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How to Hockey Series: The Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey Leauge announced on Monday that Northeastern University’s defenseman Jamie Oleksiak had left the school and signed a contract with the Spirit. Oleksiak is a first round pick of the Dallas Stars and clearly hopes to progress his game faster in the OHL to make himself NHL ready. However, leaving a scholarship from Northeastern is by no means an easy decision.
“We have been after him for a couple of years, similar to how we were after Brandon Saad leading up to last season”, said Spirit coach Todd Watson, “This is an important signing that helps to strengthen our defense and we look forward to him coming into camp, adjusting to the caliber of OHL hockey and contributing in the 2011-2012 season.”
OHL staff keep their eye on NCAA players wanting to leave their university program for greener pastures. The trend seems to be to draft players college bound in later rounds of the OHL entry draft to hold their rights in the event that the player changes their mind.
Every year there are a few guys who leave the NCAA for the OHL.
In 2002, I was one of at least 3 players who made the move. I rolled into Owen Sound to play for the Attack on a late fall day in the middle of November after making what still to this day was one of the hardest decisions to ever make; leaving a full NCAA scholarship. I was partly persuaded by the fact that others, including teammate Jon Lehun out of St. Cloud State University were doing the same thing.
Foy is an example of a player who left the NCAA and made a huge impact in his first season with the ‘67’s. In just 68 games he had an amazing 168 points in the OHL. By contrast, when he left Merrimack after his freshman year he had played just 31 games with a tally of 24 points.
Whether Foy’s stats are an indication of the quality of hockey in both leagues isn’t certain. Of course, you would assume that a player putting up decent numbers in the NCAA would do equally as well when playing against 16 and 17 year olds. On the other side, the average age of an NCAA freshman is 20 years old. While some would argue that doesn’t make a big difference, the physical development between a 16 year old underager in the CHL and a 20 year old is quite significant.
In fact, Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers goes as far to suggest that simply being born in the right month gives a developmental advantage to young athletes. The book begins with Gladwell’s research on why a disproportionate number of elite Canadian hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year.
The answer, he points out, is that since youth hockey leagues determine eligibility by calendar year, children born on January 1 play in the same league as those born on December 31 in the same year. Because children born earlier in the year are bigger and maturer than their younger competitors, they are often identified as better athletes, leading to extra coaching and a higher likelihood of being selected for elite hockey leagues.
That said, many players based their decision to go to the NCAA on the fact that it gives them more time to develop their game into their early 20’s before making the leap to the professional ranks.
Either way, it will be interesting to see just how Oleksiak handles the transition.