Last weekend’s USA Hockey Meetings in Orlando was a happening event. Aside from the general business of the meetings themselves, the real action takes place in the lobby, Starbucks, and restaurants.
One of the hottest topics of the meeting was what USA Hockey’s American Collegiate Hockey Association is on the verge of becoming.
New Executive Director Craig Barnett is a rising superstar when it comes to hockey here in the United States. The former goalie spent 20 years as a coach, and athletic director, before taking a position with Pointstreak. He spent the last eight years with the North American Hockey League (Director of Player Personnel) before taking the helm of the ACHA.
The ACHA is a divided house. On one side there is the enormous Division II and III levels with 340 or so teams competing in 23 conferences. Add in 64 teams within the women’s two divisions and it’s easy to see why most decisions are in tune with what’s best for the majority. And there is where we have an issue.
It’s the Division I level that is in a bit of an identity crisis. Some schools still operate as a club type program while others literally play at this level of the game as a stepping stone to one of the NCAA levels. Schools like Penn State and Arizona State did exactly that. It looks like the University of Illinois could be next.
There are schools that treat their ACHA hockey programs as a varsity sport, this includes the full financial support of the school. While others rely on player fees to cover 100% of the team’s operating budget.
Over the past few years, there is a quiet discussion among coaches regarding the use of student/athletes coming from the Canadian Hockey League (major junior). Today, most players from that level of play, that wanted to play college hockey, were limited to Canada’s U Sports (formally known as Canadian Interuniversity Sport or CIS) schools.
The rules regarding the use of these players come from the ACHA itself, and not USA Hockey. While it’s debatable why NCAA schools elect to treat hockey players different than the rest of sports, it’s not understandable why the ACHA elected to follow the NCAA down that road. The reality is that most ex-major junior players are at the same place in life as the current pool of players on ACHA Division 1 rosters. The biggest difference between the two was the decision, at age 15 or 16, that put the players onto one developmental path or the other.
It’s ludicrous to continue punishing ex-major junior players for a decision made much earlier in life. The money most players received from CHL teams is little more than hamburger and toothpaste expenses.
Allowing these young men to play, at the Division 1 level of ACHA hockey, would have a very positive impact on the overall level of play while righting a wrong along the way. If the Division I schools are split regarding the issue, why not separate the 57 or so teams into two groups and allow former major junior players back on the ice?
I’m thinking that Barnett is the perfect leader to make the idea a reality. Barnett completely understands how the change in policy would positively enhance his organization’s standing within the game. ACHA Division I hockey could quickly rival the on-ice product of NCAA Division I schools and boost each university’s profile along the way.
It’s about time but is Barnett the man to lead such a power move? He has a history of leaving a mark at each step of his rise within the game, turning ACHA Division I into a college hockey power player could be the perfect trophy before he takes the next step.
We are excited to see the man do his work.