The sudden end to the junior hockey season due to the coronavirus outbreak has left junior hockey players, especially 20-year-olds with no remaining eligibility, and NCAA Division III teams in limbo.

The NCAA has halted in-person recruiting for all sports until April 15, meaning potential student-athletes can’t visit schools and college coaches can’t travel to meet with recruits. Schools and coaches are still able to communicate with recruits via phone calls, email and social media.

This is typically the time of the year when most players, especially in the North American Hockey League and the United States Premier Hockey League’s National Collegiate Development Conference, start making their college commitments.

Maine Nordiques forward Trent Grimshaw is one of the 20-year-old junior hockey players whose chances to impress college coaches has been impacted by the ban on in-person recruiting due to the coronavirus outbreak. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The ultimate goal is to play at the NCAA Division I level, but with limited spots on the 60 Division I teams, players turn their attention to Division III — only the Northeast-10 conference plays Division II hockey — or the American Collegiate Hockey Association club hockey to continue their playing careers.

Division I teams recruit players two or three years before they begin their college careers — for instance, the University Maine has 16 recruits for next season, according to College Hockey Inc. and Eliteprospects.com. Division III teams, thought, of recruit for the following season.

This time of year, with the college season down to conference tournaments and national tournaments in mid-March, usually is the final chance for players to make an impression, and for coaches to get one last look at players and maybe get in a college visit.

“I had a couple (college visits) planned,” Trent Grimshaw, one of the six 20-year-olds on the Maine Nordiques’ roster, said. “There was one school that was going to watch me (last weekend) in New Jersey. I am sure that would have turned into a visit. There might have been a couple, I was luckily enough to get my Norwich visit in a week before all this happened, and I got a couple other visits in at the beginning of the year that I got out of the way. It’s going to suck I am not going to finish looking at schools.”

Norwich University (Northfield, Vermont) is one of the top Division III hockey schools in the county. Grimshaw said there are other Division III schools that are interested in him.

Nordiques coach Nolan Howe said he and and the rest of the coaching staff will do their best to campaign for their players.

“I think at this point it’s going to come down to those colleges continuing to go back and look at film,” Howe said. “We are putting things together to help promote and highlight our players and continuing those conversations and communications. Guys have offers and they are going to have make decisions when it comes down to their future.”

The Twin City Thunder said they don’t have any players who are limbo because of the coronavirus as most of the players looking to play college hockey next year have already made commitments or are deciding on the offers that are already on the table.

Grimshaw said he thinks that there was still an opportunity during the final month of the season to impress Division I schools that have unexpected openings due to early departures, which occur every spring.

“I was hoping the last couple of games I was going to get more (Division I) interest, since there hasn’t been anything that serious come my way,” Grimshaw said. “I am definitely upset in that part, too. That could have helped me in those last six games. There’s still a chance, you never know, (teams) might lose a guy now to signing a pro contract or a spot might open up. You never know.”

Of the four Division III schools in Maine, the University of New England appears most impacted by in-person recruiting being stopped for the next month.

“Our recruiting is far from over for next year,” coach Kevin Swallow, who has built the Nor’easters into a regional power in recent years, said in an email. “Division III commitments usually happen pretty late, as most of the kids we are recruiting are pursuing the goal of playing (Division I) hockey. We have two kids committed and are in need of four more.

“I had plans to attend several games last weekend and in the coming weeks, but those plans are obviously out the window with all of the cancellations. I have spent the past several days watching a lot of games from earlier in the year online.”

Swallow added that every NCAA hockey team is the same boat, and none have a competitive advantage down the stretch or recruiting season.

Bowdoin College, meanwhile, had its recruiting wrapped before COVID-19 hit North America, according to coach and Lewiston native Jamie Dumont. The same goes for the Polar Bears’ arch rival Colby College, but the Mules were planning to get a jump on recruiting for the 2021-22 season.

“It has mostly affected getting kids on campus before they go home for the summer,” Colby coach Blaise MacDonald said in an email. “We had finished our recruiting for next year, but the recruiting cycle really never ends. For kids playing for (the) Twin City (Thunder) or the Nordiques that are from away, we have lost the opportunity to show them our campus and program.”

University of Southern Maine coach Ed Harding also is mostly done recruiting for next season, although he was interested in what 2000-born players who might be undecided about returning for another season of junior hockey or jumping up to college hockey before their junior eligibility is up.

“There’s are a bunch of 2000s out there who that are questioning whether they should go to school or play another year,” Harding said. “You have to stay in touch with them and know what their thought process is. Obviously, the 1999s, they got to go, they got to go somewhere. The 2000s, 2001s, 2002s, you start to look at those kids and just following them at the various camps I work at in the summer.”

NAHL CANCELS PLAYOFFS

The North American Hockey League canceled the Robertson Cup playoffs Tuesday, a day after canceling the regular season.

“The NAHL and its Board of Governors did everything in our power to preserve a modified playoff and Robertson Cup Finals to ensure our players had every opportunity to compete for and win a Robertson Cup Championship,” NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld said in a new release. “The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation of cancelling all events of 50 or more people during the next eight weeks made that reality impossible without dramatically disrupting the rest of our hockey calendar.

“All NAHL teams will move forward with their tryout camp schedule, which is currently outside the CDC window.”

The Maine Nordiques (20-32-2, 42 points) were five points out of a playoff spot in the East Division

In addition to canceling the remainder of the season, the league also announced that all 2020 NAHL combines, the Prep Invitational in Chicago in late March and the 18U Top Prospects Tournament in Minnesota in May, have been suspended. The NAHL hopes to reschedule these events.


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