Disclaimer: we have no knowledge of any rumblings, rumors, or confirmations that any non-senior member of the current Falcon hockey team is exploring pro opportunities. We’re highlighting a couple Falcons who have received attention outside of BG.
Marcus Perrier. Ryan Carpenter. Nolan Valleau. These were all members of the Falcon hockey team that decided to move on before using up their four years of eligibility. It’s always bittersweet for it to happen, and depending on timing it can cause some issues depending on when the ink dries.
Why do players move on? It’s certainly a fair question to ask, especially with fan bases that plan their life events around weekends in the Fall and Winter. There’s a level of dedication that fan bases expect from their teams, but the decision to leave early is never an easy one. Some players hate being a student; the grind of class, homework, practice, games, repeat is a tough schedule for anyone. For others, the fear of one bad injury ruining their chance at their dream is a constant threat.
And who can ignore the almighty dollar? The minimum American Hockey League (AHL) salary is north of $40,000/year with a $65/day per diem. The AHL is the primary development league for the AHL, with a local example being either the Grand Rapids Griffins (Red Wings) or the Lake Erie Monsters (Blue Jackets). Players in the AHL are frequently called up to the NHL, including Carpenter earlier this season by the San Jose Sharks. Most players who choose to leave school early do so for the AHL; the money is better and players typically sign two-way agreements with an NHL organization. These agreements allow the player to be called up and down a finite amount of times between the NHL and AHL squads. The two-way contracts call for the player to earn one salary at the NHL level, and a lower amount if they play in the AHL.
So obviously your first thought is who might be cleaning out their locker for good? The name that we constantly get asked about on road trips is Chris Nell. Nell had a great season for the Falcons and is a free agent. He took part in the Washington Capitals’ development camp last year and has been heavily scouted for most of the season. Regarding leaving early, he told Kevin Gordon: “I haven’t even had a conversation with my family or even the coaching staff…I know at the end of the season that’s going to be something there, but it’s a great program here, it’s a good spot. I honestly haven’t even given it any thought…(Playing pro hockey), that’s the end goal, whether it be the AHL, ECHL or the NHL. That’s been a goal of mine since I can remember.”
With highly-regarded goaltender recruit Ryan Bednard most likely joining the Falcons next season, it would certainly be a boon for the Falcons to have Bednard study under Nell for a season. But, Nell will be getting a few invites this summer to development camps. It’s tough to tell how things will shake out from there.
The other name that is mentioned quite a bit is defenseman Mark Friedman. This one is a bit more obvious, as Friedman was selected in 2014 NHL Entry Draft in the third round. He’s someone who had been committed to BG for a few years, and it’s been a worthwhile wait for Coach Bergeron and staff. Friedman finished in first place in the WCHA in defenseman scoring (4-15-19), making sizable strides in his development from his freshman to his sophomore season. He also was a first-team All-WCHA pick this season.
Drafted prospects are hard to project because there’s more direct communication between a player and the team that holds his draft rights. Most players will follow the direction of their NHL club as it relates to staying or leaving. But, if the Flyers feel like Friedman is developing to their blueprint they also have no reason to pull him up the AHL. Even Friedman admitted needing development when he spoke to CSNPhilly.com last season at the Flyers’ development camp: “I’ve got a lot to work on in my all-around game. Specifically my defensive side of the game. Knowing when to recognize to step up in your own end or on an odd-man rush. I just gotta get better all-around on the defensive side of the game.”
Chris Bergeron has developed a good rapport with NHL teams in thanks to his time at Miami, and more recently the NHL recruits BG has produced. That kind of relationship builds trust that recruits can safely go to Bowling Green, develop well over their time there, and are prepared for a professional career when that time comes. Simply, if a team trusts a player’s college team to develop their players they have no reason to ask them to leave sooner than they’re ready.
The one thing fans need to accept is that with increased success will come increased early departures. In fact, it’s a sign of a program that is bringing in top-level recruits. The coaching staff has also started to recruit sooner to help account for the possibility of losing players early, keeping the proverbial cabinet ready for a rainy day. Early departures are just a nature of the beast that is college hockey, but fans should be happy that Bowling Green is in a situation where they get to see this level of a talent that’s been sorely missed.