Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Eastern Development Issues

A recent article in the Boston Herald has provoked a fair amount of discussion concerning the decline of the Massachusetts talent pool.

“No question, no question at all,” said York. “Through the 80s and early-90s we were really producing some tremendous players. We still have some good players, but for some reason - and I really can’t put my finger on why - it’s not like it used to be. We see it at the college level and the pros see it at the next level.”

The article then identifies potential factors for a drop-off. However, the factors identified by those addressing the subject would seemingly apply everywhere in the U.S., and therefore not explain the decline in Massachusetts, but the rise in Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. For example, the Junior Bruins' Peter Masters refers to the parents' role in creating ego driven players unwilling to work as hard.

“Back then, parents would yell at their own kid, ‘Skate harder, move,’ ” he said. “Now the parents are yelling at the other players or the coaches or the refs. It’s everyone else’s fault. When you’re sending the wrong message for 10 years, that has to have an effect on players by the time they’re 16 or 17.”

NHL Scout Tom Songin focuses on hitting being allowed at a younger age:

“The contact is killing the development,” said Bruins New England amateur scout Tom Songin. “Massachusetts hockey is really in trouble. The last few years, I’ve seen the quality of play go way down. If they don’t fix this fast, in a few years there won’t be anyone around here for me to scout.

Finally, Bob Turow, the President of and the chief scout for the USHL, cites the starting talent pool:

For Turow, one simple fact is at the core of the apparent growing ability gap between the Mass. and Canadian youngsters:

“In Canada, our best athletes are playing hockey,” he said. “An awful lot of your best athletes down there typically are playing baseball or football or basketball. Those are the sports that are ingrained in the USA, and I don’t see it shifting to hockey in huge numbers.

Again, while the point may be valid, it applies equally to kids in Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. Yet, those areas are cranking out the Phil Kessels and Eric Johnson's of the world, both of whom will be going in the top 3 of the 2006 NHL draft, or Kyle Okposo, Peter Mueller or Michael Fortney who should go in the top 15. The development lag does not seem to be prevailant outside of Massachusetts.

Ultimately, the article concludes with the one real factor unique to the Massachusetts system: its "midget" system.

A city like Chicago has just four so-called youth teams at the AAA level - denoting the highest-quality of play. Pittsburgh has only two. Immediately around Boston, there are at least two dozen teams purporting to AAA status - and not nearly enough legitimately talented players to stock them. But youth hockey has become big business, with a single AAA team typically earning a team owner more than $30,000 - with rink owners also raking in thousands in ice rental costs.

This undoubtedly is true, as the New England development system remains entrenched in the school model, rather than hockey-affiliated bantam/midget teams. This distinguishes the Mass system from the Illinois and Michigan systems dominated by midget teams, but Minnesota also follows the school system, and they have flourished.

Moreover, if the development gap is caused by the lack of premier play at the midget stage, one would suspect that the development gap would become apparent at ages 16 through 18. Yet, checking the USA Select festivals, the drop off in Mass talent viz. the rest of the US already is manifested at the Select 14 and 15 festivals. At the 2004 Select 15 Festival for 1989s, for example, none of the top 20 scorers, and none of the top rated defensemen were from Massachusetts. At the 2005 Select 15 Festival for 1990s, only Torin Snyderman was among the top 20 scorers, and none of the Mass players were ranked among the top 15 forwards or top 10 defensemen as rated by USHR. Bear in mind, these are all players prior to any potential development issues created by a midget vs. HS argument.

So then, what is it? I would defer to others closer to the situation, but it does not seeem coincidental that the rise and drop in Mass talent correlates with the rise and fall of the role-models Boston Bruins. Back in 1981 to 1983, when Mass produced Bobby Carpenter, Tom Barrasso and the like, and routed the Minnesota All-Star teams during their March head-to-head competitions, everyone noted that the players born in 1963 to 1965, started playing in early 1970s when Bobby Orr lead the Bruins to the cup. Today's picks, born in 1988, started playing in the mid-1990s, a time when Jeremy Jacobs and Harry Sinden killed the Bruins. I wonder how many kids were lost to other sports rather than being forced to emulate Hall Gill? Of course, Hockey East is glad for the NY Rangers' 1994 cup, which helped spawn the New Jersey development curve and 2006 and 2007 NHL first rounders Bobby Saguinetti, Nick Petrecki, Kevin Shattenkirk and James Van Riemsdyk.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Maine's Goalie Situation

Goalie John Murray, who had been attempting to gain admission to U.Maine for next season, has abandoned those efforts by signing with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers. It will be interesting to see who Maine brings in to back up Ben Bishop, with incumbent Matt Lundin leaving school to transfer elsewhere after a USHL season. One name floated about was Fairbanks (NAHL)'s Bryce Christiansen, who was a top pick of the USHL draft and figured to spend another season before entering college.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

CHA extends deadlines on Junior A 16-year olds

Acknowledging the strong feedback and revolt (and, it in some cases, threats of secession) that it was hearing from the Junior A teams under its umbrella, the CHA (led by OHL guro David Branch) deferred the restrictions it was set to impose after this next season. Instead of barring all 16 year olds from playing junior A in 2007-08, as was first proposed, the CHA announced that it now will allow the same 2 per team through the 2007-08 season, and thereafter reevaluate the proposed rules.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

OHL Draft update

As suspected, the first round selection of Cushing defenseman Zach Bogosian in the OHL draft was a result of a pre-draft deal orchestrated by Bogosian's agent, Bobby Orr:

Bogosian was heavily courted by the U.S. national program, Cedar Rapids of the USHL, who drafted both bogosian and his older brother Aaron, or he could have stayed in Cushing for a third year. On Friday night, bogosian committed to the Petes, paving the way for GM Jeff Twohey to draft him.

"I really wasn't sure," bogosian, who turns 16 July 15, said. "I had an opportunity to play with my brother for two years who is going to play in the USHL. I had an offer to join the U.S. national team but I felt Peterborough would be the best place for me and that's really what I want to do."

He said Orr's agency, which represents the Staals and Petes' Steve Downie, Aaron Dawson and Jordan Morrison praised the Petes. He said he and his family were also comfortable with Twohey and the Petes' organization.

The Colorado Gazette reports on two possible late Colorado recruits. The first, Addison DeBoer, has committed and will join the '06 class. The second, Troy Mattila, is deciding between an '06 offer from Colorado, and '07 offers from St.Cloud, UNH, Miami-Ohio and Mercyhurst. "I'm kind of gathering everything, so I can try to figure everything out," Mattila said. "I've been back and forth (over CC's offer) about 20 times. I just keep changing my mind."

Monday, May 08, 2006

OHL Draft Notes

Like the Quebec league draft, the OHL draft is becoming less of a "draft" and more of a recruitment process. A few of the top teams with ample resources are becoming confronted with more-aggressive players asserting their right to control their destination. While the fans of OHL teams picking early in the draft complain about the rigged process, and want OHL President David Branch to impose rules evening the playing field, it is clear that the OHL is not unhappy with this process. Any rules that would force players to declare for the OHL route -- and bar players who refused to declare for the OHL -- carries with it the risk that too many top players would opt out of the OHL. By allowing players to choose their ultimate destination, the OHL retains more top-end talent than they otherwise would. Hence, the OHL's inaction at curbing the rigged process.

Among the top-end players this year, Markham's Cody Hodgson rattled the NCAA sabre for the top teams, and rather than being a top-3 pick, dropped to a Toronto-area team, which is what he wanted. Look for him to sign with Brampton.

Steve Stamkos, another Markham center, also voiced some reluctance at the OHL, but Sarnia made a good financial deal with him prior to the draft, and he was selected first overall.

USA Under-17 Team center Philip McRae fell to the end of the first round, where he was picked by London. The Knights were thought to be the only potential OHL team to which he would report, because his father (former NHLer, Basil) is a part owner of the Knights. Again, it would seem to be a NCAA loss.

Another American, Zach Bogosian, had a spot on the USA Under-17 team, but his first round selection by the Peterborough Petes suggests he will go the OHL route.

Barrie took Brian Lashoff in the third round. His older brother, Matt, had made a college commitment to BU before his advisor, Bobby Orr, steered him to the Kitchener Rangers (and a first round selection by the Boston Bruins). I would guess that Brian, too, will go the OHL route, although as a tools player, he is less of a college prospect than his brother was.

Another American third rounder, Matt Zarbo, is a Rochester, NY native who spent part of the year with the Junior Bruins. A third round pick is more than a flier, and although Zarbo wasn't rated as a first rounder, Brampton must be pretty confident to have selected him at or before his real "value". (Zarbo's brother has committed to Sacred Heart).

Of the top rated Candian players, the only one who really fell to "flier" teritory was Toronto Marlie midget center Corey Trivino. Trivino reportedly is close to making an NCAA committment, and his later selection reinforces the notion that he will choose that route.

Kitchener took a surprise 6th round flier on Lake Superior State recruit Matt Martello. According to the Waterloo Record, Martello does not have a deal with the Rangers:
All the Rangers picks from Saturday were born in 1990, except for 1987-born Vaughan Vipers Jr. A centre Matt Martello. DeBoer said Martello, Kitchener's sixth-round pick, has a full U.S. college hockey scholarship to Lake Superior State, but will decide over the summer whether to go the NCAA route or come to Kitchener.

Kitchener has a history of taking NCAA-committed players, as a fall back should the college game not work out (Matt Auffrey, Victor Oreskovich being recent examples.)

Another OHL team known for taking college players is Owen Sound, and they selected Bowling Green bound Wayne Simmons in the sixth round. Simmonds really came on during his rookie Junior A season, and, having been undrafted in the 2004 and 2005 OHL drafts, was available for this draft.