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Pro prospects must play with caution

Jordan Schmaltz was selected 25th overall by the St. Louis Blues this past summer. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jordan Schmaltz was selected 25th overall by the St. Louis Blues this past summer. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

I’ve written about this before, but with the summer the NCAA has had, it’s hard not to bring it up again: It baffles my mind that elite hockey prospects risk their entire futures just to get blitzed at a team party.

The latest flashpoint comes from the University of North Dakota, where four intoxicated freshmen from the (former) Fighting Sioux were allegedly carried into their dorm by upperclassmen because they couldn’t walk under their own power. According to the Grand Forks Herald, goalie Zane Gothberg (Boston, 165th overall in 2010) was passed out on the floor when cops arrived. Bryn Chyzyk was lying on a futon and unresponsive until an officer applied a pressure point behind his ear. Drake Caggiula was taken to hospital with suspected alcohol poisoning, while St. Louis Blues first round draft pick Jordan Schmaltz (25th overall in 2012) locked himself in a bathroom during the initial sweep, then passed out on his bed where cops found him soon after.

The North Dakota athletic department has already suspended seven upperclassmen from its opening series against Alaska-Anchorage because of the incident, which has been characterized as a team party gone wrong. (The specter of hazing has been brought up, but not proven.)

Even though all four frosh were underage, I’m not going to pretend teenagers don’t drink. Heck, Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel both had run-ins involving booze when they were in college and they turned out OK. But for the two NHLers, their dalliances were more about being careless about their surroundings (i.e. they were at a bar when they were underage) than putting themselves or their teammates in life-threatening situations. One of those players could have died from either alcohol poisoning or from choking on their own vomit in the middle of the night.

In less dire terms, what if the University decided this sort of publicity wasn’t worth the scholarship money these kids are riding around on? See ya.

I like Jordan Schmaltz. He’s really fun to interview and amusing to follow on Twitter. Scouts love his frame and the way he can take over a game with his puckmoving ability from the blueline. I want to see him play for the Blues one day, which is why I roll my eyes when things like this come out.

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I’ve said it before: If I offered you millions of dollars and the fulfillment of your childhood dreams and all you had to do was not drink (or at least keep it to a beer or two in private – not half a bottle of vodka straight) for a couple years, would you do it? Because that’s what is at stake here.

Alcoholism has touched hockey in many ways throughout generations, reaching all the way up to Doug Harvey, one of the best defensemen ever. Countless careers have been derailed because of liquor and though there are cultural shifts that obviously must occur, it starts with the individual. And don’t tell me “boys will be boys,” because if you’ve ever used that as justification for something, you should have lost that argument.

College is a great place to grow up – if you grow up. I can’t help but chuckle at the fact that in major junior right now, one of the biggest stories revolves around a Peterborough Petes prank gone wrong, where players staged a fake home invasion that ended with real cops giving them a stern talking-to. The irony is that the players had permission from the adult billets who owned the home before they “broke in.”

Good on the University of North Dakota for suspending the older players responsible for this boozefest gone wrong – because in the absence of billets, it’s the upperclassmen who can make either a positive or negative impact on their impressionable younger brothers, who are most likely living on their own for the first time.

College can be fun, but a career in the NHL would be much more rewarding in the long run - and I’d hate to see someone lose the chance to shine on the big stage because of something as stupid as alcohol.

Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.

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