Friday, March 01, 2013

Ken Pauly Puts Himself in Crosshairs of Major Junior Fight

Somehow, the fact that Benilde-St. Margaret's lost in the Section 6AA final Wednesday night is a positive for most everyone out there. Even BSM coach Ken Pauly.


Because it allows Pauly to ride off into the sunset and enter the offseason, perhaps giving him some distance from an ugly story that blew up this week involving his program and a talented freshman player he booted.

Everything started to come to a head this week, when this story was posted about BSM freshman Alec Baer and his desire to hold his options open for his hockey future. Unfortunately for Baer, one of the options he wanted open caused a pretty significant philosophical gap with Pauly, his high school coach.

The 15-year-old missed a practice earlier this month to visit Vancouver of the Western Hockey League. Three days later he found out he was no longer a Red Knight.

... Pauly said his decision to dismiss Baer "is related to Major Junior hockey" but declined to comment further because Baer remains a student.

Speaking as the president of the coaches' group, Pauly said: "A trip to a college is in keeping with the overall mission and vision of high school athletics. I don't believe the Major Junior and Minnesota high school model are complementary pieces."

Pauly doesn't win a lot of fans here. He coaches a private school team, one that isn't exactly innocent when it comes to picking top players from community-based programs. The messenger isn't exactly pristine here, which probably clouds the message.

What is the message?

Speaking on behalf of a statewide group of coaches, Pauly is saying that they want to keep players from bolting for major junior hockey, which doesn't put education first (don't get me started about their system of college scholarships that is not a lot more than a PR ploy against the NCAA system). Instead, the association wants players to stay in school, where education is supposed to always be first.

A longtime critic of major junior hockey, my friend Chris Dilks laid the wood to Pauly for his behavior here.

Pauly is basically using his position to bully other players in the state of Minnesota from even considering all of the options available to them. Players need not explore what path is best for them, because Ken Pauly has already decided what is best for them, and, shocking surprise, it's the route that most directly benefits Ken Pauly. Again, I've written a great many words about why the CHL isn't the best route for a great many players, but trying to unilaterally deny players the option of even looking into it is an incredibly selfish position to take.

I do think Pauly is using his spot to deny a player the right to do what he thinks is best, but I don't disagree with this move.

Baer had to know Pauly would be irritated with his decision to skip a practice to visit Vancouver. He had to know there would be repercussions, and he chose to take the visit. Whether or not it's fair -- kids go off to visit USHL teams and colleges all the time -- is irrelevant. Life isn't fair. If Pauly said there would be a punishment, and Baer made his decision anyway, he has to accept the consequence, however harsh. A coach has the right to lay down team rules on anything he wants -- curfew, facial hair, long hair, tattoos, and virtually anything else you can think of. That's part of the gig as a coach. Lay out rules and expect them to be followed, with punishments levied if they are not.

Part of being on a team is understanding that these rules exist and must be followed. Baer and his family made a decision to violate them. By doing so. perhaps Pauly felt they showed the commitment to the school and the hockey team just wasn't as strong as everyone else's. Yes, Pauly undoubtedly would have let Grant Besse miss a team activity to visit Wisconsin. But Pauly knew Besse wasn't going to college before he graduated high school. Same goes for any other player. They can visit USHL teams, but can't play for them during the high school season unless they leave school first. And no one is going to jump into a college team out of high school during the season. The system doesn't work that way.

But Baer can sign with the WHL virtually any time he wants. Pauly knows it, Baer knows it (he signed with Vancouver after he got the boot from the BSM team, actually), his family knows it, the major junior teams know it, and so do we. Hell, the major junior teams sign players in-season all the time, and while they can't just sign high school kids during the season without permission from USA Hockey, they could have gone hard after Baer as soon as the dagger was delivered to BSM's year. People have told me Baer was good for one more year at BSM, but minds change all the time, especially when it comes to commitments to amateur hockey versus major junior.

And this wasn't some ordinary freshman taking some playing time on a varsity team. Baer had five goals and 15 points in 19 games for the Red Knights. Pauly isn't making an example of a marginal player. He's making an example of a kid who has a real upside going forward in the sport.

Whether you appreciate Pauly's decision or not, you do have to take into account the fact that he kicked a player off his team that could make a difference in future seasons. He made a decision, stuck to his guns, and didn't care about the ability of the player.

That counts a bit, too.

1 comment:

Vegoe said...

I agree, Pauly can do whatever he wants--his team, his program. However, there wasn't a clear rule, "Go visit a WHL team, you're experience playing hockey at BSM is done."

Just feels like a spiteful action by a coach who was upset at a kid exploring his options. I don't think you can expect the top high school players to play all four or five years anymore. There are too many other options that are more challenging that HS hockey. Kids who leave HS give something up for that 'skill development,' but it's a choice.