"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
In 2005, the top prospect for the OHL draft was Logan Couture. Considered a holy lock to go first overall, he decided to try his talents at the junior B level instead of AAA where at least 95% of players get drafted from. There are others who make this choice, and it is usually an awful, awful choice....unless you're as good as Couture. I wanted to see how he was doing so I went to see a playoff game he was playing in. The arena was swarming with OHL scouts. This seemed odd to me. This guy was a lock to go first overall (although he didn't because of JT). At most, only teams with a top 5 pick should have been there in case he happened to slip. I struck up a conversation with the head scout from the Owen Sound Attack.
Since there were no other draft eligible players worth watching in the game, I asked him why one of the top teams in the OHL (at the time) would be scouting a player they had absolutely no shot at getting. His answer?
"I'm not here to scout him, I'm here to enjoy watching him play. This kid will be a first round pick in the NHL."
You're probably telling yourself, "Lahey, not only do you consistently get drunk and piss yourself, but all of your stories lack a point!!"
Touché, but this time I have a point. My point is, sometimes a player is so good that you just want to watch him play hockey, even if you don't have a horse in the race. Jacob Trouba is that good.
Team: Detroit Compuware/USNTDP
Level Of Competition: USHL/US U-18 (A+)
Claimed Size: 6'1, 172lbs
NHL Draft: 2012
OHL Draft: Kitchener
Eyeball Test (is he actually the claimed size?): Trouba is all of 6'1, 172lbs. Very solid frame to put on more weight. Thick neck.
Scouting Report: There is no shortage of scouting reports on him, so I'm going to give my own personal opinion here just so you guys get something different.
Trouba is a total package defenceman with elite ability. Looked like a man among boys in AAA, and that pretty much continues in the USHL. Has excellent size, will probably grow an inch or so and end up somewhere in the range of 6'2 215lbs as a pro.
Trouba makes a clean, smart first pass out of his zone and plays with perfect position on breakouts. Stays calm, never panics, and consistently loses the forechecker completely behind the net to create odd man rushes. This won't happen at the next level as often, but he shows the poise needed to create good breakouts at the next level.
Takes care of his own end, does not allow himself to get pushed around in front of or behind the net. Superb zone awareness.
Great skater, very smooth, very adequate top-end speed. Changes direction nicely. Good puckhandling skills. Shot from the point is decent, not exactly Ryan Ellis but it will get stronger.
Likes to get involved in the offensive plays. Makes nice, controlled rushes but knows when to bail on a rush when he doesn't see what he wants. Rarely gets caught up ice because of his excellent decision making. Smart on pinches. The only time I saw him get caught on a pinch he absolutely destroyed the player who beat him to the puck.
His best attributes are his physicality and his stick skills. This guy loves contact. He plays the game very well, but he is always waiting in the weeds for his chance to make the crowd go OHHHHHH. He hits often, but always has one or two massive open ice hits a game. When he connects, he puts his shoulder right between the nipples for perfectly clean hits. His stick skills are unbelievable. One of the hardest skills for a d-man to learn is stick patience. He is extremely patient and strikes very quickly and with pristine timing when he goes for the poke-check. This makes him nearly impossible to beat 1 on 1. He will need to get used to significantly better stick handlers in the OHL or NCAA but he'll adapt.
All indications are that he is a quality kid with excellent leadership skills and a solid work ethic.
Everyone and their dog keeps making the comparison to Cam Fowler, the Windsor Spitfires d-man who had an excellent rookie season with the Ducks. I don't really see it, to be honest.
Trouba is definitely smooth like Fowler is, but not quite as smooth. He also likes the jump in the play like Fowler does, but he isn't quite the offensive player that Fowler is. Having said that, Fowler always got knocked for not being physical enough, especially behind and in front of the net. You will never, ever have that issue with Trouba. Trouba eats forechecking forwards for breakfast.
I have two comparisons of my own. The first is Drew Doughty. Now before you go crazy with excitement, I will say that Trouba is not as good as Doughty was at the same age, nor does he possess his insane offensive ability. But what makes Doughy so good is his play in the defensive end, especially when breaking out. Drew has this ridiculous talent that allows him to manipulate forwards into giving him space. He has a magical ability to wait until the very last second before he releases a pass, leaving the opposing player chasing him totally out of the play.
Trouba has a little bit of that in him. He is always making the opposing forwards react to him, not the other way around. He does a great job of releasing the puck at the last moment, giving his team a lot of odd man rushes.
The second comparison is Dion Phaneuf. Once again, Trouba is probably a bit below what Phaneuf was at this point, but his physical style is very similar. Like Phaneuf, opposing players fear his wrath all over the ice. In junior, players didn't try things on Phaneuf they would try on other guys because he would put your face through the Little Caesar's advertisement. Trouba has that same type of game. He doesn't run around like a goon looking for blood, but the big hit is always in the back of his mind. He's just waiting for you to make a mistake so he can make you pay.
Don't get discouraged because I am saying he isn't as good as those guys, the fact that I'm using their names for comparison tells you everything you need to know.
Will he Stick With Michigan?
The hockey community really isn't very big. People talk and everyone who is anyone knows each other. I remember when there was a thread about Max Domi getting drafted by the Frontenacs and the board freaked out about him leaving. I posted that I had already heard that he was OHL-bound. That was no secret, most people already knew. That is because information travels fast in hockey circles.
Jacob Trouba will stay. Neg me to hell if I'm wrong, but I won't be. I am of little importance in the hockey world, but I work for people who are kind of a big deal, and I know a lot of people. If there was even a 10% shot of him bolting to the OHL, I would have heard something about it. But I haven't. He will be a Wolverine.
Brian alluded to the fact that Kitchener is one of those teams that tends to snatch college-bound players. I think that is a bit overblown. Kitchener has a decent franchise, but there are only two teams you really have to worry about: the Windsor Spitfires and the London Knights. These teams have put countless players in the show, and are always good. They both have state of the art hockey arenas in hockey-insane cities with very dedicated fan-bases. They have coaches who are former players, very rich (and like to show it), very charismatic, and very connected.
If some little trade shows up on the ticker where either Windsor or London have acquired the rights to Trouba in some obselete deal, it is time to start worrying. But Trouba is already old enough where I don't think that is going to happen.
Do you have anything else for us to be paranoid about?
Why yes, I do. Trouba is such a good prospect that there is very little chance he stays until his senior year. By very little, I mean none. Trouba is going to make a very good living playing hockey, his career path is set. Chances are that Michigan gets him for two years and then he signs his NHL contract upon which he either plays in the show full time or splits time between the AHL and NHL. He is just too good to stay in the NCAA, it would actually hurt his development.
This is not a bad thing, Trouba will step onto the Michigan team and immediately be one of the best players. By his sophomore year, he will be on of the top players in the NCAA. Not only will this help on the ice, but it is always great to get a top prospect, it makes other top prospects want to come as well.
I often see posts on the board about players who play in the AHL like it is some sort of bad thing. The AHL is a top league with top players. The money is good, so it isn't a stupid decision when someone leaves the NCAA to play in the AHL before they start their NHL career. I'll give you a break down of what Trouba's contract will be when he signs it.
Trouba wil be a top 15 pick in the NHL. That means his contract will be the maximum allowable for an entry level deal. Standard entry level deals are 3 years. His AHL salary would be approximately $68,000 per season. Not bad, right? Yes, except that it doesn't even include his NHL signing bonus which would be about $285,000. The signing bonus gets chopped up into 6 payments twice a year over three years.
That means that a player who signs a max deal will still be making a crapload of money, even if they don't make the NHL in their first three years.
$68,000 + $95,000 = $163,000US per season while in the AHL.
He would get paid NHL money for every game he was up with the big club. If he stays the whole season, although the rookie salary cap states that his actual salary will be $900,000, top draft picks have contracts which are stuffed with the easiest incentives you have ever seen. If he just shows up to play, he will stand to make just under $2,000,000 a season in his entry level contract, more if he plays well.
Be very, very happy about this. Not only will Trouba come to Michigan and make them a better hockey team, but he is going to be one of those NHL alums that causes future prospects to pick Michigan because they saw him do it and want to be like him. It will be like high school offensive tackles picking Michigan because they want to go 1st overall like Jake Long, or hopefully in the future, abuse donkeys like Taylor Lewan.
Thanks for reading, folks!
I don't know John Gibson, and I have absolutely no insight at all into what happened. His situation is different than others, mostly because he is already drafted, and high. If I was a betting man, I would guess that his NHL team encouraged this move, but that is simply a guess. They may not have "encouraged" it so much as they made it clear which path they would prefer. And when the people who you hope will be paying you millions of dollars in the near future tell you their preference, it can be a strong incentive.
You guys are going to get even more upset when you read my fictional story, which is actually a hybrid of several true stories I've personally experienced (or close friends have). Don't be mad. The OHL is a business, they make money when they lure good players in and win. That is there job. Don't get upset at them for doing their job.
The NCAA has rules in place that make it impossible to compete for a kid who is even slightly leaning towards the OHL. It's like Tyson in his prime fighting Ali in his prime, except Ali has a gun.
First, let me talk you guys off the ledge. I was upset about him leaving for a few reasons:
1. I knew how upset you guys would be. Your, like, my internet buddies, yo.
2. He wasn't just committed, he signed an LOI. He had a lot of time to make his decision, make the goddamn choice BEFORE!
3. Our goalie recruiting is totally messed up now.
Now the part where you back up.
1. If you read my posts in other threads, you may remember that I am not that high on Gibson. He's good, but I don't find him particularly spectacular. How does he compare to Jack Campbell? He doesn't, and it isn't even close.
2. He would have left before making a huge impact. Obviously, he is dead set on making the show. Even if he had enrolled, he probably would have peaced out immediately upon realizing that he could play professionally in the AHL. This would also allow him to get a signing bonus. Roughly, his bonous would have been something in the 200k range, maybe a bit higher. 200k spread over three years: 67k a year + AHL Salary (about 58k) = $122,000 per year before taxes. The same logic of this argument applies to Jack Campbell, and his money would have been even larger. Don't fret over it.
3. We will get another good goalie. I promise. Michigan is the most prestigious hockey program in the country. Furthermore, goaltenders are far and away the most difficult position to project from level to level. It might be better to get a guy ranked 90/100 who stays for all four seasons then to get a 98/100 if he'll leave the first chance he gets.
The Interesting Part
So what the hell happens when a rock-solid college commit bolts for the OHL? Well, I've seen it unfold many times. Here is how it might go from the perspective of the prospect in chronological order:
- You let people know you're committed to College X, all is well.
- You still get drafted to the O, but you don't care, you're a loyal guy.
- You will get multiple phone calls from owners, GM's, scouts, etc. Sorry fellas, I'm going to School X.
- You will get a phone call from a number you don't recognize. This will be the first of many. You'll answer and they will say "Hey, its ****". And you will become amazingly excited because you're speaking to a current NHL superstar who, as coincidence would have it, played for the exact same OHL team that is courting you! He'll talk up the team, coaches, city, and the OHL path in general. He'll act like you're already best friends, and tell you to call him any time and that he'd love to meet you in person. "Come out for a game", he'll say, "I'll leave tickets and dressing room passes for you and your family at will call".
If it's Windsor, you might get a call from Taylor Hall, for Sarnia, Steven Stamkos will do. Get the picture?
- After this, you're still solid to School X, but man was it cool talking to that famous player. Next time the OHL GM calls, you're a bit less hostile than usual.
- Finally, you agree to go with your family to the OHL city to at least hear the coaches out. Its always smart to weigh out your options, right?
- You will arrive in the city and head straight to the arena. WOW! This place is amazing. I could totally see myself playing here! Oh, whats this? It's a bunch of current and former players hanging out in the player's lounge on the PS3. Sweet, they know my name!
- They invite me to hang out at the mall with them. My parents are talking to the coaches so thats cool. We get in one of their cars.
"Nice car, your parents bought you this?"
"Nah, bought this after I signed in the show, pretty sweet eh?
"Pretty sweet is right"
- We get to the mall. These guys are so cool and hilarious. Always joking around. Man, they have a lot of money, look at all the stuff they're buying! Those NHL bonuses must be huge. Everyone at the mall recognizes them and asks for autographs. Must be nice to be a celebrity.
- My parents call, it's dinner time. The boys drop me off at the coaches house. What a house! I've never been to a house this big before, and on the water.
- After an unbelievable waterside BBQ meal, the boys call me back and say they're taking me out on the town. I can borrow a nice shirt, no problem.
- We get to the bar district, everyone is saying things to us as we pass down the sidewalk.
"Boys, take home the championship!" "Beat Team X!" "Great win last week!"
- We get to a bar with a 50 foot line at the door, and I'm underaged. No big deal, the bouncer shakes everyones hand and lets us in. We settle in a booth and the bottles start flowing.
- I start walking around with my new friends. Since when do hot girls I've never met just start flirting with me? That one must have been 25. People I don't know keep buying me drinks, I haven't spent a dime yet, how'd I get so drunk?
- Closing time, one of the guys pays the thousand dollar tab and i follow them out, joining a group of girls I swear weren't this hot 5 drinks ago. Oh well.
Then it happens, the final straw.
- As we're walking back to the hotel, player X grabs my shoulder and says
"Look man, I totally respect that you want to go to college. I seriously considered it too. But you wanna live like this?...come play with us. I got drafted in the first round and they gave me 300 grand. I'll be a millionaire before you start sophomore year."
- Normally I would find this arrogant and rude, but right now I'm tripping out on drinks and ladies in tight skirts. He's right, this is the only way to live.
- So I'll go on for a few more weeks pretending I'm not going to the OHL.
Finally I'll admit to myself what I want to do.
Then I'll spend a few weeks feeling guilty.
Then I'll spend a few more weeks deciding how to break the news.
But eventually, I'll do it.
And then I'll be one of them
...and life will be good.
The story I just told you is a slight exagerration of several experiences. But that is basically how it goes. The story is not meant to tell exactly what happened, but rather the way the prospect would remember it the day after. Also, I'm not trying to glorify the OHL lifestyle, but thats what they'll make it look like when they're courting you.
"You failed a test, your girl left you, things are hard at home, and you got a ticket on the way to the rink. It doesn't matter. Lace up the skates, put on the gloves, strap on the helmet and walk into a realm where nothing else matters. For the next few hours, your universe is absolutely perfect."
...And if perfection is what you get on the ice, chaos is what occurs off of it. Despite some intense uncertainty, things were going pretty well for me at the time. I calmly assumed that things just had a way of working themselves out and that this situation would be no different.
On the second last game of the season my team had a chance to clinch a favorable playoff spot that would allow us to avoid a first-round matchup with a team that has already put two guys in the NHL. It was basically a must win situation. I specifically remember hating the arena in this particular city. Dressing rooms were small, ice was always terrible, and the parents on the other team were insane. I recall one particularly deranged mom yelling over the boards at the ref that I was "on the juice and should be banned" after I laid one of my better body checks against their team.
Winning 4-3 late in the third period, I was back-checking as hard as I could to catch a player on a breakaway. When his shot hit the post and lay in the crease, I stretched out and dove to clear the puck. A dog-pile ensued. After the whistle blew, I got up on one knee and stared into space for a moment. Something wasn't right. Why does it feel like I have no right arm? Then came the pain, followed by my trainer (an MD).
"My arm isn't in it's socket or something"
(Takes off my equipment, feels around the shoulder area)
"Ahh shit, looks like you dislocated your shoulder"
"Well put it back in and give me my stuff, the game isn't done."
"Don't think so pal, you might have torn some things in there."
I had never had a major injury before, I assumed this was nothing and that I would be back in a few days. Speaking to the orthopedic surgeon the next day, I was informed that my season was definitely done and that the best course of action would be to have the surgery ASAP, otherwise it would most likely continue happening.
Anyone who follows the NFL draft knows that the word "surgery" really means "stay away from this prospect". And news travels fast. The phone calls definitely slowed down, but they still came. Dale Hunter called and once again we had a pleasant conversation. This time he told me that he'd love to take me with his 4th round pick but that I probably wouldn't last that far.
I think there comes a point in every athlete's life when they realize that they are not invincible. For some, it could be when going from high school to college and realizing that athletic ability alone won't cut it anymore. For the really good ones, the ones who truly are elite, it might come with old age when they begin to see that they won't stay great forever. My career was far from over, but I never took my talent for granted again after that injury.
The show must go on.
I had the surgery done pretty quickly and all I could do was wait to see what happened. Central Scouting released their final rankings a few weeks before draft day. My final rankings were as follows:
Pre-season - A (rounds 3-6)
Mid-season - AA (rounds 1-2)
Final - B (rounds 6-9)
In the days leading up to the draft, my local newspaper does a rundown of the local prospects with a chance at being drafted and has an anonymous OHL scout give comments about each. Since it is still sitting on my mom's fridge, here is what mine said:
"An interesting case. Has top 40 talent but missed the most important parts of the season with serious injury. Likely won't fall too far, but teams will be concerned about a 15 year-old with major surgery on his resume.
Big, strong, forward was unquestioned leader of his team that had trouble winning without him. Developed a nasty side to his game this year. Willing to get dirty in the corners and in front of the net but possesses surprisingly good scoring and playmaking ability. Needs to develop a quicker first step and learn to stay low."
The OHL draft used to be exactly like the NHL. It was held at an arena with a podium so that the GM's could announce the picks and give a jersey to their selections. My draft was either the first or second one to be held on the internet. Watching heartbroken, future-millionaires plummet at the NFL draft in New York is hard enough. Try watching 15 year olds who believe they are about to get a jersey not get their names called at all. Alot of crying went on at those drafts. Remember that 600 kids are given a letter grade and deemed eligible for a draft that contains only 300 slots.
I'm quite certain that I didn't sleep the night before the draft. Unless you are a definite top 10 pick, nobody has any clue where they will get drafted. I watched the entire draft because it was interesting, but I started to look for my name once the 2nd round started. When you get drafted, it consists of you sitting in front of a laptap pressing F5 every 10 seconds for several hours. When my name didn't come up with the first pick of the second round, I began to fear that I wasn't going to get drafted at all. The headlines would read "Guinness confirms biggest draft plummet in sports history--local has-been to become hobo"
Then my name came up and my heart stopped beating for what seemed like a minute. My mom cried. I won't say exactly where I got drafted but I went well ahead of my final projection. It may not mean that much, but at 15 years old getting selected in a draft that some people in some places actually care about is an amazing feeling. I jumped around for a while and then spoke on the phone to the GM who called right after the pick. After our conversation, I forgot who I had just spoken to and which team had drafted me.
Rehab was going well and decision time was looming. I was hearing that Michigan had become interested in me because a few of their prospects who were older than me had declared their intentions to play in the OHL. But getting drafted is a circus. Everywhere around town I was getting congratulated. My friends had a party to celebrate my getting drafted. Girls started treating me differently at school. I think they thought I had somehow become rich or something, not realizing that OHL players make $55 a week.
If you're undecided, OHL training camp is where you make your decision. As I understood it, once you spend over 48 hours with an OHL team, the NCAA considers you a professional athlete with no college eligibility. So i went to camp, still about a month away from being able to play full contact.
I sat down with the GM, who knew that I was considering college. He basically explained to me the benefits of the CHL, the education packages, and the unique experience of being a young local celebrity. He was very polite about it, but told me that if I was signing, he wanted it done within 2 weeks.
"Two weeks is plenty of time to evaluate your options. I have to know these things so I can plan for my season. There are other kids we drafted who would love nothing better than for you not to sign so that they can have your spot."
He gave me a contract and I took it home. On this contract, I was given the second best educational package available (1st rounders get the best) which consisted of 4 years of 75% tuition paid for. It was also a 2-way contract, meaning I was basically signing with two teams: the OHL team, and their junior B affiliate. This meant that I might play the year in junior B, or they would send me down if I wasn't performing.
So i went home and thought. I thought all day, I thought all night. I had no appetite, and I don't think I spoke to anyone besides my mom the entire time. I was waking up almost every night in a cold sweat. I was so afraid of making the wrong choice. Why should I sign there? If they are going to keep me in Junior B then I might as well just play tier 2 Junior A in Toronto and wait for a scholarship. Then the phone rang, it was the GM.
"Have you thought about it?"
"Yes, I'm still not sure"
"How's this sound? A one-way contract (guaranteed spot on the team) and a 1st round educational package (100% tuition)."
"I'll call you back tomorrow"
What if I wait for a scholarship and then Michigan doesn't even want me? What if Michigan offers me a scholarship and then I dislocate my shoulder even worse next season, ending my career and eliminating my non-binding commitment? It isn't worth it.
So I signed. I signed because I was terrified. Because I couldn't take anymore agonizing, sleepness nights. I signed because the attention I was getting from the OHL and the local fans and my peers was like a drug. I signed because it was the easiest thing to do. And honestly...
It felt great.
I was late getting this done and that is because I had no idea where to end the story. I realize that some of you will not be pleased with this ending but I really can't go much further. The original purpose was to give you guys insight into college hockey recruiting as it relates to the CHL and I think I have done that. Furthermore, anything past that point would have had nothing at all to do with Michigan and would be pretty self-serving on my part.
If you guys have any questions, I'll answer them below. Just remember, I'm not giving up my identity. To answer your first few questions: No, I don't play in the NHL. I am in law school and am a hockey agent in training. Thanks for reading guys. This was a bit rushed because I have somewhere to be but I wanted to have it done by tonight. I'll be back later to correct any of my spelling/grammar mistakes and answer your questions.
NOTE: I am not so narcissistic as to think that my life is deserving of a novel, but I didn't realize just how much information would be involved in this story. I originally intended to write about an alternative perspective to the OHL vs. NCAA debate, but it turned into a story about my hockey life and I think it works better this way. I really hope I'm not boring the shit out of you guys, thanks for reading.
Why'd you turn against me, Gordon? For six years, I taughtcha how to skate, I taughtcha how to score, I taughtcha how to go for the "W". You could have been one of the greats. An' now look at yourself. You're not even a has-been. You're a never-was. " - Mighty Ducks
The OHL draft year begins the day after the previous one takes place. Scouts never stop scouting. Players never stop playing, and parents never cease to believe their child is the foremost deserving of attention. My coach arranged to have various scouts and OHL executives speak to us prior to the season so we would know what to expect. The most common advice in no particular order:
1. Lay off the beer/marijuana 2. Don't change your game just to impress scouts (most kids had trouble with this one) 3. Do not take steroids, they don't help with hockey and they will destroy your teenage body 4. Teams will absolutely inquire about your character, so don't be an idiot off the ice or at school.
This period in my life seemed like one long existential crisis. Who was I? Was I the type of guy who would go to the OHL or should I hold out for a letterman jacket? I will say this: I don't remember anything from my social life as a 15 year old. I'm pretty sure there were girlfriends, parties, and hangouts but I don't remember much of it. Ask me about my hockey season though and I can probably recall my team's record against every other team in the league, right down to which goalie was playing on each side, and who were the top performers from each game.
In a game that featured two teams with several top prospects, there would be at least 15-20 scouts in the stands who were identifiable by the logo-jacket and notepad. I was nervous to the point of barely being able to speak prior to each and every game I played.
When the year begins, Central Scouting releases a preliminary draft list with about 100 kids on it. Teams add players as the year goes on which results in a mid-term ranking with 300 players and the list ends up at 600 kids who are eligible in the final version. Only 300 get drafted in total. The rankings go as such:
AA - Bluechipper, rounds 1-2
A - Rounds 3-6
B - Rounds 7-10
c - Rounds 11-16
Mind you, every eligible player receives a letter grade, and only half of the total players on the list would get drafted at all. Prior to the season, to my dismay i received an A grade, pegging me to go in rounds 3-6. Oh well, maybe it had something to do with my flirtation with college hockey.
Letters from colleges started coming in. The first letter I got was from Ohio State. It said something along the lines of "We recently scouted you at the (whatever) high school tournament and are aware of your talents, we will continue to scout you." That was a funny one because I never played high school hockey in my life. Moreover, I wasn't even aware that Ohio State had a hockey program. Letters continued to roll in. Holy Cross, Michigan State, Maine, Minnesota, Notre Dame. No Michigan. Remember, schools can't make offers to kids that young. The letters all contained generic language talking about educational opportunities saying that they were basically aware of my existence along with some brochure and questionnaire. Nothing from the actual coaches, and nothing personal at all.
I was very much wanting some sign from the University of Michigan that they were interested. I began sending emails to who I thought was Coach Berenson. Basically, I wrote about my hopes and dreams and that it would be an honor to play for Michigan. I did so at least every two weeks all season, giving updates on my stats and performances. I don't even remember where I got the email or if he was reading them. I didn't send out any other emails, only to Michigan.
My season was going splendidly. The mid-term rankings came out and I was pushed to a AA projection. What a feeling. I remember the same week that the rankings came out my grade 10 math teacher told me that Dale Hunter (Owner/head coach London Knights) had called him to ask what kind of kid I was, if I did my homework, and if I treated my classmates with respect. A week later he called my house to have a good, long conversation about what the Knights had to offer for a young man. We talked for at least 30 minutes and the conversation ended with him saying that he wanted me with their 2nd round pick but that I probably wouldn't last that far (the Knights were a powerhouse, picking last in each round). This wasn't the first such call I had received, but it became at least an every other day occurrence at this time, along with giant packages in the mail with brochures from each club containing hand written letters from coaches/GM's.
In football recruiting terms, I was a 4-star prospect, probably somewhere just inside or outside the Rivals 100. Now imagine a prospect lists Michigan in his top 5 with LSU, Bama, USC, Florida. Then, tell Brady Hoke that he is the only one of those coaches who is not allowed to speak with said prospect at any point during his senior season. In fact, he's not even allowed to let him know that they want him there at all. Meanwhile, Les Miles and Nick Saban are speaking to him daily, making in-home visits, and sending emails. That's what NCAA hockey deals with every single year against the CHL.
I still wasn't wavering on Michigan, but I didn't know what to do. I began to tell scouts that I would go to the NCAA only if I could go to Michigan, otherwise I'd be in the OHL. The only reason I said this was so that the hockey community would know that I wanted to go to Michigan. The hope was that this information would make it to someone important in Ann Arbor at which point the information would trickle back to me as to whether they were interested or not.
This worked, kind of. There are these companies that exist that you pay to promote you as a prospect. They are mostly geared toward helping Canadians get NCAA attention. I got two or three calls, all from different people claiming to work for various services inquiring about my intentions. I was not paying anyone for this service, they just called me.
"Hey, I heard you're interested in the NCAA. Good for you, smart guy like you should be doing that."
"I am interested, but only in Michigan."
"Oh really, I was going to suggest you look elsewhere, I know they have their eye on some other prospects and I think a big gritty forward like yourself is better suited to the OHL."
"What, you just said I should be playing in the NCAA"
"I'm just saying, I don't think Michigan is interested, maybe you should look at other schools. But you never know, right?"
"Yeah, right, cya"
SHIT!?! Who the hell was that and why is he taking a dump on my dreams? I told people about this call and most said not to worry about it. Chances are, according to my coaches and friends, that it was someone from an OHL team who knows that only want to play for Michigan and will otherwise go to the O.
At this point, I was getting extremely upset and impatient. Rules be damned! Michigan, if you're interested, give me some sort of sign. Anything will do.
I started to hear from every direction that there were several top division 1 scholarships available to me, but that Michigan would probably not be one of them unless I was willing to wait at least a year for them to see where their scholarship situation stood. At this point, the information was becoming so similar from all sides that I had to assume it was true.
That is until I finally got the letter. Stacked somewhere in between the Oshawa Generals and Bowling Green was a letter with a block M in the corner. It contained a brochure for the University, a questionnaire, and the contact information for the coaches. Turns out, I had not been emailing coach Berenson at all, but now I had his real address. I emailed him and got a response from an assistant coach. He told me to call him.
WHAT?! I can call these people?! How was this not explained to me before? I had never bothered to email any other school and since the player must initiate contact, they couldn't reach out to me. This changed things. I called the number several times and left messages, but nothing. Then finally, someone picked up and we had a good, long conversation.
While these conversations excited me, they were generic and non-informative. I still had no idea where I stood with them, and that was not a good thing.
Draft day was 3 months away and I was still hearing through the grapevine that I was not a plan A player for Michigan. Shit was about to hit the fan.
I remember the scene vividly. Immediately following 6:30a.m practice, my coaches called me into a separate room and asked me to sit down. All five of them sitting across from me, they explained how important tomorrow night's game was:
"This is the biggest game of your career so far, their captain, like you, is also one of the best players in Ontario. If we win, people will say you're better than him. We always support you, but if we lose, people are going to blame you and say that he's better than you. Do you want that? Get to sleep early tonight, make sure you eat lots of carbs, protein tomorrow, and drink water all day. When I talk to your teacher, I want to hear from her that you were asking to go to the bathroom all day."
I was 8 years old.
Every parent, and i mean EVERY parent of a child who plays AAA hockey in Ontario believes their child will some day play in the NHL. Most will never even sniff the OHL.
In Ontario, if you're good at hockey you play in the OHL. Period. In many O cities, the players are celebrities among the adults, and heroes among the children. For me, from a young age it was assumed that I was good enough to play in the OHL and probably the NHL. This, of course, was the view of the locals who had a distorted view of just how hard it was to make it.
One summer, I was training with a group of top under-15 players at the local arena. On the arena's second rink was a group of professional players who skated together in the summer. It was either: current NHL players, former NHL players, current OHL players, or the absolute elite from junior B or CIS. They need an extra player and came to our side to see who was playing. The hockey community being relatively small, they recognized me as a top young prospect and asked me to go play with them. I was incredibly excited and nervous. They made me play defense, not my position, but I didn't care. On my second shift, Andy McDonald (current St Louis Blue and former Hobey Baker finalist) came down the wing and put it through my legs, causing me to fall over, and proceeded to score. My teammates were not pleased. About five minutes later, Andy McDonald was coming down the wing again, and I anticipated the same move, but it was a fake. He treated me like a pylon and scored again. Immediately after the goal, Steve Ott (current Dallas Star) came up to me and told me to get off the ice and go back to practice. As I was leaving, I could hear them yelling at each other.
Steve Ott: "Jesus Christ, where'd you find that fuckin guy, you idiot? He cost us two goals."
Steve Downie (TB Lightning): "He's supposed to be one of the best 13 year olds around, I don't know, get off my ass."
That is the culture. Nobody thought it was out of the ordinary to treat a young kid like that. Not even me. Perform or get off the ice. There was probably over $5,000 in bets on that game between the NHL guys. I was costing someone money.
Secretly, I didn't want anything to do with the OHL. Every OHL player I knew seemed like an arrogant idiot with no intelligence to back it up. School was my refuge. I am a nerd who happens to have athletic ability. School was the only aspect of my life where nobody put pressure on me. My cousin, a walk-on football player for Lloyd Carr, turned me into a Michigan fan. He was my hero, ten feet tall to me. He took me to the big house and gave me tickets to the games so I could go with my uncle.
After a game, he arranged for one of the hockey trainers to give me personal tour of Yost Arena and the dressing rooms where the players hung out. The trainer showed me around, explained to me how I couldn't walk on the block M in the middle of the carpet. He told me about all the great Michigan hockey players who were current NHL draft picks, and the others who were now lawyers, doctors and business professionals. Then I watched them play. The atmosphere was shocking to me. The band, the chants, the pretty female students, the winged helmets. I was used to the OHL where leather hats and handle-bar mustaches are the norm. That was it, forget the OHL. I'm going to Michigan.
Over the next two summers, I tried out and made a top-prospects team. There are dozens of teams like this. The teams play in summer tournaments designed to give scouts a chance to see the best players before their draft-year season. While I was probably one of the bottom 2 players on both teams I played on, my teammates included Drew Doughty, Sam Gagner, and Logan Couture.
These tournaments were my first actual contact with scouts. I was honest with them. I told them I was about 50/50 on my decision to play in the OHL or go the college route.
Truth is, I wasn't 50/50 at all. I was 100% on Michigan. The question is, was Michigan 100% on me?
PART 2 TOMORROW: Draft Year/College Recruiting and Beyond
[Ed-M: We've been waiting for you Obi-Jim. The write-up is now complete: bumped]
Evening, folks. Last night I had the honor of meeting and having a pleasant conversation with Lloyd Carr, so I thought I would share the story. Nothing too exciting but some of you may find it interesting.
One of my friends, who is a prominent athlete from Windsor (prominent to Windsor people, probably not to you guys) was up for an award at the Wespys. So i went with him without even knowing that Lloyd was the keynote speaker. When I found out, excitement ran over me. After the awards, we went to his table and he told us to sit down as he congratulated my friend for being nominated, although he didn't win. I should mention at this point that when one meets Lloyd Carr, he exudes class and sincerity even before he begins to speak. He then asked me if I was up for any awards, to which I replied that I was simply a spectator and am currently in law school. His reaction to this was to ask what I studied as an undergrad. When I mentioned philosophy, he said "Wow, that's excellent, you must be a heavy reader."
As a Michigan football fan of gargantuan proportions and a boy who became a man during the Lloyd Carr era, my first reaction upon hearing that Coach Carr would be speaking at the event was to behave like a child meeting Santa Claus and ask him a million football related questions. However, as someone who intends to become a hockey agent after law school and who knows a few athletes, I understand that these people receive the same questions ad nauseum from the general public. It is understandable, but at some point they develop pre-packaged, often repeated, and extremely generic answers to these encounters after hearing them constantly. Thus, I decided to refrain from asking any football questions at all and just enjoy his company.
The conversation was about 8-10 minutes long and we mostly discussed literature and philosophy. There was a great point in the conversation when we talked about writers who make their work inaccessible to most people by unnecessarily writing in complex schemes just for complexity's sake. I said I prefered the simple, classic, and understated genius of writers like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, whose complexities come from the depth of their characters. He agreed.
When it was time to go, I shook his hand and told him it was a pleasure to meet him, to which he responded, and I'm paraphrasing, "You're a very charismatic young man and I'm sure you will go far." This, to say the least, made me feel like a million dollars well into today, and probably beyond.
So, I have nothing new for you guys, no inside knowledge about about his opinions on Hoke, Denard, or Rodriguez. Just a very enjoyable evening with a world-class human being and someone we should all be proud to say coached our football team. Thanks for reading.