Canadian university sports rosters should better reflect the makeup of the student body, says long-time coach and former Mount Allison University athletic director Jack Drover.
Drover was reacting to yesterday's official approval of Mike Danton - who was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder - being cleared to play for St. Mary's University in Halifax. The situation sets up the possibility of a 29-year-old former NHL player facing a recent high-school graduate in competition.
Aside from the ethical debate about Danton, who has received full parole, the controversial move by St. Mary's raises the hackles of Drover and others who oppose ex-pros and mature Major Junior A players being allowed to play Canadian university hockey, effectively freezing out recent high-school graduates.
"Most students are 18 to 23, and mostly from the regional area where the university is located," said Drover, who coached for 25 seasons and last summer retired as athletic director. "The rosters of CIS men's hockey teams do not represent this principle. Measures must be taken to resolve this."
Clint Hamilton, president of the governing body Canadian Interuniversity Sport, said the Danton situation "will prompt us" to consider age eligibility rules.
"Within the existing bylaws of men's hockey, there is no age limitation," he said.
One solution would be to ban ex-pros altogether and to deduct one year of university eligibility for each year of major-junior hockey played. CIS executive director Marg McGregor indicated the Danton situation will cause hockey coaches to discuss eligibility guidelines at the national championships in March.
"It's not unusual to have 25-.or 26-year-olds playing men's hockey," she said. "Virtually all our other sports' intake is right out of high school."
In Canada, a top performing student-athlete in midget hockey faces a tough choice at age 16 - either join the major junior team that drafts him, or roll the dice on attracting a scholarship to an NCAA school such as the University of Michigan.
By opting to gamble on the scholarship two years hence, he must continue his career in Tier II rather than major junior, because the NCAA bans players with major-junior experience. The downside? If the scholarship doesn't materialize, his hockey dreams are effectively over. The major junior team won't take him at 18 years old, and the NHL isn't interested in scouting the Canadian university programs.
That's because the CIS hasn't stepped up to compete for the top high-school players by offering scholarships and marketing the game in Canada, as the NCAA does with football and basketball. It's a senior league of sorts, the players coming cheap. And the public isn't buying it; attendance is sparse across the country.
"There has to be a decision of the athletic directors that the roster has to represent the student profile," Drover said. "You get more student support if the roster [represents]the student profile instead of recruiting with the buzz phrase 'daycare provided.'."
Meantime, Grade 12 players must go south if they want to both play top-level collegiate hockey and get an education.
Hamilton pointed out that the probability of a 29-year-old ex-pro coming up against a recent high-school grad "clearly won't occur in many situations." Nonetheless, the reality today is that a successful university hockey team is stocked with players between 22-.and 26-years-old, Drover said.
Danton, who lives in Toronto, will head to Saint Mary's in a few days. He will have three years of eligibility in Canadian university hockey and could still be playing at age 32.
He scored 10 goals in 92 games with the St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils over the course of his short NHL career, then went to jail for more than five years.
Danton's return to the NHL is unlikely because his criminal record would prevent him from returning to the United States.
With a report from The Canadian Press