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College Hockey:
College hockey coaches see recruiting rule change as chance to better develop relationships

Editor’s note: This is the first entry in an occasional series on the major issues and big names in college hockey recruiting.

The ongoing battle for talent between college hockey and the Canadian Hockey League continues to intensify on a yearly basis. While it doesn’t appear that will change any time soon, the NCAA has taken steps recently to level the playing field in terms of recruiting and retaining elite talent.

The NCAA Board of Directors last month approved legislation that will allow NCAA schools to reach out to prospective players beginning Jan. 1 of their sophomore year. Previously, coaches weren’t allowed to contact recruits until June 15 of a prospect’s grade 10 year.

The change is significant because it moves the contact date for prospective student-athletes up 5½ months, giving college coaches the ability to form relationships with recruits before the OHL and QMJHL drafts.

Like many schools, Michigan State finds itself directly in the crosshairs of the recruiting battle, with not only seven Division I schools to compete with in-state but two OHL clubs as well. For Spartans coach Tom Anastos, the rule changes make practical sense.

“We’re in one of the most demanding markets there is with a huge CHL presence in the state,” Anastos said in a phone interview with USCHO. “It really wasn’t all that logical the way we had to go about communicating before.”

The new rule changes also remove limits on the number of phone calls, emails, text messages and Twitter direct messages that coaches can send.

Previously, NCAA schools were allowed only one phone call per month to prospective student-athletes from June 15 at the end of their grade 10 year until grade 12. Coaches were allowed unlimited email and social media contact after June 15 of a recruit’s grade 10 year, but no text messages were allowed for hockey under previous NCAA rules.

Meanwhile, CHL teams had unlimited access to these players, creating an uphill fight for many NCAA programs to “show love” to prospective recruits. The rule changes give NCAA coaches the ability to send a text message to a prospect congratulating him on a good game, or to simply keep the line of communication open.

“One of the nice parts of the changes is that you can begin to form a relationship with, or learn about a person that was very difficult before,” Anastos said. “It’s one thing if it was only seniors in high school we were going after, but some are committing at a very young age. This will help allow a normal sequence of communication.”

Not only will it allow college coaches more access to prospective student-athletes, but it will give those prospects the ability to make a more informed choice when they are going through one of the most important decisions they will ever make.

“It’s a benefit for the prospects and the colleges,” Anastos said. “Now, we can actually reach out more readily and more accessibly communicate with kids. It will be welcomed by the prospects as well so they can learn about us.

“You want to be able to have kids make an informed decision, and the rule change makes that possible.”

Recently committed impact recruits

Player: Tyler Nanne

Team: Edina (Minn.) High School

Position: Defense

Size: 5-foot-10, 180 pounds

Date of birth: March 17, 1996

College commitment: Ohio State

The impact: The grandson of hockey legend Lou Nanne, Tyler, like his brother Louie — who is committed to Rensselaer — is looking to forge his own path in the hockey world. A smooth-skating defenseman, Tyler committed to Steve Rohlik and Ohio State on Jan. 7.

Nanne, a senior at Edina, has the special ability to change the game from anywhere on the ice with his legs. Scouts love the way he can skate out of trouble with the puck in his defensive zone, and he also has the ability to create offense from the back end that should make him an effective two-way player for the Buckeyes down the road.

While he’s not a big guy, Nanne’s quickness allows him to be effective in one-on-one situations. He’ll have to continue getting stronger, and likely will do so next season in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede, who recently traded for his rights.

Player: Ryan Donato

Team: Dexter School (Mass.)

Position: Center

Size: 6-foot, 174 pounds

Date of birth: April 9, 1996

College commitment: Harvard

The impact: Another name that should sound familiar to college hockey fans, Donato is the son of Harvard coach Ted Donato. Donato was one of the most sought-after players in New England this season, choosing the Crimson over Boston College and Boston University on Jan. 30.

The fact Donato is the son of a coach isn’t a surprise to anyone who has watched him play. He always seems to find himself in good spots on the ice and has the ability to process the game at breakneck speed. Donato has next-level hockey sense and the ability to slow things down and make the correct play.

While just a junior at Dexter, Donato is eligible for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. As his game continues to grow, so does his draft stock. NHL Central Scouting recently ranked Donato as the No. 54 North American skater.

Player: Denis Smirnov

Team: Indiana Ice (USHL)

Position: Forward

Size: 5-foot-7, 171 pounds

Date of birth: Aug. 12, 1997

College commitment: Penn State

The impact: Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky landed arguably his most heralded recruit Jan. 14, when Smirnov gave a verbal commitment to play collegiate hockey for the Nittany Lions.

Originally from Russia, Smirnov came over to the United States a little over two years ago to play Bantam hockey for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. The Pennsylvania-based AAA team won the 2012 USA Hockey national championship, led by in part by the play of Smirnov.

A wizard with the puck on his stick, Smirnov signed a tender to play in the USHL with the Indiana Ice and has been one of the brightest young stars in the league this season. Smirnov is second on the Ice in scoring behind only fellow Penn State recruit Scott Conway, and is the only 1997-born player among the top-20 scoring leaders in the league.

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