Wright, Savoie, and Exceptional Status

In Canadian major junior hockey, the exceptional status is given to a 15-year-old player who the league deems good enough to play an entire season at the major junior level. Otherwise, the player would only be able to play five games at age 15 in major junior until they turned 16. Before this season, the only players who were granted exceptional status in the Canadian Hockey League were Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Sean Day, and Joe Veleno. Of all of them, only Veleno wasn’t playing in the Ontario Hockey League; he was a Quebec League player.

This season, two players applied and only one was granted the status. Shockingly enough, it was a player from the OHL that was given the status in Shane Wright. The other– Matthew Savoie– was not given status, despite him having been compared to Sidney Crosby at age 14. It also continues the Western Hockey League not granting players exceptional status. Due to this, Savoie said that he committed to the University of Denver for the 2021-22 season. It should be noted that Jack Hughes also applied for exceptional status two years ago, but was denied and is now on his way to University of Michigan next fall….maybe…if he doesn’t get to the NHL before that, as he is projected to be one of the top two picks in this Draft.

There’s two way to think about this whole situation. The first is that it’s a travesty that the WHL isn’t letting this kid, who has 31 goals and 71 points in 31 games playing a year older than he should be. The second is that it’s good that the WHL isn’t rushing a kid who may not be able to deal with the grind of travel and physicality that the WHL often presents, not to mention the mental and maturity factor of it all.

It’s easy to see both sides of the coin. You don’t want to have a kid who’s obviously head and shoulders above his peers in bantam or midget hockey, risk him getting bored or even seriously injured, or embarrass the competition. In most of the exceptional cases– the players were able to succeed with three of the five of them being 1st overall picks in the NHL Draft and four of five being in the first round. Sean Day was the player who didn’t get pick in the first round, though he was also the only defenseman of the group who was given that status.

Some believe that Day’s performance was the reason why Hughes wasn’t given the status, but that’s subjective as hell and you could counter that by saying it takes defensemen longer to develop than forwards.

On the flip side, it’s almost good for the younger players not getting bigger than they should be if they aren’t ready for it. Again another subjective aspect of the judging process, but at the same time– to hold off on a player who the committee may have the slightest doubt of it is erring on the side of caution. You may lose a player or two– like with Savoie and Hughes– but it might be better than burning them out at a young age or having them flame out when such high expectations were placed onto them. Plus, when I mentioned maturity– these kids at 15 may or may not be ready to take on a pro-like schedule, away from home all the time, and growing up before they may be ready to.

While it could be the CHL’s loss, the NCAA does have the ability in something great. Of course, Hughes may not make it to the college level, while Savoie could be using his as a bluff or doing the same thing as Jack Eichel in playing the year before his draft year and then leaving after a season. Many claim that the major junior route is the quickest route to the NHL– and it’s probably true– but at the same time, if Savoie and Hughes can play in the NCAA, even for a year, and dominate before going to the NHL; it may change some opinions…but probably not.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Need Extra Time to Topple Tigers

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a weekend that saw them throw everything and the kitchen sink against their opponent, but still only able to muster two goals in the weekend; the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks needed to rebound quick, as NCHC play started back up in full force. This weekend, they welcomed the Colorado College Tigers into The Ralph and used almost every minute of regulation and overtime to get a 4-3 win on the first game of the weekend.

It took until halfway through the first for UND to solve Alex Leclerc and it took a power play to do so. After the two-man advantage was killed, Nick Jones got the puck down low from Jacob Bernard-Docker and somehow was able to find space where there didn’t seem to be any over the shoulder of Leclerc to make it 1-0 for the Hawks. While UND did have a shot advantage in the first of 11-7, they seemed to have better quality chances against Leclerc than Colorado College had against Adam Scheel.

After plenty of sustained pressure in the zone, Andrew Peski’s shot from the point went off of Colorado’s Zach Berzolla and past Leclerc to make it 2-0 for the Hawks. Colorado College cut the lead in half after a power play goal by Westin Michaud– who drew the penalty– as his shot trickled past Scheel despite the UND goalie getting a glove on it– but couldn’t stop the momentum afterwards.

Under three minutes into the third, Colorado College tied it up after Erik Middendorf picked up the puck off a blocked shot and put it past a scrambling Scheel. Off the goal, Gabe Bast leveled Colorado’s Alex Berardinelli, which resulted in Berardinelli needing help off the ice, as Bast got a five-minute major and ten-minute misconduct for targeting the head. Less than thirty seconds into the power play, former North Dakota forward Chris Wilkie put home his fourth of the season with a wicked shot from the top of the circle and put the Tigers up for the first time in the game, though it was the only goal on the extended power play. With almost five minutes to play, UND got back on the board, as Jordan Kawaguchi tipped home a Nick Jones slap-pass/skate tip shot to knot the game at three, which led to overtime.

Jordan Kawaguchi/Photo by Jen Conway

“I didn’t see anyhing,” said Kawaguchi post-game. “I just went to the net with my stick on the ice. I don’t know if Nick’s shot would have gotten in or not, but just going to the net with my stick on the ice. It’s something coach has been talking about, getting into the dirty areas and goals will come.”

Just when it looked like it would go to a shootout to see who got the extra NCHC point, Ludvig Hoff tipped a Jacob Bernard-Docker point shot over Leclerc’s shoulder to give UND the overtime win by a score of 4-3.

“It was huge for a lot of reasons,” remarked head coach Brad Berry. “First of all, get back in the win column. Second climbing the standings in the NCHC, Pairwise is a big thing. But the morale of the group here. You’re working hard all year and in the end, sometimes you don’t get rewarded. We got rewarded tonight.”

UND is hoping that the rewards continue and try to finish the weekend with four points on Saturday night.

UND HOCKEY: Statement Game for UND in Big Game One Victory

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Photo via @UNDmHockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– With their tournament hopes on the line with this single series, the University of North Dakota and University of Nebraska-Omaha took to the ice in the first of a best-of-three NCHC Quarterfinal match-up on Friday night. With each team splitting the regular season series at two wins apiece, each side knew they were in for a tough series for a chance to make it to the Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul next weekend, as well as having a better chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament. Knowing they needed a solid showing, UND came through in a big way in front of 10,125 at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, taking Game One 4-0 over Omaha.

After a steady first 14 minutes, UND broke the ice as Shane Gersich rifled a wrist shot home from the the top of the circle and thanks to a screen by Colton Poolman, was able to get past Omaha’s Evan Weninger to make it 1-0 Fighting Hawks. A very quiet frame before and after with shots registering in at 11 for UND to Omaha’s six.

With 1:54 left in a carry-over power play, UND made the most of it with many great chances, but Christian Wolanin’s wrister hit the back-bar past Weninger to make it 2-0 for UND. The pace of play stayed consistent with not many good chances either way, but Nick Jones changed that with 7:21 left in the second. Coming off the bench to a loose puck, Jones went wide, then made a little flip of the puck over the Omaha’s defender’s stick and took a diving shot that went past Weninger to make it 3-0. Four minutes later, Omaha’s Joel Messner fumbled a breakout attempt, in which Joel Janatuinen made no mistake to bury it past Weninger to make it 4-0.

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Christian Wolanin/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“Our forwards were working so hard on the forecheck, maintaining pressure and making it hard on their defense,” said Christian Wolanin. “Our defenseman did a good job moving it north quickly. All the little things made up for some big goals for us.”

One big chance in the third saw Weninger make his best save of the night with a big cross-crease glove save on Grant Mismash to deny UND a fifth goal. UND outshot Omaha 34-25 in the game. It was Cam Johnson’s third shutout of the season and 12th all-time at UND.

“The key for us was to make them play defense,” mentioned Wolanin of UND’s ability to shut down Omaha’s threats. “If we don’t give them the puck and eliminate time and space, we’re going to have success against them.”

“It’s a good start. That’s the key word: start,” North Dakota coach Brad Berry said. “It’s just one game. I thought our guys did a lot of good things. The biggest thing is focusing on tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day and our lives are on the line still. There’s going to be a business-like mentality there.”

With the win, UND moved to 14th in the Pairwise Rankings, which is heavily used in helping determine the at-large bids for the tournaments. With that win, they move ahead of Omaha and would give themselves a better chance of moving up if they can sweep the series on Saturday.

“You kind of hear about what people are saying, but we’re focused on tomorrow,” defenseman Colton Poolman said of the Pairwise. “All that stuff is in the rear-view for us. We’re just focused on tomorrow.”

Puck drop is 7:07 at The Ralph, as UND looks to move onto the Frozen Faceoff next weekend and then to the National Tournament.

Maryland Hockey History Week: First College Game, First Artificial Ice, First Pro Team

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Johns Hopkins University hockey team, 1896/ Photo from Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries

Few will believe that the first college hockey game happened in Maryland. Even more will cock an eyebrow when they’re told that Johns Hopkins University was involved in the first college game, especially since they’ve never had anything higher than a club team in ice hockey. Yet, on that fateful February 1st in 1896, Johns Hopkins played Yale University to a 2-2 draw. It should be noted that Yale disputes this, saying that the first game was February 14th and they beat Hopkins thanks to Malcolm Chase’s two goals– but what do you expect from those Yaleies?? Below, as you can see, was printed on February 3rd, 1896.

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Regardless, the first game was played at the North Avenue Ice Palace in Baltimore, in a place which is now a vacant parking lot between Charles and St. Paul Streets in Baltimore. The rink itself was a marvel of then-modern technology being the first artificial ice surface in the US. The rink opened December 26th, 1894 with the playing surface being 250 feet long and only 55 feet wide. This was also in a day where there were seven players on the ice, including the goalie. Below is a brief detail of how it was all set-up.

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During that time, while the pro game hadn’t hit that area as of yet, there were plenty of athletic clubs in the area who had teams that played regularly, almost what rec-league would be considered today– but with more skill. With areas like Washington, DC and New York getting into it during the early days, the sport grew very quickly in popularity. Baltimore-area stores for a time couldn’t keep equipment on the shelves due to the people wanting to try it out. Yet, with World War I happening, coupled with the depression– the sport lost it’s popularity in Baltimore, with the Johns Hopkins team shuttering down around 1898 due to a variety of issues with travel and the school support. The North Avenue Ice Palace closing down in 1932, despite not holding a hockey game since 1898 and then having the ice machinery taken out in 1899.

It wasn’t until Carlin’s Iceland was built in 1932 that Baltimore got another team they could take pride in, the Baltimore Orioles. The oriole name has been and still is held by a lot of Baltimore teams (mostly baseball) due to it being the state bird, as well as the bird having the wings that resemble Lord Baltimore’s Coat-of-Arms. The hockey Orioles were a member of the Tri-State League and the Eastern League, spanning a decade from 1932 until they closed up shop in 1942. Names like Vince Papike, Vern Buckles, Norm Calladine (when on to play with the Boston Bruins), and Fred Hunt were stars for these Orioles teams. The Orioles went on to win the 1939-40 Eastern League title, while also garnering a couple Mayor Cups, an in-season tournament between teams.

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The 1938 Baltimore Orioles hockey club/Photo from Baltimore Sun archives

The fans took to the Orioles, as well– many of them going too far at times. Many times, the police had to come in to break up the fights in the stands, which spilled onto the ice. Fans would also hurl objects onto the ice to calls and players they objected to, which caused the Baltimore players to love their fans, with the rest of the league despising them. Essentially– they were then what Philadelphia fans are today.

High school hockey also boomed during this time, with many of the local schools taking up the game and playing at Carlin’s. Only 3,000 seats were in the building, but with hockey and figure skating show being put on, the place was packed each and every time. However, the Orioles disbanded after the 1941-42 season due to World War II, while Carlin’s Iceland then housed the first incarnation of the Baltimore Clippers before it burned to the ground in 1952.

PSA: Maryland Jerseys On Sale Now

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While this isn’t a paid product placement at all, I’ve got to let everyone know that the University of Maryland club hockey team is releasing their jerseys for sale for the month of January.

A link to their Google Form for the jersey is here and you should definitely look into getting one because they are slick as hell. At the price point of $120 plus $10 shipping, it’s a pretty decent deal to say the least.

More over, it’s to help the team out. Which they are trying to get the pride of Maryland out to the masses, it also is helping pay the teams bills. The club hockey team has to pay a lot of things out of pocket– especially for ice time and uniforms. The team set up a Go Fund Me earlier in the year to help with the costs of new white jerseys after the school ditch the script that the team had on the front of their whites. I’m assuming to stay in the good graces of the school and to get some kind of funding, the team had to change it. Rather than go out of pocket, the Go Fund Me got to about 75-80% of the goal when all was said and done, which help off-set a huge cost to the players.

At the semester break, the Terps are ranked #9 in the ACHA Southeast Division II standings with a 13-6-1 record. The team is currently on a three-game winning streak, while also winning nine of their last ten games heading into the break. In those nine wins, the Terps have outscored their opponents 53-19. The Terps will return to the ice January 19th at their home rink of the Laurel Ice Gardens to take on Rowan University.

So, get yourself a new jersey for your collection, support college club hockey, and show up to random pro games with an amazing jersey on your back. It’s a win-win-win in my book.

Fixing the Minor League System

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Photo taken from N2B Goal Horns’ YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BCELxhOAFw)

Yesterday, I talked about the Draft system in the NHL and how it is a broken system when it comes to the player’s rights and actual development with the team overall. However, the only real way to fix this system is to totally overhaul the minor league system as we see it today.

The idea to have a 31-31-31 system is a great idea for hockey– but are there 93 markets out there that are strong enough to keep things solidified for a decent amount of time and are there enough prospects out there to fill that team and make the pipeline system viable and valuable overall to the landscape?? You can say that there are a good amount of markets that are stable as hell, but you can’t assume that all 93 markets will be very strong if they stay across three leagues.

First, you have to make the minors mean something– especially if you change it to a point where players have to choose between their amateur status (in a world with Major Juniors is considered amateur and you have to leave there to start a pro career) and their pro career starting. You’d need a strong first step. Elements need to be taken from the SPHL– not saying that they’d be a jumping off point, but their regional presence is something that minor leagues need more of.

Second, take that regionalism and then create leagues that way. The problem with minor league hockey in the late-90s/early-00s is the fact that while there were a wide array of hockey leagues– they were all in competition with each other trying to be the Alpha League. The ECHL was in competition with the WCHL, UHL, CHL– but ultimately the ECHL won out. The AHL had to compete against the IHL, but the IHL’s owners were too enamored with competing with the NHL that they lost the plot and then the AHL won out.  The thing in this day in age– especially with a stress being put on development– is to take a page out of baseball and have multiple minor leagues in different regions, but a uniform classification for them to battle it out playoffs wise; almost like the NCAA and their conferences.

(In this scenario, amateurs are in my consideration Major Junior and NCAA, with the same rules applying that if you declare and sign a pro contract, you can’t go back to those teams– as a point I suggested with the post on Thursday. You can bet that the CHL will have plenty of push-back on that because they’re trying to run a youth-pro league off these kids; but it’s my imaginary situation– so get over reality for a bit.)

As great as the SPHL has been– they almost have to be considered independent to this whole scenario I’m putting together since I don’t believe there’s any official affiliation with the NHL and the SPHL clubs. Not only that, but I doubt there’s enough prospects for each team to sustain quality hockey across 31 Single-A teams. The SPHL is better off as its own entity anyway because they wouldn’t be held to the hard and fast rules of the NHL in their trickle down theory.

Therefore, the current ECHL is the entry-level point for players who declare and sign their pro contract. However, you can’t have the ECHL as one league anymore– you almost have to have the two conferences as two leagues under the AA banner of hockey. Hell, if they really wanted to get into it– make it three leagues under the banner and then the top teams meet in a final eight– the two top teams from each of the three leagues and overall wild card to win the AA title.

When it comes to the AHL– or AAA level– you can do what baseball does since teams are moving more westward with their teams. Especially with Loveland, Colorado coming into play next season, it just adds to that flavor. Again, you could have three leagues with an Eastern, Midwest, and Pacific leagues under that AAA banner to have all three meet akin to what I suggested with the AA league.

While minor league hockey does have its niche, the fact that people believe that one league is needed seems a little stupid, especially with how the NHL made sure to move their teams closer to them and then held the AHL hostage to make their games/travel less than the rest of the league or they threatened they would start their own league. In all honesty, they should have started their own league and started this upheaval quicker than what I’m suggesting.

Granted, some teams in some areas may want promotions, but at the same time– it’s knowing their market and knowing what they can be capable of doing in those markets with that league. An idea of relegation or promotion– which is sexy in a gimmick sense– won’t do much for stability in a cutthroat business of sports. It’s a nice idea, but when put into reality does more harm than good.

There’s a lot to enjoy about minor league hockey– but when you look at a successful and sustainable league, the regionalism of the SPHL is the front-runner for solid business model. They know their communities, they know their role in hockey, and they don’t get too ahead of themselves thinking they’re going to be the next big thing. They play to what they know and it pays off for them overall. If all minor leagues and minor league teams could see that and realize that regional hockey is a solid money maker/travel saver– then the divided leagues under the same classification could work out very well in order to save minor league hockey decades down the road.

On the Topic Of Changing the Draft Rules

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On this week’s Face Off Hockey Show, we debuted our new Patreon Pick segment where contributors of our Patreon who hit the donation tier picked a subject we would go long-form on. This week, one of the selections was the return to Major Juniors to two big names in the start of the season for their teams.

Kailer Yamamoto was sent from the Oilers back to Spokane, while Owen Tippett was moved from the Panthers to Mississauga. These two made enough of an impression to make the team out of camp, but due to their youth, inexperience, and the loopholes of an entry-level contract, they were allowed the ability to go back to Major Junior and grow more there.

This sparked a questions from our own Marc “with a ‘C'” who wondered if there was a way for players to lose their eligibility once they declare for the draft, which would also lead to the building of a new minor league system in that aspect. While I think this is something that could be an interesting test, I don’t know how much it could work in practice.

By in large, the NHL (and hockey in general) is very odd when it comes to the set-up of their draft, in that the rights of the player is held even if he’s not in their organization– like Junior and College players. For Major Junior players, they have two years to get signed or else they go back into the draft, however– if they sign a deal– they can play up to nine games before their first year is burnt up in their contract. For college players, they have all four years to decide if they want to stay or go. Yet we have seen in situations like Will Butcher, Jimmy Vesey, and Corban Knight where the college guys pick their poison once they get out of college and don’t have to sign with the team that drafted them– which is almost a waste of a spot for those teams that did pick them.

In other drafts, players have to declare and then lose their amateur rights when they sign a professional deal. Also, the NBA makes players aren’t eligible until a full year after their last high school year (though that may change), NFL is three years after your last high school year, while MLB is odd in that they draft players— but if the player steps into a college classroom, their rights are immediate withdrawn (see point 5 on that link). However, MLB has such a deep area of minor leagues that it’s not something hockey as a whole could take on unless they wanted to really, really shrink the size of each minor league. My belief is that minor league hockey “heads of state” are too bull-headed into doing something like that because for some reason they feel that a league has to have a 31-31-31 situations rather than what baseball has where the minor leagues are spread out.

Not only that, but it’s not as if hockey has the development situations the other sports have, since high school kids are in Major Juniors at 16 and don’t develop through an actual school team, but by a team within a leagues that is pulling in multi-million dollars a year. Those Major Junior leagues are run like a pro league, without having to pay the pro prices for players– but that’s another story for another time and another writer who has better knowledge on the inner workings of that kind of hockey.

So, what do you do to help the development so that 18-year-olds aren’t rushed in when they are not ready to do so?? The one thing people keep coming back to is raising the draft age to 19 or 20 years old, which is what the NBA did a couple years back.

It only makes sense to raise the age. The maturity of the player will be able to show through more, the player would get even more time in their development, and the teams won’t be playing roulette all that much because you’d be able to see a kid three-years into his playing cycle and maybe get some trends on how he plays. Of course, this is only for Major Juniors.

The college side is a little different. Players can get drafted by NHL teams and still play college because they have “advisors” which, according to the NCAA, aren’t agents and still allows the student-athlete to keep their amateur status and NCAA eligibility. It goes with the weird NHL thing where the kid isn’t property of the team until they sign a pro contract, but their rights are held for “x” amount of time until they decide to sign or wait it out to be a free agent. A great cheat sheet about the CBA and NCAA and Draft Rules is right here.

Personally, I don’t think it’s fair for a kid to have to lose their eligibility to play in college or major junior if they get drafted in the NHL, I also think the system is broken in that the whole “rights” ideal is something that is really antiquated. When you look at it, raising the draft age would fall in line with the age limits that the AHL has, where a player who is drafted out of Major Junior and still has eligibility has to be 20-years-old to play in the league– which would mean that they would be done with their Major Junior eligibility just as they’re ready to go to the next level. That makes sense.

However, if you actually want to put stock into the player and have their lose eligibility if they declare early– the need would be to totally revamp the minor league hockey system as we see it. How do you do that?? I’ll bring about that idea tomorrow.

On the Topic Of Marylanders in College, Junior, and Pro Hockey

If you have followed along in my life, Maryland is a huge part of it. After living in Glen Burnie for 21 years, obviously there’s a sort of pride there. But recently, I’ve seen an influx of Marylanders getting into the pro hockey ranks, as well as Division I NCAA and Major Juniors. With it being a dormant landscape for hockey, it’s always a fine sight to see a kid from Maryland get noticed on a big stage.

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One of the bigger ones recently has been Nick Ellis of the Bakersfield Condors. The Millersville native was signed by the Edmonton Oilers as a free agent after three years at Providence College where he posted a 30-9-5 record with a 1.90 GAA. Earlier this year, Ellis got AHL Player of the Week honors and has been put into a bigger role for the Edmonton affiliate.

Another player to possible get buzz this year or next is 16-year-old Adam Varga. After playing for the Washington Little Capitals U15 team, Varga took an unorthodox step by jumping to Major Juniors and signing with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. While there are territorial disputes of who’s a Marylander and who’s not (more on that in a second), but my count he is the fifth Maryland-born player to play in Major Junior after Jeff Brubaker (Hagerstown), Jeremy Duchense (Silver Spring), Charlie Pens (Perryville), and Campbell Elynuik (Silver Spring) to be stated as Marylanders in Major Junior. It’s a big step for hockey in Maryland and how the development is, as most Maryland kids go the NCAA route or even the Division III route for their higher-level hockey.

However, there is a bit of a conflict when dealing with player bios because some players will put somewhere else outside of Maryland, while other sites will post Maryland as their hometown. Elynuik is a perfect example as he is listed on HockeyDB as being from Silver Spring, but Elite Prospects will have him listed as being from Calgary, Alberta. Jarred Tinordi is another example, as he was born in Burnsville, Minnesota; but made his hay in Severna Park, Maryland– playing for Severna Park High School in his first year before going to join the US National Developmental Team. A guy like Michigan State’s Jared Rosburg is a whole other can of worms. Rosburg is listed as being from Clarksville, Maryland, but grew up in Strongsville, Ohio. Since he played for River Hill in Howard County, I’ll chalk Rosburg up to one of Maryland’s own.

(Elynuik, Tinordi, and Duchense bring about another example of guys listed as being from Maryland thanks to their father’s playing with the Washington Capitals when they were born. While Tinordi did play within the area, the others didn’t make that big an impact, especially with Duchense living in Quebec City for the majority of his youth.)

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Rosburg is one of many players who have touched NCAA Division I ice while being listed as a Marylander. The Michigan State defenseman has dealt with injuries, but has been a big presence on the blue-line and has come up with some big goals in his short career. Rosburg is following in the footsteps of Sam Anas, who is recently the most successful Maryland player, as he’s been in the Minnesota Wild organization for two years after a successful NCAA career at Quinnipiac after a solid high school career at the Landon School in Bethesda. Of course, Anas goes in that disputed Maryland/Washington DC zone where both sides want to claim him. Colgate’s Bruce Racine is in the disputed zone of Maryland/DC, as he was born in DC, but went to school in Bethesda at Georgetown Prep. Other NCAA players for the 2017-18 season are Matt McArdle (Annapolis/Lake Superior State), Colin O’Neill (Odenton/UMass-Lowell), Jason O’Neill (Odenton/Providence), and Graham McPhee (Bethesda/Boston College).

In the minor leagues, outside of Ellis and Anas; there are several others playing in the lower minor league ranks. Jack Burton was born in Reisterstown and went to Baltimore-area St. Paul’s school before heading to Colby College and then joining the Indy Fuel last season, where he is today. Another Maryland ECHLer is Nick Sorkin of the Wheeling Nailers, who played for Team Maryland and the Washington Little Caps before going to University of New Hampshire, then to the Nailers. Former Glenelg High School player and Woodbine native Eric Sweetman is in the ECHL, as well, playing in Idaho after four years at St. Lawrence University. Mike Chen played for Team Maryland growing up before heading to Division III at Salem State and is currently rostered on the Knoxville Ice Bears of the SPHL.

Women’s hockey has also grown in Maryland, especially with the likes of Haley Skarupa being from Rockville and playing on the US Women’s National team, as well as in the NWHL with the Connecticut Whale and Boston Pride after four successful seasons at Boston College. Beth Hanrahan of Poolesville played four years at Providence College for four years, being the team’s MVP in her junior and senior season, then playing for the New York Riveters before being name associate coach of Lindenwood University. Finally, Lindsay Berman of Odenton starts her third season as head coach of UMass-Boston’s Women’s team after her years in the CWHL with the Boston Blades, including a Clarkson Cup championship to her resume. Berman went to Arundel High School and played for the Washington Pride to garner attention leading her career at Northeastern University.

I’ve said before about how Maryland and the mid-Atlantic has been underserved as a market, especially with no NCAA program in the state. However, there’s a new wave coming through, especially with Varga in the OHL and young Patrick Giles (Chevy Chase) joining the US National Program; there’s a lot of shoot for in the youth programs in the Maryland (and sure, DC) area, though the high school systems does have a variety of teams. Also, the club hockey scene does have a lot of talent, but still not the top-tier talent other areas have. The area is still in need of more success stories, but I know I didn’t think in a million years there would be this much Maryland content across the NCAA and minor pro landscape as there is today.

On the Topic Of NCAA Expansion

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With Penn State and Arizona State making the jump from Division I club team to Division I in the NCAA, it makes some wonder who is going to be the next team to make the big jump to the NCAA and who is really able to make the jump with few stumbles along the way.

During this year’s NHL Draft, the University of Illinois announced that they were the first team to participate in the newly sponsored research for the feasibility of more college teams being brought up to the Division I level of hockey. It would make sense for Illinois to be the first to be in this program, as the state is surrounded by plenty of college hockey and would have a built-in conference alignment in the Big Ten once they move into D1. In the ACHA, Illinois went 13-11-3 in 2016-17 and finished the season being ranked 13th in the final rankings. That ranking is up from their 17th final ranking in 2015-16 and even with their final 2014-15 ranking at 13th. Illinois has been a club team for 60 years and with the Big Ten finally getting a hockey conference, it could be time for them to make the jump to the big show.

That said, I wholly expect that the next team to get funding to see if their program is viable for NCAA D1 status will be the Naval Academy. You can bet that the NHL and NHLPA will announce that during the Stadium Series weekend in Annapolis, as well.

The location of Illinois would be perfect when you look at the map of the NCAA. It’s clear to see that if you’re a D1 hockey school, you’re probably in Northeast corridor or the upper Midwest. Only two of the 60 NCAA D1 schools are south of the Mason-Dixon line (Miami-Ohio, Alabama-Huntsville) and seven teams are west of Minnesota (North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver, Air Force, Arizona State, Nebraska-Omaha, Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska-Fairbanks) with the two Alaska teams on thin-ice with keeping their teams due to financial reasons.

With the look at Navy, the move would help the NCAA establish a move towards the under-represented Mid-Atlantic region of the US. On top of that, the team would have already have the two other service schools– Air Force and Army– as their rivals. McMullin Arena may be one of the smallest of the NCAA, but they would be in line with what Robert Morris University has with the majority of the stands being on one side of the rink rather than a bowl seating situation.

There are some issues with Navy getting in and being competitive from the start, with recruiting being the biggest issue, which are the same issues that Army and Air Force deal with when it comes to bringing in the top players into the program. With players having to do service time after their college career is done, some may be hesitant to joining the team.  This is something that former Army goalie Parker Gahagen is dealing with, as he signed an amateur try-out with the San Jose Sharks, but is not looking into whether or not he could defer his service time (a minimum of two years) to move on with his NHL career. The same thing happened with Zach McKelvie after he finished his Army career, but had his pro hockey career stalled due to having to finish his active duty time in the Army.

However, the move to the Mid-Atlantic region for NCAA D1 hockey would be great for the high school scene in and around that area. While there are great club teams who play in that area and have a history behind them, it’s an underserviced area of the US when it comes to the prospects of high school players playing close to home. Especially with Alex Ovechkin having an impact in registration for youth players in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area, you’d think the NCAA would want to tap that market, too. Both Sam Anas (Quinnipiac) and Jamie Fritsch (New Hampshire) were Maryland kids who were able to break out and have D1 careers, but for the most part, a lot of players in the area look to the club team’s D1 or hope for a NCAA Division III school to go to– which isn’t bad, but you’d think they’d want to strive for move and try to get that boost to D1.

While Navy would be a good fit to the NCAA D1 pool, the University of Delaware could be another option. While not the most sexy of choices, the pool of players they can pull from would be tremendous as they would have Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey players to recruit and be close to home base. Delaware’s D1 club program has been a model for consistency and has won an ACHA National Championship in 2012, the first for the program. The team would fall into that Northeast corridor area of travel, but be a little closer for kids in surrounding states who don’t have D1 college hockey within a reasonable driving distance. While they did run into trouble last season, having to pull out of the season due to school sanctions, the team was reinstated by the school without having to miss a season because of said sanctions.

This whole scenario doesn’t include the growth of hockey out west, especially in California and Arizona. With Arizona State making the jump, they may have started a westward shift, but without any club teams (sans University of Arizona) being all that prominent in Division 1 of club hockey, it will take a little more time to grow the college game out there. The whole point is that right now, NCAA hockey is a big area of development for NHL teams and more and more kids from different areas are getting involved. It’s up to the NCAA to maybe explore harder into what they need to do to expand past the 60 teams they have now and make it viable. Assistance from the NHL and NHLPA will help greatly, but the NCAA can’t rely on those entities, as they will only look for area that would also help in NHL markets rather than outliers.