No one can really blame National Team Development Coach Ron Rolston for leaving and taking the head job with the Rochester Americans.
But you can damn sure blame the schools that didn’t want to take a chance on hiring him. College hockey, to a degree American hockey, has had a “Who Shot JR?”-like summer with all these top-name guys leaving to go play Major Junior.
The college hockey vs. Major Junior argument has nothing to do with which provides better competition but in this case, development. Development is the key and though there are college programs that offer kids a chance to develop for the NHL, there aren’t enough of them that do it consistently.
Schools like Boston College, Boston University, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan have typically been those places in the last five to 10 years that offer development. Other than that, a lot of schools are more about winning than they are development.
A friend of mine made this argument last night and it’s a valid point: If you put more time into developing good players, the winning will take care of itself.
That’s why this column leads with Rolston and the schools that didn’t take a chance in wanting to hire him. Truthfully, there wasn’t a better non-college head coaching candidate this summer than Rolston and his track record is proof.
He has helped molded and shaped talents like Patrick Kane, James Van Riemsdyk in previous years while working with talent like John Gibson, Connor Murphy and JT Miller, all guys who are leaving for Major Junior.
Throw in the fact this guy has won multiple international tournaments and it begs the question: Why didn’t college programs hire this guy?
If USA Hockey can trust this guy with the crown jewels of this nation’s future stars, why couldn’t a college do the same?
The same buddy I talked to made another point that was pretty valid: The problem college hockey has is it has athletic directors that may not understand what it takes to build a program the right way.
Obviously, there are athletic directors that get it but let’s be real here, there are probably some athletic directors that don’t. I know that. You know that and Ringo over here definitely knows that.
Here in Minnesota the high schools more or less have an unwritten rule when it comes to hiring hockey coaches. It isn’t like hiring a basketball or football coach where those coaches have to be teachers. The feeling with hiring a hockey coach in Minnesota is when a hire is made, schools are looking for people that know the game. They played the game and they don’t get caught up with other details.
A high school coach in this region once said schools find it easier to hire a hockey mind because hockey is a complex sport not everyone can coach.
That leads to this final point. If college hockey and its fans want to start putting an end to high-end guys leaving, there needs to be more motivation other than getting a college education.
College educations are important and I thank the Lord I have one but we all remember what it’s like to be 17 and 18 years old. If someone came along and said you could have your dream job for life without having to attend college, we’d all consider it. As an arrogant-ass 17-year-old I told my parents and teachers, “If journalism was like hockey, I wouldn’t waste my time in school. What can I learn in school that I already haven’t learned working at a decently-sized daily newspaper?”
More than a college education needs to be touted. Development needs to be touted. Success stories from college need to be touted.
Showing colleges care about development is a major step in the right direction but when schools let coaches like Rolston slip by, therein lies the problem. Ohio State got it right this summer when it hired goaltending coach Joe Exter away from the NTDP. That was Ohio State’s way of saying it cares about hockey and it wants to do its best to get the premier goaltenders.
People can argue all they want about Major Junior and its evil telenovela father, Hockey Canada, for ruining the game here in the United States by fleecing talent. But in true soap opera form, these kids are going to a place where they feel they can get the best development.
That’s why kids are leaving. And when guys like Rolston don’t get hired, it’s another reason to walk out the door too.