Kitchener Rangers Lawsuit Adds Ugliness to CHL vs. NCAA Flap

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 22: Jacob Trouba, ninth overall pick by the Winnipeg Jets, poses on stage during Round One of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 22, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Kitchener Rangers are suing the student newspaper at the University of Michigan, just another chapter in the growing flap between NCAA hockey and the three Canadian major junior leagues.

A few years ago, commissioners of college hockey's Division I conferences -- the leaders behind Atlantic Hockey, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the ECAC, Hockey East, and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association -- came together and helped formed an organization called College Hockey, Inc.

The mission of the entity was to promote college hockey to high school-age players, providing them information on their options for hockey as they got older, and showing the benefits of choosing college hockey over the Canadian major junior leagues.

Part of that effort comes with talking about the success guys like Zach Parise, Jonathan Toews, Justin Faulk, and many others have had professionally after playing in college.

Since CHI formed, the "war" between NCAA programs and the Canadian Hockey League -- the arm overseeing three Canadian leagues, the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL -- seems to have only intensified. What was once a one-way battle is no longer, because CHI is making sure the CHL isn't the only one feeding information to kids about its benefits.

(This seems like a good time for me to mention that kids who play in a Canadian major junior league are ineligible to play NCAA college hockey. The NCAA sees the CHL as a professional league.)

Along the way, there have been allegations and rumors for years of CHL teams offering or paying improper benefits to kids to pull them away from college commitments. Famously, Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson threw out the idea that Windsor (OHL) defenseman Cam Fowler was offered a huge sum by Kitchener before going to play juniors -- the figure thrown around was $500,000 -- and was threatened with a lawsuit from Windsor and Kitchener. That lawsuit never happened.

In my years closely following and covering college hockey, I've heard plenty of rumors, but no one has any desire to go on the record with any of it. If you follow college hockey, you've probably been made aware of at least some of those rumors.

(CHL teams give under-20 players a stipend of $50 per week. Overage players can get up to $150 a week. Anything beyond that is considered against the rules.)

Recently, reporter Matt Slovin of Michigan Daily ran a story where he cited an unnamed source claiming the Kitchener Rangers offered defenseman Jacob Trouba $200,000 to split on his commitment to play at Michigan and join the OHL club.

Slovin's story was met with quick denials from the Rangers and Trouba's family, which has no reason to drag itself into what is largely a political minefield.

This time, the Rangers followed through on threats, suing the Daily and the unnamed source Slovin quoted. They are asking for $1 million in damages. The suit was filed in Canada, but from what I've read, it seems the Rangers have to convince an American court of their case to actually collect any damages.

Good luck with that.

The newspaper is standing behind its reporter and his story.

Trouba is signed to play at Michigan, but a National Letter of Intent means nothing to a CHL team. They will often recruit players while they are playing for a college team. They don't care about that piece of paper. Trouba, meanwhile, has said all along he will become a Wolverine this fall. The first-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets will spend up to two seasons at Michigan before turning pro.

It's an ugly part of college hockey. North Dakota has lost multiple recruits to summer CHL signings, and Michigan lost two goalie recruits -- Jack Campbell and John Gibson -- in a short span of time.

But not everyone takes the bait and moves up north. Parise, Toews, Faulk, Ryan Suter, and countless others have gone on to NHL stardom after playing college hockey.

As long as both paths -- college and major junior -- are viable and produce NHL-level talent, top players will have a tough decision to make during their teenage years. Neither path is "the answer" for everyone. Many American players -- especially those around a big-time hockey school or in a state known for hockey -- feel a bit of a pull to a certain college team from childhood on, and they aren't willing to give up that dream to play hockey in a strange city in a foreign country.

CHI isn't going away, and the CHL programs aren't going to stop pursuing players they think can help them compete for the Memorial Cup.

Hopefully, though, the "feud" can simmer a bit as we move forward. Yes, there is money to be made, and reputations to uphold, but it's hockey. I hate to pull the "Can't we all just get along?" line, but the sides need to start getting along, even if only a little bit.

Threats and lawsuits and trash talk only distracts from the on-ice product. For both entities, the on-ice product should be what matters, not sniping at each other in the media.

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