Tired of watching CHL teams pursue players under scholarship at NCAA schools, the NCAA has started to push back. This weekend, they're bringing the fight for hockey talent right into the GTA's backyard for the first time ever.
U.S. schools have long recruited in these parts, of course. But because of restrictions on the age at which individual coaches can actively visit and speak to prospective recruits, the NCAA has often found the best of the best are snapped up by CHL clubs before they get a chance to compete.
On Saturday at Chesswood Arena in North York, College Hockey Inc. will hold it's first ever NCAA Collegiate Hockey Summit in the GTA, inviting 70 of the top local prospects born in 1994 or 1995 to a forum at which representatives of schools like Boston College, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, North Dakota, RPI, Wisconsin and Notre Dame will have a chance to make their pitch for these youngsters to look hard at the NCAA option at the same time they're being approached by CHL teams.
It's all the initiative of former NHLPA head Paul Kelly, who now runs College Hockey Inc., and is the latest in several similar gatherings held across Canada as the NCAA looks to compete harder for players, particularly high-end Canadian prospects.
To some degree, it's the NCAA's response to what Kelly has called the "relentless" recruitment of players on scholarship by CHL teams. Just this summer, top NCAA players like Louis Leblanc, Jerry D'Amigo and Jarred Tinordi have bolted their schools, Tinordi after committing to Notre Dame but never actually playing for the school.
Undoubtedly, the OHL, in particular, won't be happy about the NCAA holding this weekend forum in Toronto for young players who likely haven't yet been approached by NCAA schools. Kelly, in fact, believes it was the CHL that blocked him from attending last month's World Hockey Summit in Toronto after he was initially invited.
It's likely to intensify the struggle between the CHL and NCAA, which has heated up considerably over the past few years and is likely to continue to do so as the movement to get more Division I schools to ice varsity hockey teams gathers steam. Powerful Penn St. is expected to announce as early as today that it will convert its club program into a varsity program, and many are already projecting that soon there will be enough Big Ten schools to form a varsity hockey conference for the first time.