Connor Gaarder of Univeristy of North Dakota celebrates a goal at the Frozen Four. (Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
The CHL and the NCAA are constantly vying for the top teens in the hockey world, but the college route comes with a lot more eligibility rules. Find out what they are and how a player can get tripped up by the system.
It takes a lot of work to become an NCAA hockey player and because of the organization's strict rules, sometimes just getting to campus with your eligibility intact can be a challenge. The most recent example is a report from Jeff Cox of SB Nation that goaltender Tyler Johnson has lost his eligibility appeal to the NCAA and will play for the OHL's London Knights this season instead of the University of Maine.
Now, you could do a lot worse than playing for the defending Memorial Cup champions, but Johnson's case shines the spotlight on the tricky waters that teens must navigate en route to college hockey.
According to Cox, the snag for Johnson came when he played 11 minutes of an OHL exhibition game. That may sound like small potatoes, but the NCAA is militant when it comes to rules and potential players need to know the facts.
Mike Snee is the executive director of College Hockey Inc., a sort of education/promotional group that informs kids about the NCAA game. The group has an FAQ on its website for eligibility, but here are some of the most important things to know for players who are drawing interest from both NCAA schools and major junior teams. And keep in mind, this does not apply to the USHL or NAHL, two junior leagues that specifically tailor their structure to NCAA eligibility requirements.
Don't suit up in a game of any kind that involves another CHL team
"You cannot play a game where another team is involved," Snee said. "If Kitchener brings Guelph over in any capacity, you can't play in that game."
That includes exhibition games or any sort of meet-up between franchises. The rules that govern this also apply to NHL teams, which is why drafted players who are NCAA-bound (or already there) do not play in the Traverse City tournament hosted by the Detroit Red Wings, for example.
If you do attend a camp, know the '48-hour rule'
According to NCAA rules, players can attend a pro team's camp once for 48 hours and the team can pay all their expenses (and yes, major junior teams are considered "pro" by the NCAA). But after that 48 hours is up, the player must leave immediately to qualify. This is important, because if a camp is five days long, for example, the player can stay the duration, but only if they pay for all their own food and lodging after the 48-hour window. Also, if you stay longer, the team can no longer pay for your plane/train/bus fare home. That's on you.
You can use the 48-hour rule with as many teams as you want, but only once with the same team. So if you're drafted by an NHL franchise, there's almost always a rookie camp to attend. If you don't want to pay the expense, you can only be there 48 hours. If you're still in college the next summer, you have to pay your own way to rookie camp.
Also important, though less common: you can't miss school to attend an event. But most of this happens during summer anyway.
Don't sign anything, don't take anything
If you do attend a CHL camp, don't get involved with paperwork.
"We realize it can be an intimidating situation," Snee said. "But our rule of thumb is just don't sign anything."
Obviously contracts with junior teams shouldn't be signed if you want to play college hockey, but even things that are similar to contracts should be avoided.
"The NCAA will look at intent," Snee said.
And it may go without saying, but don't take any money from a team. What may be less obvious, however, is that you shouldn't accept any gifts from a team – even a T-shirt or a ball cap.
It sounds like a lot of sacrifice, but for players who want the NCAA experience, it's all necessary. CHL teams want talented players, so of course they will continue to invite NCAA-curious kids to their camps. the CHL offers great opportunities too and for me, the choice is up to the player: both paths have strengths.
But having that choice made for you because of a bylaw is a bummer.