College Hockey vs. Junior Hockey: Ditching a Commitment

Photo Courtesy of Brendan McDermid (Reuters)

Photo Courtesy of Brendan McDermid (Reuters)

By Andrew Weiss (@WeissFC)

When at arenas scouting or talking hockey in general, I am often asked if I think it is right for a player to ditch a college commitment to join a major junior team. Truth is there no short answer to this question. If answer seekers have not tuned me out midway through my answer, they will find I do not I also do not lean one way or another when it comes to a player going against a college commitment.

With July typically being the month of de-commitments and Michael McCarron recently joining the London Knights, I feel there is no better time of the year to share my angles on a player joining a major junior team in lieu of a NCAA verbal commitment.

Below are my two mindsets on the issue. Hopefully this column will make NCAA hockey fans more understanding of these players and fans of CHL franchises understand why NCAA fans get so upset with their “favourite” team when they snatch a player from a NCAA commitment.

Why It Is Not Acceptable To Break A College Commitment For The CHL

Much like parents need to show their kids support and attend their hockey games, the same standard is expected from college coaches once players have committed. It is often obvious that just as much time, resources, and travel is spent by universities and their staff to show interest and support to players once they have committed as was spent trying to get these same players to commit.

A prime example standing out from the prior season alone is the entire University of Michigan coaching staff taking in then-15-year-old commit Brendan Warren’s 7:00 am game on a Wolverine game day. Another is University of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia traveling 19 hours round trip by car to watch three commits play a game in Ann Arbor on a Gopher off weekend. Some will argue a lot of these support trips also double as recruiting/scouting opportunities to uncommitted players, but it is obvious a lot of these trips are made primarily to watch players coaches already have committed.

Players who bolt for major junior mid-summer not only waste of university’s resources in the recruitment process, they also leave programs scrambling for alternative options at the last minute to fill the void left. Leaving college to turn pro or for a major junior organization after a college season gives programs around seven months to fill the departure while de-commits leave programs with as short as a month to find a solution.

Regardless of the strain it puts on a program when an incoming player bolts, certain ethical values come into play when a player considers resending a commitment. Much like job offers, once a candidate has been given an offer by a company and the candidate accepts the offer, it is considered highly unethical for the same candidate to continue to interview and look for other offers. The company, in this case the college hockey program, is holding a spot and is not out searching for more highly skilled candidate to fill the same spot that was already offered.

Like my parents always said, once you make a commitment to someone or something, being a person with integrity we expect you to follow through on that commitment.

Why It Is Acceptable To Break A College Commitment For The CHL

I can remember a lot of what my mind was set on throughout my high school days. Aside from what can be read between the lines in the previous sentence, I was like most hockey players and craved attention wherever I could get it.

College (ACHA) coaches would come and speak to my team on a regular basis during my upperclassmen years. Any program that gave me any individual attention was where I was headed to school until the next coach expressed interest. Even with that said, I cannot imagine being a 15-year-old and having programs like Notre Dame and Michigan wanting me to come play for them in a distant three years.

With college programs attempting to get an earlier jump on elite level competition, 14 and 15-year-olds are getting college offers more than ever. Case in point, of The Scout’s top 20 Americans eligible for the 2013 OHL Priority Selection, half already had given verbal commitments to colleges during their 14 and 15-year-old hockey season.

Mindsets and priorities change from when a player gives a verbal commitment to a school who gave him a lot of attention at 15-years-old to when the same player is 18-years-old and an NHL Draft pick. It is one thing to fulfill a commitment to going to work when your employer schedules you to that week—it’s another to fulfill a promise you made three years ago to go school somewhere because you liked the attention you were receiving.

We all have heard stories about players who receive advice from the NHL team who selected them or their advisors to go a specific route to maximize their development. Realistically, one cannot blame a player for simply following advice from the team they hope to play for one day.

Bottom line is it is unrealistic to think all teenagers do not have the maturity of guys like Jacob Trouba who held off on a college commitment to Michigan until he was certain he would fulfill his commitment. It is also realistic to think that a development path that a player chooses in his mid-to-late teens is still going to be the best for him once he is drafted.

After proofing this column, it is obvious I speak out of both sides of my mouth when it comes to college commitments, but I believe that’s really because there is no right or wrong answer here. All in all, I am not on either side when it comes to this ever increasing hot topic—I’m on whatever side a player feels is right and best for their development.

Hopefully this piece did not persuade you to now favor or be against players breaking NCAA college commitments. Rather I hope readers can see both perspectives of the issue they may have not seen before reading this column.

Want to continue the discussion on de-commitments? Let me know what you think on Twitter @WeissFC or via email at

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