One-on-One with Paul Kelly, Executive Director of College Hockey Inc.

With Clarkson taking on the University of North Dakota over the weekend, we sat down with Paul Kelly and asked him a few questions pertaining to college hockey.

Hey all! On Saturday, the NCAA along with the Universities of North Dakota and Clarkson held the inaugural College Hockey Classic in Winnipeg, MB. Paul Kelly, current Executive Director of NCAA College Hockey Inc. and former Director of the NHLPA also attended the event and hosted an informal presentation for hockey players of the Bantam and Midget levels in the greater Winnipeg area. The intent of the presentation was to provide information to any athletes who consider College Hockey as a viable option for them past their junior hockey careers.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Mr. Kelly afterwards and he afforded Arctic Ice Hockey the luxury of a one-on-one interview.

This is a one-time feature that delves into topics such as Saturday's College Hockey Classic and the current relationship between College Hockey and the CHL.

If you require any further information regarding NCAA College Hockey, I strongly suggest visiting their site at www.collegehockeyinc.com. You can also follow their twitter feed @_collegehockey.

Hope you enjoy.

Q: What goals did you want to achieve by hosting the College Hockey Classic in Winnipeg and what made you choose Winnipeg as a destination?

KELLY: We obviously want to expose the college game to the Canadian audience, whether it's done by television broadcast or in person.

The decision to come to Winnipeg is based on the fact that Mark Chipman is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and is a college hockey proponent who has been very supportive in hosting this event. Also, Winnipeg has not only been a source of players to the University of North Dakota over the years, but also fans of North Dakota as it is only a short drive away. The University of North Dakota has been looking at holding a game in Winnipeg for a number of years and they were finally able to make the arrangements and find a number of teams who expressed interest to play in this event. We are very excited to be here.

Was there any particular reason for choosing North Dakota and Clarkson as the two teams to participate in this year's event?

The University of North Dakota has been so active in scouting and recruiting players from the greater Winnipeg area that they wanted to come back here. Dozens of players over the years that played for the Fighting Sioux have been from Manitoba so I think it was the administration and the UND coaching staff that really wanted to make sure that if we were going to do this, the first place we would come would be Winnipeg .

Were there any different Canadian markets you were exploring to promote NCAA College Hockey?

We have looked very seriously at playing in Toronto as they have expressed an interest in running a four team tournament there. We have also been contacted by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and they have asked about the possibility of bidding for the NCAA Championship – The Frozen Four – so yes, there is a lot of interest, certainly in the Toronto area to bring College Hockey in.

Does the NCAA plan to host the College Hockey Classic on an annual basis or was this a one-time event?

We certainly don't want it to be a one time thing I don't know that we will be in a position to do it every year but if this is as successful as we believe it will be, then we will try to host this event at least every couple of years and most likely in different cities across Canada.

What was your main objective in this morning's presentation to the attending athletes and their families?

I would say it's the importance of emphasizing education in general. You can never go wrong with improving or advancing your education and you can still continue to develop as a player and make it to the National Hockey League through the NCAA. If for some reason you fall short or an injury cuts your playing career short then the education the NCAA offers will be so valuable. Our programs do a terrific job of educating young men and we not only turn out great hockey players but we also turn out doctors and lawyers and entrepreneurs and scientists; so we want young people to understand the importance of education as part of the whole package.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in putting today's presentation together?

Identifying, reaching out and contacting young players. This is an element of a recruiting battle that goes on. I know that our presence here probably isn't well received by the Western Hockey League because in their view, we're potentially recruiting away players that may be of interest to them. I'm sure that there are some coaches who may discourage players from coming to this event for that reason, so that's always a little bit of a challenge. I wish it weren't the case because I think it's important for people to hear the information. We're not negative when we talk about other leagues but we try to provide the accurate factual information to the families so that they can make an informed decision about what's the proper path for their kid.

Were you pleased with the overall response that you received?

We thought it was great. I don't know the total number but I came here with 100 t-shirts and I think I have about 20 left so I think we had about 70-75 kids, most of whom were bantam and midget ages which is exactly the target audience we are seeking.

Over the past few years, NCAA Hockey has had issues with athletes withdrawing from their university commitments, instead opting to play hockey in the CHL. Has there been any discussion on how you can curb CHL teams from poaching players after they have committed to universities?

We in fact had that very discussion last week in Edmonton during the World Juniors. We annually have a meeting between Hockey Canada , the CHL, USA Hockey and College Hockey where we sit down for several hours to talk about a range of issues and that is always one of the more prominent issues on the table.

Right now it's a one way street; there's no issue with our coaches recruiting their players because their players are already rendered ineligible, so there is no point in it. But we do have the problem of players that have made commitments – particularly written commitments – that continue to get recruited and poached by CHL teams. We did talk about a point after which NCAA committed players can no longer be recruited by CHL teams and our stance is that once a player signs a letter of intent in his senior year of high school to go and attend a certain university that at that point – at least until his first year of college – he should be off limits and not subject to being recruited. We are going to continue this discussion with the CHL and Hockey Canada in the next couple of weeks so that is a ripe topic for discussion.

This summer, you stated that you hoped the NCAA would tweak its eligibility rules to allow any player who had played less than 10 games in the CHL their NCAA eligibility. Has there been any discussion on retooling of the current rules?

It's still the status quo. These rules cut across all sports so the NCAA doesn't make exceptions that are unique or exclusive to College Hockey. As much as we would like to see that rule changed allowing those kids that maybe just played a handful of games not to lose their eligibility, currently that's not the case. If you play even a single game you are ineligible.

There is an appeal process however. People should know that if you played 8-10 games in the CHL and you decide that you want to play College Hockey, you probably will be able to regain your eligibility. Athletes would most likely have to sit out their first year and then be allowed to play in their second year so playing in the CHL is not completely fatal, but it does have consequences.

The Winnipeg Jets website had a promotional video for tonight's College Hockey Classic presented by Zach Parise. Have you thought about reaching out to other NCAA alumni such as Dany Heatley or Jonathan Toews to help promote the College Hockey brand in Canada?

Actually, we use those players quite a bit once the NHL season has completed and we are doing educational presentations across North America. We almost always have an NHL player or two along with us. In the past we've had Jonathan Toews, Ryan Miller, Zach Parise, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill and others in a long line of players from Canada, the US and from overseas who have helped to promote the game and they are always happy to oblige us when we have asked.

Unless you have specialty cable packages (NHL Network, Big 10 Network), it's rare for NCAA College Hockey games to be broadcast in Canada. Are there any plans to have Canadian networks televise events like the Frozen Four or "The Big Chill" to garner more exposure to your product?

Yes, we actually had discussions with The Score about picking up College Hockey broadcasts. Now that we've had the shake-up of broadcasters in the US where Comcast has purchased NBC and re-branded the NBC Sports Network, I think that NBC has given its contacts to TSN. NBC is going to become far more involved in broadcasting College Hockey games, so you will see more of that broadcast in the coming years.

Finally, what do you think is the biggest misconception about NCAA College Hockey?

I think it's the misconception that Coach Casey Jones mentioned during this mornings presentation. There are people who believe that either you elect to go to the CHL in hopes of making it to the NHL or you elect to go play College Hockey and then end your career. That's a misnomer and it's not what is happening. I would say that a competent player has just as good of a chance of making it to the National Hockey League coming out of one of the elite NCAA college programs as he does the CHL. The colleges today have superior facilities; good coaching and competition that's at the same level if not a higher level because the NCAA has bigger, strong, faster players. [These programs] are turning out really high caliber players and you are seeing an increasing number of college hockey players that are playing in the NHL. That's a myth that we are trying to debunk.

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