Hours before the 2012 NHL Entry Draft kicked off at Consol Energy Center, about 60 players who hope to hear their names called a few years down the road gathered to learn about the next step in their hockey careers.
College Hockey, Inc., a nonprofit branch of USA Hockey aimed at promoting the college game, held the Reebok Collegiate Hockey Summit on Friday at Robert Morris' Island Sports Complex. The invitation-only event was host to elite players from Western Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as 10 Division I coaches and two current professional players.
The main goal of the summit was to encourage these elite teenage players to play college hockey rather than major junior hockey in Canada.
"You're not going to play hockey forever," Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. "In the workforce nowadays, you need a degree. What better way to combine hockey with education and get your degree?"
The speakers explained the convoluted recruiting and eligibility process, which differs slightly in hockey from other major sports.
After high school, players can play in American junior leagues, like the North American Hockey League or United States Hockey League, for two years and retain NCAA eligibility. The NCAA considers the Canadian Hockey League, which encompasses all of Canada's major junior leagues, a professional league, so any player who signs a contract with the CHL loses his amateur status.
Christian Hanson, a Peters Township High School graduate who played college hockey at Notre Dame, said he had a good offer from the CHL's Quebec Remparts, but chose to attend college instead.
"Major junior is more of the 80-game schedule, more of the NHL-type schedule, but college was awesome," said Hanson, who plays in the Washington Capitals' system. "It was so much fun. You develop relationships that you keep for a lifetime."
Hanson and the coaches, emphasized that college hockey is a more viable path to the NHL than it used to be.
According to College Hockey, Inc., former college players made up about 30 percent of all NHL rosters last season, up from 21 percent in 2002-03.
"If you're a good enough player, you're going to get to the NHL," Hanson said. "There's no point in rushing it."
As far as drafting college players, though, the results have fluctuated a bit more. Since the draft moved to seven rounds in 2005, the overall number of college players selected has held steady between 60 and 70.
The high-water mark came in '07, when 11 players with college ties were selected in the first round. Last year, though, just four college players were picked in the first round. This year could be even worse, with Michigan commitment Jacob Trouba seemingly the only consensus first-round pick among college players. Four or five others could be drafted in the later part of the round.
Nate Ewell, interim executive director of College Hockey, Inc., admitted there still may be somewhat of a bias among some teams against drafting college players.
"When you look back five years, there should have been more [college guys] that went in the first round," he said. "That's what we're proud of, from college hockey's perspective, is we're developing the guys that were taken in the third and fourth round into legitimate NHL players."
Sam Werner: email@example.com or on Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published June 23, 2012 12:15 AM