something else to fall back on to support themselves and their family.”
Television is another area where College Hockey, Inc., has looked to for more exposure. Kelly spoke of possibly having an agreement with ESPN, Versus or the NHL network on a college hockey game of the week. Kelly said the television landscape is a bit more complicated because of the regional agreements schools already have in place with local TV stations. He and his colleagues have also looked into the possibility of a college hockey game of the week broadcast in Canada, as there are roughly 500 Canadian players who currently play Division 1 hockey in the United States.
“It’s been very positive so far,” said Kelly of his conversations with national television stations. “It’s just a question that we’ve got to figure out based on existing agreements that are in place what games do we have to offer. Are there certain exclusive agreements in place? What can we sell? What rights can we give? So, that’s what Kevin and I are in the process of figuring out.”
With the college hockey season having recently concluded and the Major Junior season also nearing its end, Kelly said College Hockey, Inc.’s next goal is to reach out to young prospects who will be attending summer workout camps.
“We have a very ambiguous schedule,” said Kelly. “We will be in Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Dallas, Buffalo and Florida and Niagara Falls and into Michigan, down into St. Louis and Cleveland. So, I guess the short answer is we hope to get our message and some of our information into the hands of as many families and young hockey players as possible.”