Maine Hockey Journal

Maine endures short term pain for long term gain

It’s been a tough week for University of Maine men’s hockey coach Red Gendron and his coaching staff on the recruiting trail with Ethan Crossman and Carson MacKinnon opting out of their commitment to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The loss of Crossman to the Moncton Wildcats and MacKinnon to the Rimouski Oceanic were jabs to the stomach but were not knock out punches.

While they were highly-touted players as because it was their “QMJHL Draft year” this past season, if you look more deeply it’s clear that both players opting out of their commitment wasn’t unexpected.

Crossman committed to Maine in late April, a month before the QMJHL Draft, and MacKinnon’s commitment came a couple weeks after the draft. The timing of their commitment was certainly awkward.

Crossman’s hometown is Sackville, New Brunswick, which is 32 miles outside of Moncton. The Wildcats are his hometown team meaning that he could live at home instead of living with billet parents. He’s not getting the college lifestyle, but that’s a decision that every player needs to make when deciding whether to go the route of junior hockey versus the NCAA.

MacKinnon’s family is familiar with the Oceanic organization as Carson’s brother Ryan played for them from 2011-14.

Did they use their verbal commitment as leverage and scare off other QMJHL teams from drafting them? Certainly. Do I blame them? Not necessarily. With several QMJHL teams wanting their services, they didn’t want to take the gamble of letting the draft play out and go to a team where they didn’t want to play.

Both are going to outstanding organizations in the QMJHL and will be living their dream. Good for them.

At the end of the day it’s a loss for Gendron, who is trying to restore the Black Bears program to the prominence it had from the late 80s through the early 2000s. Getting Crossman and MacKinnon to commitment verbally was a low risk, but high reward move.

Gendron has plenty of time to find other players as both were two or three years from playing in Orono. It would have been more concerning if Crossman and MacKinnon decided to decommit a few months before entering school. That could have been devastating to the program.

Gendron and his coaches also went into a hockey factory at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame located in Wilcox, Saskatchewan and made connections with their coaching staff.

He may have lost two of three recruits, but future college hockey players do come through the program like Teddy Purcell, Scott Pellerin, Jaden Schwartz and Curtis Joseph.

Some players have success after decommitting from Maine and going to the CHL and others who haven’t.

Austin Watson and Kevin Gagne has showed mild success after opting out of their commitment to Maine for the CHL.

Watson, the lone NHL draft pick, taken in the first round by the Nashville Predators in 2010 has primarily played in the American Hockey League. Watson is a two-time OHL champion with Windsor and London, winning the titles in 2009 and 2011 respectfully. He also won the Memorial Cup with Windsor in 2009.

Gagne won the QMJHL President’s Cup with the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2011 and 2012 while winning the Memorial Cup in 2012. He also has played the last two seasons in the AHL.

Darcy Ashley and Stephen Gillard both won the President’s Cup and Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads in 2013 but didn’t get a pro contract after their junior days were done.

And there are the likes of Jared Gilbert and Brandon Francisco, who went to the OHL and didn’t pan out in professional hockey.

Players deciding not to report happens on both sides of the border. The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles had a first round pick each of the last three seasons decide not to report to training camp.

Nicolas Roy was selected first overall had his rights later traded to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. They took a chance on Michael O’Leary – a Cornell recruit – in 2014 with their second first-round pick only to drop his rights. He was drafted by Moncton this past year in the third round.

Shane Bowers from Halifax, Nova Scotia was the fourth overall pick this past summer. Bowers, 6-foot-1, 170-pounds said before being drafted that he would be taking the NCAA route and reportedly in planning to play for the Waterloo Blackhawks of the United States Hockey League.

He was widely considered the number one overall pick until Hockey Canada granted Joseph Veleno exceptional status the week of the draft to play in the QMJHL as a 15-year-old.

That would be a big fish for Gendron to land if the kid is seriously looking at the NCAA route?

The news stings right now, but in my opinion the coaching staff is taking the Bill Belichick approach “we are on to the next recruit,” because they were probably expecting this news.

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