Wednesday, May 7, 2008

DU Assistants Hit The Road To Recruit Players

From: DU Clarion
by Brooks Kirchheimer

Life as an assistant coach is no easy job. You don't just sit next to the coach on the bench and help lead the team.

The job of involves much more than coaching. It is scheduling practices, keeping tabs on student's grades and classes, breaking down game video, organizing and scheduling trips and, most importantly, time-consuming recruiting. It is the 365-day job that surrounds every coach.

Recruiting in college is what helps bring in talented and successful athletes year after year. Recruiting is more than just showing up at high school or, in hockey's case, junior hockey games and picking an athlete you like.

Recruiting is about making connections with high school and club coaches, building a solid program that athletes will want to join and having a facility that an athlete will want to practice and compete in.

For the DU hockey program, assistant coaches Steve Miller and Derek Lalonde spend hundreds of hours a season traveling the globe looking for the athletes that will be the right fit as a Pioneer.

"It's a 365-day process that starts years in advance of when the kid shows up on campus and sees us travel to many places," said Lalonde.

The NHL collective bargaining agreement, which is a contract between team owners and the players association and was most recently agreed to on July 13, 2005 after the cancellation of the 2004-05 NHL season, greatly affected college hockey and recruiting.

The agreement reduced the age of unrestricted free agency in the NHL to 27, which forced teams to start signing players at a much younger age so they had more time to develop them.

This greatly affected college hockey and has seen in recent years numerous players leave college earlier. Most notable for DU are Paul Stastny and Matt Carle who are both currently playing in the NHL along with Ryan Dingle, Geoff Paukovich and Brock Trotter who spent the season in the minors.

"I think the NHL teams are more determined than ever before to get the players out of college as early as possible and get them into their organization and see what kind of players they are and give them a chance to develop," said Head Coach George Gwozdecky. "You are a free agent at the age of 27, and the more you stay in college, the less the team has to develop you."

With more and more players leaving early, recruiting is starting at a much younger age.

"Nowadays you start looking at players when they are 14, 15 or 16. Coach (Gwozdecky) and I went to look at the top 15-year olds in the country a day after the WCHA championships and already got a couple verbal commitments," said Lalonde.

After and during every season these days it is almost becoming a norm to see at least one or two players forgo the rest of their college careers to pursue their dream, the NHL.

"I don't think they know. I think many times they don't want to leave, but then they are convinced to leave by a family member or the team that wants to sign them, and then there are other times when they want to leave because they are ready, it varies," said Gwozdecky about why players are leaving.

With the collective bargaining agreement came a change in the salary cap, allowing teams to sign players for much less than they used to receive.

"The money is not as big as it used to be. Prior to the new collective bargaining agreement money was millions; now, it is only hundreds of thousands. It is a lot of money to us but not a lot of money to a professional franchise," said Gwozdecky.

It is money that might have lured Dingle and Paukovich away from the college game and has seen them play a full season in the dreaded minors.

"I have talked to both of the guys, and they are not really happy with their situation. I have heard from many of the guys that have left or graduated and they say playing minor league hockey is not a lot of fun," said Gwozdecky about Paukovich and Dingle.

Dingle spent the season up and down between the Anaheim Ducks AHL affiliate, Portland Pirates and the ECHL affiliate Augusta Lynx, while Paukovich spent the season with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL.

"It is a struggle because you have guys that come from different environments, you have a mixture of guys that have a whole different agenda," said Gwozdecky about minor league hockey.

The recruiting process is becoming a win-loss situation for the Pioneers.

Instead of signing players and thinking they will play for four years, the top athletes are quickly leaving for the NHL even if that means time in the minor leagues.

With the collective bargaining agreement came more work for Lalonde and Miller who are now at task to find last minute recruits to fill the spaces of Pioneers who decide to make the step to the NHL.

It is a recruiting process that includes trips like Lalonde took during his time as a coach at Ferris State, where on a four-hour drive to Northern Canada only one radio program was available, bingo.

As more and more players leave college early the recruiting process becomes more important than ever for assistant coaches everywhere.

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