While the commissioner of the NCHC, Josh Fenton, is “optimistic” about the 2020-2021 collegiate hockey season, the NCAA has given hockey players the nod to play junior hockey this upcoming season without losing eligibility. But there are strings attached.
According to an article at Second City Hockey, the Chicago Blackhawks-centered SB Nation affiliate, several Blackhawks prospects are ready to make the jump in the event the college hockey season is scuttled. Jake Wise (Boston College/Hockey East), Slava Demin (University of Denver/NCHC), Dominic Basse (Colorado College/NCHC), and Alex Vlasic (BU/Hockey East) are said to be headed to the juniors for the fall term according to the latest NCAA rule changes, assuming there will be no collegiate hockey.
However, there are several hitches. Junior teams cap eligibility to start the season at 20 years old so this option is not available to a number of current, older players. The Canadian Junior Hockey League and United States Hockey League will be the top two options. The NCAA labels Canadian Hockey League (CHL) players as ‘professional’ so that is still not an option if college players want to retain their eligibility.
The new NCAA exemption further requires that student-athletes must be in good academic standing when they make the switch and remain enrolled and in class to participate in outside competition. Under normal circumstances, this would be difficult but DU is offering online options for DU students due to the pandemic.
The risk to teams like the University of Denver is the potential loss of talented players who are too old to quality for the exemption. If the collegiate season is canceled, upperclassmen may feel forced to make the difficult choice to either pursue their professional hockey careers or risk taking a year off and potentially experience eroded playing skills.
With a conference chock-full of elite prospects, the NCHC is sure to make every effort to play this season – even if it is condensed to conference games only which seems to be the most logical solution. “Time is probably our only advantage at this point,” Fenton told Danny Mata of KRDO in early August. “There are certain things you can take away. Testing protocols, how competition is working, especially in a space like hockey. We can take some of that stuff away from the National Hockey League .”
Photo of Slava Demin courtesy of Denver Athletics