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How to Hockey: My Transfer from the NCAA to the OHL

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.

My Transfer from the NCAA to 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.

Jamie Oleksiak Transfers from the NCAA to the OHL

In the same year, Matt Foy from the Merrimack University (a DI school in the Hockey East conference) made the transition to the OHL to play with the Ottawa ‘67’s.

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.

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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.



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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Heidi-Wilke/100000773791977 Heidi Wilke

    @BrianHuddle on Hockeybuzz.com also says that  J.T. Miller signed with Plymouth and that as of last night, reports have surfaced that both Connor Murphy (Phoenix) and John Gibson (Anaheim) are headed to the OHL as well. Murphy with Sarnia, and Gibson with Kitchener. Check out http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=37292#.TjAXbf1Chdo.twitter

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Heidi-Wilke/100000773791977 Heidi Wilke

    Looks like the Gibson signing is final. http://www.kitchenerrangers.com/article/rangers-sign-goaltender-john-gibson

  • Anonymous

    Dean Millard says: 

    This trend will continue until the NCAA relaxes it’s rules and allows players who have skated in the CHL or signed contracts play south of the border.

    I would agree and the CHL should be concerned the day that happens. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Heidi-Wilke/100000773791977 Heidi Wilke
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Heidi-Wilke/100000773791977 Heidi Wilke

    The Dallas Stars announced today that the club has signed defenseman Jamie Oleksiak to a three-year entry-level contract. Oleksiak was Dallas’ first-round selection (No. 14 overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Oleksiak, 18, is currently playing for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) having appeared in five games this season, registering one point (1 goal) with eight penalty minutes. “Jamie is a very promising player for the future of our organization,” said Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “He has a strong work ethic and we are looking forward to watching him develop as his career progresses.” 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Austin-Ortega/100002828390219 Austin Ortega

    According to one website, top NHL 2012 prospect Jordan Schmaltz of the USHL is being aggressively recruited by the Windsor Spitfires GM Warren Rychel and head coach Bob Boughner. Apparently he has a verbal commitment to the University of North Dakota.