It's not that the folks behind college hockey don't care about the sport's reputation or image. It's that they have more important things to do than promote themselves.
Perhaps we need to change that.
As written in this space before, this isn't really a good debate. Every kid's development is going to be different, and it will be sparked by different things. There are kids who -- at age 18 -- are better off playing with kids their own age and younger, and others will get better by playing against bigger, older, more experienced competition. The young people involved simply should be given the best information possible so they can make intelligent decisions that are free of any potentially harmful biases.
Consider the case of goalie Jack Campbell. He decided to pull out of a verbal commitment to Michigan so he could go play for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires. Give the kid credit, because he didn't shy away from his decision. On the other hand, maybe he should have.
"I am honored the University of Michigan recruited me to play college hockey. My goal is to be playing in the National Hockey League within a year or two, and I did not want to put Michigan's hockey program in a bad position where I left after one season.
"By going to the Ontario Hockey League, I feel it will accelerate my development so I will be able to more quickly achieve my goal of being an NHL goaltender.
"I feel awful about breaking my commitment to U of M. It's something that was not easy to do or that I intended to do. College hockey is a great game that produces a lot of NHL players and I am grateful for the opportunity the University of Michigan gave me."
With all due respect, this is garbage.
Yes, Campbell might develop better in the OHL. However, it's practically insulting for him to suggest that he'll get to the NHL faster there than he would at Michigan.
Chris Dilks of Western College Hockey crunched the numbers, looking at how quickly first-round CHL goalies got to the NHL. Let's just say it isn't a high rate of quick success.
Over 10 drafts--1999-2008--there has been a grand total of one goalie from the CHL (Dan Blackburn, if you're curious) drafted in the first round that wasn't still eligible for the Calder Trophy (no more than 25 NHL games played, or 6 in two separate seasons) at the end of the timeframe with which Campbell suggests he'll be in the NHL.
Good luck, kid.
You can believe that Campbell invented this philosophy, and maybe he did. However, you hear all the time about how Canadian major juniors are the fast track to the NHL. No one questions it, because all you have to do is prop up Sidney Crosby and you win. But Crosby is a special talent that the QMJHL may never again see. Is it really fair to point a finger at him and talk about how major junior is better than college?
In all honesty, I still feel the same way about this debate. Campbell sure could be doing what's best for himself after some serious thought. However, there are rats crawling all over this, and it's hard to get past the idea that the Spitfires exacted some sort of influence by somehow convincing Campbell and his family that going to Michigan would hurt his development.
Even if it didn't happen in this case, you know it does in others.
When was the last time you heard about a college coach going the extra mile to talk a kid out of going to a CHL-affiliated team?