"If your career in the CHL doesn't give you an NHL or AHL contract you receive an education package for 4 years."
That's a quote from Kyle Dubas, the General Manager of the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, from August 8th via Twitter. I thought it was pretty much the perfect summation of the CHL's often talked about scholarship package.
But does it really stand up to an examination?
Like the Collective Bargaining Agreement in the NHL, I don't know all of the ins and outs of the CHL education program but I believe there are some small differences from the versions in the WHL, QMJHL and OHL.
The mission of the Major Junior system is to produce professional hockey players with the promise that if it doesn't work out, players will be taken care of in terms of their education. Out west, players receive a year's worth of scholarship money (tuition and books) for every season they played in the WHL. We're told that dressing for a single game qualifies as "a season" thus entitling said player to a full year of covered education costs even if action in the league was minimal.
Again, the educational package is the safety net for the CHL player; getting a pro contract by 20/21-years-of-age is the primary goal of playing major junior. Therefore, in my mind, those who scrutinize the CHL for low university graduation rates should take into account the number of players who accomplished their main objective - pro hockey - and consider those as success stories too.
In order to give a fair assessment of the Major Junior system from both the hockey and academic perspective, I thought it might prove interesting to check up on one of the weaker teams the WHL has seen in the last decade. A bad team would give me a roster of players with a good mix of potential on and off the ice.
2011-12 marks the 5th season for the modern day Edmonton Oil Kings and as you would expect, the team is vastly different than the expansion version that came to be in the summer of 2007. That first edition of the team consisted largely of players the rest of the league was willing to lose in the expansion draft, a key import selection, a couple players acquired via trade and the junior debut of the current face of the franchise.
But where are they now? These five years later are there success stories to be found in either the world of professional hockey or in academics and business?
Let's take a look.
33 players appeared in an Oil Kings uniform during the 2007-08 campaign. Some of them you'd recognize, others... not so much. Edmonton finished 11th in the 12 team Eastern conference, 12 points ahead of the Red Deer Rebels and more than double what the lowly Portland Winterhawks managed (which is just another sign of how quickly things can turn around in the WHL).
Edmonton's leading scorer that year, scorers actually as three players tied for the honour, managed a whopping 39 points. It's fair to suggest that the mark would have been significantly higher had import Robin Figren (NYI) not been limited to 35 games due to injury.
For the purpose of our examination I will categorize the 33 players from the expansion Oil Kings into five groupings:
1) Still Playing - Guys with junior eligibility. Obviously we have to remove them from the study as they are neither playing professionally nor accessing the CHL scholarship program.
2) Pro players - Those who have successfully earned a pro contract in North America or Europe and are making a living in their chosen field.
3) CIS - Players who are too old to play major junior, were not able to (or chose not to) turn pro, and are now using the WHL scholarship program. Most of the players in this category are continuing to play hockey at the CIS level but not all of them.
4) Just Finished - Players who are no longer eligible to play in the CHL after their 2010-11 season but have not yet declared their intentions for this coming season. They may sign to play pro or head to school or simply join the work force.
5) Unknown - Try as I have, there are a few players that I have not been able to locate or get an update on.
Here is the breakdown:
Still Playing (7)
There are 7 members of the expansion Oil Kings who are eligible to be playing junior hockey, three are still members of the team in fact:
Mark Pysyk - Captain of the Oil Kings, drafted in the 1st round by Buffalo in 2010 and will successfully achieve his main goal of signing a pro contract.
Michael Burns - Currently a member of the WHL's Vancouver Giants. An un-drafted free agent who has attended a pro camp for the Edmonton Oilers. Has four years in the league and therefore the same in education coverage awaiting him.
Logan Proulx - Played parts of three seasons in Edmonton and then in the BCHL last year where he can return for 2011-12.
Colton Stephenson - Still a member of the Oil Kings and with just one game played in 2007-08 as a 15-year-old and just 1 in 2009-10 due to injury, still has 4 years of education coming to him.
Cam Lanigan - Traded to Kamloops last year, he's still with the Blazers as we speak.
Rhett Rachinski - He's an overage player and still with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Henrik Tervonen - Is young enough to still be playing junior hockey. Last year he played very sparingly for the Beverly Warriors in the Capital Junior League.
Pro Players (6)
Tomas Vincour - A 5th round pick by the Dallas Stars in 2009, Vincour has already appeared in 24 NHL games during the 2010-11 campaign, his first as a pro player.
Brett Breitkreuz - The Saskatchewan native applied for and received dual citizen status and now has one pro season under his belt as a member of the Cologne Sharks in Germany. No, it's not the NHL but he's successfully making a living playing professional hockey and experiencing Europe at the same time.
Robin Figren - Was drafted by the New York Islanders in 2006, played two years in the WHL then a season back home in Sweden before two full AHL campaigns with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Figren is reportedly back in Sweden playing professionally with Linköping in the SEL.
Brent Raedeke - A free agent signing by the Detroit Red Wings, last year Raedeke played his first year as a pro with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. He is still property of the NHL club.
Michael Hengen - Like Breitkreuze, Hengen is in Germany playing professionally, albeit at a lower level.
Adrian Van de Mosselaer - The defenceman just wrapped up his WHL career and has signed to play in the ECHL with L.A.'s affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
Canadian Interuniversity Sport (15)
Craig McCallum - University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
Brenden Dowd - University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
Cameron Cepek - After nearly joining the University of Alberta Golden Bears in 2009-10, the native Californian returned home and is reportedly using his WHL scholarship package there.
Jeff Lee - University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds.
Bretton Stamler - University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds.
J.P. Szaszkiewicz - University of Alberta Golden Bears.
Matthew Swaby - University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
Brent Henke - Joining the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns this year.
Brandon Lockerby - University of Manitoba Bisons.
Brennan Sonne - University of British Columbia ThunderBirds.
Drew Nichol - University of Alberta Golden Bears.
Dalyn Flette - Is attending Mount Royal beginning this year.
Alex Archibald - Carleton University Ravens.
We received notification after this story came out today in regards to two players who were originally listed below under "Unknown":
"Just to update you on a couple of the MIA past Oil Kings players you listed, Karl Benke accessed his WHL Scholarship to attend Athabasca University, while Scott Skrudland accessed his WHL Scholarship to attend Georgian College."
So that raises the total from 13 to 15 in this category.
Just Finished (4)
Clayton Cumiskey, Shayne Neigum, Tyler Hlookoff and Braeden Adamyk all played their final year of junior hockey in 2010-11. I could find no indication or either pro opportunities or CIS commitments for the four players. The first three players all have four years of WHL service in the bank and therefore, the same number of years of educational coverage. Adamyk only played one season of the Major Junior hockey, the last three were in the SJHL with the Kindersley Klippers.
Karey Pieper is from central Alberta, played most of his WHL career as a member of the Red Deer Rebels and has been playing with the Bentley Generals in the Chinook Hockey League vying for the Allan Cup. Bentley is relatively close to Red Deer. While I do not know one way or the other, it is very plausible that Pieper has been using his WHL education money taking classes at Red Deer College. That is pure speculation on my part but is realistic.
So what have we learned based on our case study of the 2007-08 Edmonton Oil Kings?
Out of 26 players, remember that 7 we eliminated right away because they are still juniors, we find that 7 players (26.9%) successfully achieved their goal of earning a professional contract and are currently making a living playing the game they grew up with as children.
Furthermore, 15 (57.69%) are successfully taking advantage of their well earned education package, working towards a post education career and most are still playing high level competitive hockey while doing so.
There are 4 players, (15.3%), who we don't know for certain what they plan on doing this year. Odds are pretty strong that it's one of the above, either of which are positives.
That leaves just Karey Pieper (3.8%) as an unknown.
In my mind, it's really hard to see a down side to these results.
I wanted to know for sure that the players who don't get the pro contract and instead go to University, that they are indeed being taken care of as we've been led to believe. To do so I placed two calls, both to current members of the Alberta Golden Bears simply because of their close proximity.
I spoke with J.P. Szaszkiewicz who, after beginning his WHL Career with the Spokane Chiefs, was picked up by the Oil Kings for that long... long expansion season. The forward plays for the Golden Bears but is also working his way to a business career after his University days are done.
According to Szaszkiewicz, the package provided to him by the WHL is anything but a joke.
"I've certainly benefited from it myself," he said. "I'm starting my fourth year, majoring in business accounting. I've got 14 classes to go so about a year and a half I guess."To learn the answer to my question for certain, one way of the other, I felt it best if I just asked as directly as I possible could. I asked: How much did you pay out of pocket last year to go to school?
"I didn't pay anything out of my pocket for school."Again... "So you've gone to school for 4 years and haven't paid a cent of your own money? It's been 100% covered by the WHL?"
"No, for three years... this is my fourth" he corrected me. "But yes, for tuition and books. It's pretty clear, for every year that you play in the 'Dub you get a year of schooling, (tuition and books), paid for by the 'Dub."Obviously if you're going into medicine like former Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman, now Dr. Blair St. Martin, it takes closer to a decade of studies before you're done. However, it's got to be pretty nice knowing the first four years will be free of charge as the WHL foots the bill.
This morning I heard from Drew Nichol, defenceman with the Oil Kings back in 2007-08 who just finished his freshman year at the UofA. He too is playing for the Golden Bears while working towards his own degree. Like Szaszkiwicz, Nichol confirms that all costs last year were covered by the WHL scholarship program.
"If your career in the CHL doesn't give you an NHL or AHL contract you receive an education package for 4 years." That's how Kyle Dubas summed up the CHL option for players considering the major junior route to the NHL.
The Pipeline Show has stressed repeatedly that we are not more for or against either the CHL or the NCAA. As Dean puts it, "we're pro-prospect". To us, either path to the NHL is as valid as the other but neither may be perfect for every player out there. There are pros and cons to both depending on what the individual is hoping to achieve from the CHL or NCAA experience.
What we don't like are falsehoods being lobbed back and forth across the border. One is the idea that the vast majority of players who choose the CHL will fail to make it to the NHL and will have nothing to fall back on. The example of the 2007-08 Edmonton Oil Kings shows us that's not the case at all.