Sean Kuraly after winning gold in the World Junior Championships in Russia (Cathy Lachmann/WCPO.com).
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USA gold could impact NCAA hockey, Miami

Championship a big win for college hockey

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By John Lachmann
Kypostsports@yahoo.com

   Although it was only one two-week tournament played 5,500 miles away, the significance of the Americans' gold medal run in the 2013 IIHF World Juniors Championship could impact college and juniors hockey back in North America.

   And it could also affect Miami hockey in a positive way.

   Two members of the RedHawks, freshmen forwards Riley Barber and Sean Kuraly, were members of that goal medal team comprised mainly of NCAA athletes.

   No Miami player had ever previously won gold in that tournament, and the RedHawks were the only collegiate team to have two players hit the ice (the OHL's Sarnia Sting also had two members of team USA, including defenseman Connor Murphy, who reneged on his Miami commitment prior to 2011-12). 

   While the U.S. beat Sweden in the gold medal game, it was the 5-1 manhandling of Canada in the semifinal round that has generated the most talk. This tournament does not create much buzz outside of the very finite walls of college hockey in the States, but it is one of the major events of the year north of the border.

   And Canada is well aware that all five of Team USA's goals in that semifinal win last week were scored by NCAA athletes.

   The college vs. major juniors (the Canadian Hockey League, comprised of the OHL, QMJHL and WHL) argument has been escalating the past few seasons, especially with CHL teams poaching college commits regularly.

   The subject has been debated ad nauseam, but at the crux of the argument is the 70-game CHL schedule geared toward preparing players for the pros vs. a 34-game NCAA schedule plus a full class load with a shot at a paid-for degree for players as young as 21.

   College hockey has evolved exponentially since the days of the Miracle on Ice, with one-third of all NHL players now developing in the NCAA.

   Last season, Miami forward Reilly Smith, who finished 2011-12 with the Dallas Stars and may return there once the NHL season starts next week, talked about his decision to come to Oxford vs. going the juniors route.

   "If I went major junior they'd probably work on just the offensive aspects (of my game)," Smith said. "That's one reason why I wanted to come to college and more specifically Miami because of the style of game that we play."

   This is from a fourth-round draft pick that grew up in the suburbs of Toronto.

   On the other side of that argument is Pat Sieloff, an Ann Arbor, Mich., native who pulled out of his commitment to Miami last summer to play for Windsor of the OHL.

   "For me it's the fastest route to a pro career," Sieloff told the Spitfires.

   Of the 22 players to log ice time on the U.S.'s goal medal team, 13 came from the NCAA, eight were in juniors and one has done both (former RedHawk Tyler Biggs, who played last season in Oxford before joining Oshawa in 2012-13).

   Everyone on Team Canada played juniors, and all but 2011 top overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins returned there following the tournament. Nugent-Hopkins rejoined AHL Oklahoma and will head to Edmonton when the NHL season starts.

   Outspoken Hockey Night in Canada star Don Cherry ranted about the outcome last week:

   From Twitter: "Lets (sic) see how many guys from the tournament make the NHL. You'll find Canada will be number one. Hey maybe I am a spoiled sport."

   Of course, Cherry does not speak for all Canadians, but he has a lot of supporters north of the border. And even those who disagree with him are revisiting the subject. A lot.

   Cherry also suggested that the CHL would be better off to confine its league to Canadians, which would be odd considering the WHL has teams in Spokane, Everett, Portland and Seattle and Plymouth, Saginaw and Erie (at least for another season) are members of the OHL.

   Miami's roster will consist solely of Americans next season, barring any recruiting changes, and the argument is an interesting one, but we can save that for another day.

   But that is a discussion born from the current negativity surrounding the current Canadian program, which compounded its woes by losing to Russia in the bronze medal game to break its 14-year medal streak.

   The CHL's reputation took an enormous hit in the past weeks and college hockey comes out smelling like gold.

   From the RedHawks' perspective, that championship run could improve Miami's future recruiting classes.

   The college hockey world is a small group but an informed group. Uncommitted teenagers getting ready to enter the USHL – and their parents – pay attention to where talent lands.

   Hopefully, seeing the quality of players coming out of college hockey will swing the pendulum of elite undecided players to the NCAA route.

   And after watching Barber and Kuraly play at a high level in the World Junior Championships, maybe some of those players will choose Miami.
 

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