UND MEN'S HOCKEY: Signing day could become vital in the future

Signing day has become, perhaps, college football's biggest holiday with schools and fans waiting anxiously for players to make their college destinations official.

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Signing day has become, perhaps, college football's biggest holiday with schools and fans waiting anxiously for players to make their college destinations official.

In the college hockey world, where players often commit two-plus years in advance of signing and almost always stick to it, signing day passes without registering a blip on the radar.

That may soon be changing.

College Hockey Inc., is working to enact legislation -- either with the oversight of the NHL or through the transfer agreement between USA Hockey and Hockey Canada -- to bar Canadian major junior teams from stealing a player who has signed a letter of intent until after the player's freshman year.

And while this is happening, there is a behind-the-scenes movement by some coaches to try to ditch the longstanding gentleman's agreement between coaches that they won't recruit players that have made verbal commitments.


If either happens, letters of intent will become big deals to the college hockey world.

The Canadian Hockey League, which routinely tries to poach college players and recruits, is driving these developments to an extent.

UND has lost two highly regarded recruits to the CHL since July in first-round draft pick J.T. Miller and possible 2012 first-rounder Stefan Matteau. Both had signed letters of intent. Miller bolted in July, leaving UND with few options to find a replacement before the start of this season.

And while the CHL routinely pursues college players, NCAA teams are not allowed to do the same because CHL players are currently not eligible for college.

"We need to have a deal in place with the NHL and with the CHL," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "We are going into a back-alley brawl. They are bringing guns. We're coming with no weapon and one hand tied behind our back."

Paul Kelly, the executive director of College Hockey Inc., is leading the charge to enact the new legislation.

"It is our position that once a kid signs a letter of intent, he's made up his mind and demonstrated it in written form," Kelly said. "He should be off limits and shouldn't be continually recruited until at least after his freshman year. Continued recruiting of players after they've committed in writing to college, we find that conduct to be unacceptable. We've communicated that fact to the NHL. We're hoping to bring some order to the process."

If no agreement is reached with the NHL or the CHL, Hakstol thinks it's worth exploring the possibility of opening up CHL players to colleges.


The NCAA would have to change its stance on the CHL, but Hakstol believes it's possible.

"The first and most important step would be the coaches discussing it and deciding that it would be a good pathway for us to take," he said. "I think if that group was to decide on it, it would be feasible."

The positive for college hockey would be that teams could pluck CHL players, including high-end guys, to replace recruits it loses. If the CHL is open to colleges, it also may be more likely to agree to new transfer rules.

The negative for college hockey is that all of the high-end players may immediately go to the CHL, knowing that the college hockey window would remain open.

"We discuss it each year," Hakstol said. "The sentiment is against it as a body. I'm not speaking for anybody except myself. There are potential pros and potential cons to it. My belief is that we have to look at every potential avenue to improve our game and improve our ability to build quality teams. I believe this is one avenue we need to have more serious discussion about.

"We have to decide whether or not that's a worthwhile challenge to take on."

Verbal commitments

In the meantime, verbal commitments have been taking center stage at recent coaches conventions.


Currently, college hockey coaches do not recruit players once they have made a verbal commitment. In other NCAA sports, coaches routinely pursue them until they have signed letters of intent.

"I like that our coaches have abided by this gentleman's agreement," Kelly said. "It does lead to some abuses -- programs that verbally commit a large number of players, probably with the full realization that they aren't going to be able to take all of them. Not everyone is treating it in the manner that it was intended. But this is a coaches' issue."

Most likely, some of the more established programs -- the ones most affected by the CHL poaching players -- would be open to ending the gentleman's agreement. It would allow them to poach top recruits of smaller schools to replace those lost via the CHL or NHL.

"Verbal commitments, early commitments and long lists of future commitments are serious areas of discussion right now," Hakstol said. "There are a lot of sides to that issue. It's a very complicated issue. My opinion has changed over time. I was a very strong proponent of it eight to 10 years ago. I think we need to find a middle ground on verbal commitments.

"I think we want to continue the gentlemanly side of college hockey and our close-knit community. At the same time, I think it's time we take a real close look at exactly what we're doing."

Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to .

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