Whether you are a loyal fan of AUS men’s hockey or have never seen a game, you should attend as many matches as possible in the second half of the season. Starting in the fall, AUS hockey will change, and not for the better: each team’s roster will be limited to 21 players excluding goalies.
The incoming 21-player limit will restrict all AUS teams in competing for a national title. It will water down what I think is the greatest university hockey conference in the country.
It is hard watching the AUS shoot themselves in the foot on this issue. I’m not saying an AUS team is guaranteed to win this year’s University Cup, but down the road, limiting teams to 21 players will catch up to them. No other conference in the CIS has a roster limit for hockey. This could be a huge problem for an AUS team that has to deal with injuries en route to a national title.
If you don’t think injuries happen in the AUS, just ask the Dalhousie Tigers, who have used a CIS high of 27 players so far this season. If the Tigers have half the amount of injuries next season not only will they find themselves struggling to stay in the playoff race, but their on-ice product will suffer greatly as well. Who’s willing to pay to see two injury-riddled teams compete in mid-season? I would figure the AUS would want to put the best possible product on the ice.
The only university to speak out against this rule is the powerhouse UNB Varsity Reds, and while I agree this rule has been rushed in and is short-sighted, the V-Reds do not get much sympathy points from me. UNB is partly to blame for this rule. You need look no further than this summer’s recruiting class and the curious cases that landed fourth-year veterans Bryce Swan and Colby Pridham in Fredericton. The transfers were able to avoid losing a year of eligibility by enrolling in a graduate program at UNB.
Supporters of the 21-player rule say UNB, who has won two of the last four national titles, recruits players just so other teams can’t have them, leaving too many quality players in the stands. Part of this reputation may just be sour grapes on the part of the universities who lose out on a player and want an excuse for UNB’s seemingly endless stream of top-level recruits.
Mike Eagles, the athletic director at St. Thomas, has said publicly this rule will be good for the league because it would bring more parity. Well, it may level the playing field in terms of recruits, but is the parity in the league really that bad now? You have three teams within four points of first place. The best way I heard this rule summed up is that the whole league has blinders on to screw over the UNB V-Reds, when what they should be worried about is what is best for the game.
I believe more needs to be done to encourage growth and expansion in this league. Marketing, scheduling and growing attendance all need work. It would be a lot better for the AUS to have the strongest teams in the country playing in our backyards in front of sold out crowds than imposing a cap that limits teams.
There needs to be more structure and more of a paper trail during the recruiting process. The AUS should step in and impose similar recruiting policies as the NCAA. If a player agrees to play at a university and changes his mind, fine, but he should have to sit out a year similar to pro players who make the jump to the AUS. What about allowing teams to have an unlimited number of Junior A players? Just put a cap on the amount of major junior recruits a team can bring in one year. There are so many ways to create a different recruiting landscape without a hard and fixed cap on total players.
Every summer there’s a lot of complaining about how one team, often UNB, is stacked. But once January rolls around and three teams are in a dog-fight for first place, does the complaining really have merit?
Jon Pickett is an AUS hockey broadcaster in Halifax.