Bruce Hamilton devoted his summer trying to land a new star, and today, his hard work paid off.
Hamilton, the general manager of the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets, a Canadian major junior team in British Columbia, made things official today; he announced the signing of Boston College freshman phenon Chuck Kobasew at a noon-time press conference.
Kobasew, the Hockey East Rookie of the Year and NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player this past season, apparently could not resist the chance to play close to home, and play a 72-game schedule.
“The main reason is to play more games,” Hamilton said of Kobasew’s motives. “That was a big part of it. And he has three or four guys on this team that he’s friends with.”
Neither Kobasew nor Boston College head coach Jerry York could be reached for comment.
Players are drafted in major juniors, and Kobasew was selected by Prince George, a team in the Northern part of B.C. Instead, Kobasew decided to attend Boston College.
If he was homesick, it didn’t show on the ice, as he helped lead the Eagles to a national championship. The 6-foot, 180-pound Kobasew scored 49 points last season for the Eagles, and had a nation’s-best 10 game-winning goals. He was then selected in the first round of this June’s NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames. At that time, Kobasew said leaving BC “hasn’t really crossed my mind.”
However, Hamilton, getting tipped off that Kobasew might want to play in Kelowna, made a deal for him on NHL Draft day.
“One of my former players [Mitch Fritz] is from his hometown,” said Hamilton. “He cued me off. That got the ball in motion.”
Hamilton said he’s sure that, if Kelowna didn’t acquire his rights, Kobasew would still be with Boston College.
“He wanted to play here in Kelowna. I knew that right away when I started talking to him,” Hamilton said. “We got his rights the day of the draft, and I talked to him there. We had conversations for quite a while — a dialogue with his father and I mostly.”
This weekend, there came a moment of truth for Kobasew. He apparently made up his mind late last week, and started telling friends at the Canadian Junior National Team camp in Calgary that he was going to leave BC. That’s when York got frantic, and began making his pitch to Kobasew.
“He [Kobasew] had a tough weekend,” Hamilton said. “He had to deal with the coach at BC. They did what I would do. They’re trying to keep him there. But he told me Saturday what he wanted to do.
“I have some sympathy for them [Boston College]. We’re recruiting against them all the time. But I’m doing what I have to do.”
Hamilton said there were a number of things working in his team’s favor, and even though Kobasew apparently was not motivated by a desire to become an NHL free agent — like many other players have done — his NHL status was a factor.
“These guys, if they leave college, an NHL team has to offer him a contract,” Hamilton said. “But next June [Calgary must make] a qualifying offer.
“We get a lot of guys because we live in an unbelievable city, it’s a resort city. … We have an outstanding training facility. But at Boston College, there’s not a lot they don’t have. So winning him over that way wasn’t what was going to do it.
“Our coach is well respected, he gets to play more games, and being close to home — he has a very tight-knit family — his mom and dad will get to see him every game.”
Kobasew’s departure from BC opens up the age-old question about the recruiting rivalry between U.S. colleges and Canadian major juniors. But, Hamilton said, the thought of there being animosity between the two camps is not true in his mind.
“The thought of us and college fighting each other is not really true,” he said. “We don’t really deal with them.
“I had a player I picked in the first round from Anchorage (Alaska), who was not even in the USA Hockey program. We draft him first and all of a sudden he’s on the Under-17 team. And all along, we felt he was coming here, and lo and behold, Michigan got him. … Duncan Keith was in our camp at 16. The coach at Penticton (Jr. A) said, ‘I’ll get him ready for you.’ Bang, he went to Michigan State.
“So, they win some, we win others. It’s the nature of the game … until the rules change. The NCAA had a chance to do that, but chose not to.”