Yesterday's Dish, EJHL on Edge, has caused a bit of stir among players in the northeastern United States and many are saying that the practice of elite level players not having to pay to play hockey is widespread and extends down to the youth ranks all across the United States and Canada. The practice should also be a crime.
"The NCAA does not really want to open this can of worms and USA Hockey is going to do whatever it can to squash any investigation," another Tier III league's commissioner said on Tuesday. "But if you push the issue, a lot of hockey players are going to suffer from the fallout."
That statement forced me to consider the alternative, that players would feel it is ok to circumvent the system. Personally, I feel that it is important that everyone follows the same set of rules. Operators have the opportunity to select the level of play that makes the most sense for them financially. Each level of play sets the criteria for that operation and when everybody plays by those rules, the entire level of play wins.
The issue with the Eastern Junior Hockey League has to be the worst kept secret in all of hockey. Why the practice has been allowed to continue is way beyond reason. The NCAA also has to look at every player that moved from the United States Hockey League to the EJHL during the season and I can only believe that few paid the EJHL team even a dime.
The NCAA will also quickly discover that four teams account for the lion's share of this type of movement and the problem. It is those same four teams that have dominated EJHL play for years. The other owners in the league have also elected to turn a blind eye to the obvious lack of league parity that is a direct result of the problem.
Do the other owners even care? "This is a subject that quickly gets put to bed whenever it is brought up," said one former EJHL owner. "Those guys get away with it because they are able to overcharge the remaining players in their program," the former owner said. "Most of the guys can't afford to do it, but in reality, doing so is the only way to compete, it is the only way to attract top players, and with that comes the rest of the players."
One former EJHL player, who is now out of college, had this to say. "Hockey did not cost my parents a dime from the time I was a peewee player. Everything was free, but I was not supposed to talk about it. I did not actually buy my first pair of skates until I was getting ready for pro hockey."
In my opinion, the leadership of the EJHL, and every involved coach, needs to resign at once if even a single player loses NCAA eligibility. Subsequently, USA Hockey needs to follow that up with a suspension of their own.
The junior coaches and league officials are not the only guilty party. There are many NCAA Division I coaches that were aware of the practice, yet elected to steer prospects directly into these situations. In reality, it is because of this practice that many prospects choose to play in the EJHL instead of one of the free-to-play leagues in the United States or even Canada.
A current British Columbia Hockey League coach said it best. "We give the kids everything that the USHL guys can give, yet we still lose prospects to the EJHL. Sure geography is part of that, but come on, you are going to tell me that the family is going to shell out that kind of money?" the coach said. "Yea those college coaches are in on it, if we all know about it 3,000 miles away, you can't tell me that those guys did not know what was happening right under their noses."
Who spilled the beans? I have to believe that all of this is a result of the EJHL's plan to start the 16u program. The area affiliates are offended by the move and are aiming to discredit the league. The fear is that the EJHL will simply depart from USA Hockey if their 16u league is denied. Considering that their record of college placements fuels the value of the EJHL brand, tarnishing that value could be the best way of combating the new competition.
The bottom line is simple, teams need to operate within the rules or simply get out of the game. In the end, everybody wins from playing the same game.
What do you think?