If you’re a fan of the Denver University Pioneers, today is a perplexing day.
That’s because your leading scorer is gone, joining the American League’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
Brock Trotter, third in the entire Western Collegiate Association conference in scoring with 31 points in 24 games, has departed the Pioneers after reportedly being suspended and signed an entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens, who then assigned the former free agent to their top farm team.
This comes just a month and a half after a more high-profile defection rocked the college hockey world when Minnesota Golden Gopher Kyle Okposo signed with the New York Islanders and proceeded to tear up the AHL for Bridgeport.
So what’s the deal here?
Okposo openly had issues with Minnesota’s coaching staff, but Trotter's situation is a little more murky, despite the fact he was thriving offensively on a Denver team poised to make noise at the Frozen Four this year.
For the NCAA, this represents a bad omen. The governing body can’t exactly force someone to go to school, even if they are on a full scholarship.
In the NBA, a rule to somewhat protect the college basketball game was instituted stipulating players must complete one year of NCAA ball before they are draft eligible, preventing high-schoolers from jumping to the pro ranks.
For college hockey, this is not as feasible.
First of all, it would require the co-operation of the NHL, which based on the Trotter and Okposo cases, it clearly doesn’t have.
Second, NCAA hockey teams are in a constant death-battle with the Canadian junior ranks for talent and any other advantage to the CHL would kill college hockey.
While the college game is filled with rigid eligibility stipulations and educational requirements (i.e., going to class and passing your courses), the major junior ranks often appear in comparison as your cool uncle who doesn’t care if you even go to class, let alone muddle your way through Grade 12 chemistry.
Now, to be fair, the main selling point of the CHL is that its leagues churn out pro hockey players.
For the NCAA, the selling point is a free post-secondary education plus a chance at landing a job in pro hockey afterwards. But as recently retired Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight pointed out last year, the NBA’s one-year-of-college rule has actually taken away the motivation to go to class for young ballers.
That’s because they can skip class all first semester, be put on academic probation for the second – which allows them to still play hoops – then skip that semester because they have no intention on coming back, anyway.
So the NCAA becomes just another farm team churning out players too dumb to realize they’re going to be working at a gas station if their knee shatters in training camp.
Without the educational bonus of the NCAA, ex-Providence Friar and Harvard alum Brian Burke never brings a Stanley Cup to Anaheim. Fellow Crimson grad Mark Moore never becomes an author after his NHL career fails. Countless others don’t get trapped in low-wage jobs.
The NCAA can’t legislate a player to stay the course when it comes to their college careers, but they certainly should continue to show them the benefits.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his features, The Hot List and Year of the Ram, appears Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
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