The American Hockey Coaches Association held its annual meetings last weekend in Naples, Florida. Many of the rules and regulations that shape college hockey emanate from these structural meetings. The USCHO’s Jim Connelly offered his thoughts on the critical issues that will dominate the sessions in Naples.
College hockey not only competes for notoriety with the other NCAA sports but has the unique and yet dubious distinction of vying for talent with the CHL; a league known for their ‘take no prisoners’ recruiting approach that focuses on player development over educational priorities. As a result, the annual AHCA meetings our of critical importance given the competitive landscape of Major Junior and NCAA Hockey these days. Both entities operate under vastly different rules and regulations which makes the NCAA’s task of evolving its game even more difficult give the fact that the CHL has far more leeway in its recruiting efforts and doesn’t have to fight through the superflous bureaucracy that many college programs are forced to deal with.
One of the integral issues on the AHCA agenda this year is the ever evolving discussion regarding the half shield. As we all know, the NHL enforces a helmet rule in the post Peter McNabb era but allows its players the right to wear a half shield; or no shield at all for that matter. The NCAA Hockey powers always keep a close eye on the evil empire (CHL) to the north in an effort to try and continuously improve its professional development in comparison. The CHL does not enforce a ‘full shield’ mandate which for some young players could be viewed as a competitive advantage as the young blue chippers search long and hard for every distinct advantage they can get in their quest for the NHL.
The chatter that has come about in the post meeting discussions seems to suggest that the NCAA is strongly considering allowing the half shield. It is wonderful to see the progressive nature that is normally the antithesis of virtually every aspect of the bureacuratic NCAA regulatory system. I have said for years that the NCAA should eliminate the full shield which will not only allow the NCAA game to compete with the CHL, but will better prepare its players for a potential future in the NHL. Ask any player about the improved sightlines and starkly different feel one gets when the full cage is eliminated and you will get an emphatic response of the positive variety.
The Cape Cod Baseball league has built its credibility as arguably the best amateur baseball league in the country because it was ahead of its time in allowing competing ballplayers to use wooden bats like they do in MLB. The same holds true for amateur hockey as college players compete for the recognition of the NHL Central Scouting Bureau with the CHL skaters. Even subtle, nuanced changes like allowing the half shield should provide an advantage from the current system and will help attract the attention of the powers that be in the NHL Scouting arena.
Elsewhere in the world of rules, regulations and hierarchy
According to CHN’s Adam Wodon, College Hockey Inc. – the marketing arm of college hockey - will see some changes in its governance structure. In the past, CHI was solely under the auspices of the commisoners of the five major conferences. The autocracy of this organizational structure led to the demise of former CHI director, Paul Kelly, who challenged the commisioners last year because of his concern for the good of the sport. Although the precise organizational hierarchy and structure is still a bit nebulous, we have been told that the new governing body will be more widely represented.
The governing body will feature not only representation from the commisoners, but will include a voice in the boardroom for various coaches, athletic directors and potentially a non voting member of USA Hockey. In my humble opinion, it is always in an organizations best interest to have varied opinions and backgrounds on the leadership team. This in turn creates a checks and balances of sorts that will not allow one prevailing opinion to be the rule. It’s the way the forefathers of our beloved country set up our governing body before the current political system ruled it all in favor of political cronyism – my one political rant for the day.
All in all, most of the pending changes seem to be in the best interest of the sport we all know and love. I will be curious to see which one’s actually come to fruition, and how successful these alterations become.