Countdown to NCAA Frozen Four Buffalo 2019, (Part 1): What Makes College Hockey So Unique

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The NCAA Frozen Four arrives in Buffalo April 11th. The four teams that win their respective regional tournaments will arrive to play, as well as many of the most prominent hockey figures in hockey (looking at you Barry Melrose).

It is an exciting event for Buffalo and for hockey fans generally. For college hockey fans, however, it is the best opportunity to take part in the pinnacle of college hockey. College hockey is a unique sport. It does not receive the same national media attention as NCAA football, basketball, or baseball. In some regards, that makes college hockey fans even more dedicated and proud.

College hockey is also different from any other sport when it comes to NCAA Rules and Regulations. Here are three ways that college hockey is different from any other NCAA sport:

1. Junior Hockey:

It is no secret that college hockey players are traditionally old. For every Jack Eichel or Paul Kariya, who both played and excelled as an 18-year-old freshman, there are 100 twenty-one year old college hockey freshmen whose sole focus is winning a National Championship. Most hockey players are expected to play Juniors before they are even committed to a Division I college hockey program. That prolongs their amateur status and as long as they play in the United States Hockey League or North American Hockey League, they maintain eligibility for the NCAA. No other sport currently has a feeder program the way college hockey does. It is truly unique and adds another layer to young hockey players living the dream of competing for a National Championship.

2. Canadian/European Influence

It is no secret that Canada is currently the gold standard for the sport of hockey. While cities like Buffalo, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Boston boast high level hockey, it is well known in the hockey community that Toronto, Nova Scotia, Vancouver, and Montreal have always been ahead in the development of their hockey players, as most Canadians are rumored to have been born on skates. In addition, countries like Finland, Sweden, and Russia produce well developed, extremely skilled, pro-ready players. Due to NCAA regulations, American hockey players cannot train with pro-programs and are limited in their ability to be sponsored at a young age the way foreign and Canadian players are. That said, USA hockey has made strides in recent years, and it has shownin the high amount of American hockey players drafted in the first-round of the NHL Entry Draft

3. Ability to maintain representation (Agents/Advisors)

Similar to Major League Baseball, the NHL drafts young, and on potential. Thus, hockey players are picked before they are fully developed or mature. All hockey players are eligible for the draft at 18 years old. Often times, players are selected before they even step foot on a college campus. Due to this fact, hockey players need advisement in preparation for the NHL draft. Many NHL agents sign youth hockey players at the young, fragile age of 15 years old. If they sign with an agent, they do not lose their NCAA eligibility and still maintain their NCAA status.

According to NCAA bylaw 12.3.1, a prospective student-athlete loses NCAA eligibility if he signs with an agent before he begins his college career. However, there is an exception for the sports of basketball and ice hockey due to the timing of their respective professional entry-level drafts. In ice hockey, drafted players are allowed to have agent representation during their college careers (NCAA bylaw

That said, any undrafted player cannot negotiate with an NHL team until after they are drafted. Undrafted players, such as Buffalo’s own Alex Iafallo, who won the NCAA championship in 2017 with UMD and then signed with the Los Angeles Kings, are treated as NHL free agents when they declare to play professionally. Thus, there is a mad scramble to sign recent undrafted college players at the conclusion of the NCAA Hockey season. 

040617 — Clint Austin — 040717.S.DNT.UMDMPUX.C9 — Minnesota Duluth let wing Alex Iafallo answers a question after defeating Harvard during the Frozen Four semifinal at the United Center in Chicago Thursday. (Clint Austin /

With draft picks on NCAA hockey teams, it can complicate matters, as some student-athletes are more focused on hockey development and less focused on academics, surely a conflict of interest for coaches and the NCAA. For late bloomers who were not drafted, it is more difficult to play pro hockey at the top level, as they are not given the same attention as the draft picks, and do not have an agent negotiating with pro clubs during their time in college. 

Looking forward to the NCAA Frozen Four in Buffalo! More content soon.

Matthew Benedict

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