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THN.com Blog: Max Domi situation highlights issues surrounding freedom of young Canadian players

Tie Domi announced recently his son, Max, was intending to go the U.S. college route. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

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Tie Domi announced recently his son, Max, was intending to go the U.S. college route. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Is Tie Domi’s recent announcement that his talented son, Max, intends to pursue the college hockey route in the United States a genuine intention or an attempt to have him drafted by the Ontario League team of his choice? With the OHL Cup – which is basically the all-Ontario minor midget championship – on the horizon this week, we’ll likely find out soon. But either way, kudos for Domi and his son for doing it.

As reported by Steve Simmons in The Toronto Sun on Sunday, Domi announced his 15-year-old son Max would eschew the OHL in order to play U.S. college hockey and next season he will bide his time in the United States League while he fast-tracks his way through high school in time to be eligible to play college hockey in 2012-13. Aside from being a very talented player, Max Domi is an outstanding student and should have his high school diploma in one year.

But that’s where this all gets very, very murky. First of all, Domi would not be the first player in history to tell all OHL teams he has chosen the college route. Hundreds of players over the years have told the OHL to stay away from them, which, in some cases, is basically code for telling the OHL they want to choose where they play.

And why not? If you’re a talented teenager and OHL owners are going to make money off your back, why not dictate the terms of your sentence? These kids ride buses all over the province, sometimes miss school and get paid less than minimum wage, so why would a talented player with options not use his leverage to his own benefit?

Secondly, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey have an agreement that borders on the obscene when it comes to restricting the rights of young people. Fearful it will lose its best prospects to college hockey, the Canadian League has convinced Hockey Canada to prohibit any 16-year-old Canadian player, in conjunction with USA Hockey, from playing in the USHL unless they appeal to the National Appeals Committee and demonstrate "special circumstances" or move there with a parent. What makes it so obscene is the CHL opens its arms to American-born 16-year-olds and has no problem with doing it, but insists on making it a one-way street.

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Sure, it saves the best young players for the Canadian junior system and keeps them away from the clutches of the U.S. college system, largely because the CHL has access to the players at an age when American universities aren’t even allowed to contact them. But where exactly are the best interests of the player being served here? Anyone?

But Domi can, and likely will, get around this rule. The only other way a Canadian player can play in the USHL as a 16-year-old without appealing is for him to take up residence in the United States, either moving there with a parent or by residing with someone who is willing to assume guardianship of him.

Either should be doable for the Domi family. Either he or Max’s mother, Leanne, could move to a USHL city for a year and rent an apartment. That’s precisely what former NHLer Dave Gagner did so his son, current Edmonton Oiler center Sam, could play for the Sioux City Musketeers in 2005-06. Gagner moved his entire business to Minnesota and took up residence so Sam could play in the USHL legally. And if Domi needed to legitimize his move by finding employment in the U.S., there’s little doubt his good friend, Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, would be able to oblige.

Then again, as we said earlier, all this might simply be posturing to have Domi land in a favorable situation, such as, say, the Kitchener Rangers. There is absolutely no doubt that despite the warning not to take him, an OHL team will draft Max Domi. One might even draft him in the first round, since the OHL now has a little-known rule that stipulates if your first round pick does not report, you get another choice immediately after your first round pick in the following year’s draft.

It all seems rather insidious, doesn’t it? A teenager should have the right to play where he wants.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear every Monday throughout the season.

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