|(above) DU, CC, Wisconsin and a handful of schools are battling the WHL for the services of Canadian Ryan Gropp|
In 2011, the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds [major juniors] selected Kamloops, British Columbia-native Ryan Gropp [6'2 180 lbs] with the sixth overall pick in the draft. Gropp, a talented left wing, is now 16 years old. His father played hockey at Colorado College in the mid-Eighties and he is expected to be an NHL Draftee in 2015.
Gropp, while continuing to leave his options open, has expressed an interest in pursuing the NCAA hockey route and his current actions fuels speculation that he'll pass on the WHL. He has been rumored to be looking at Colorado College, Denver and Wisconsin among others.
Carlos Sosa, a practicing attorney in the state of Washington and co-founder of Turning Point Sports Management with former NHL player Darcy Tucker, has worked with players at every level of major hockey, ranging from the NHL to the CHL to the NCAA.
"Ryan Gropp is an exceptional hockey player," said Sosa, the former Thunderbirds radio color commentator. "Everybody in the business knew that [Gropp's] family was very educated and really believed in university education. On top of that, the father played university hockey. Given those facts, it was probably reasonable to expect that Ryan would choose the NCAA route."
The Thunderbirds ended up liking Gropp so much that they decided that drafting him with their first-round pick was worth the risk -- a risk that's taken with every single choice in the Bantam Draft.
Right wing Connor Honey, at the time a 17-year-old hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, had attended Thunderbirds training camp prior to the 2011-12 season. After the camp ended, Honey chose to keep his NCAA options open, deciding that he would play a couple of seasons in the United States Hockey League [USHL] before he would be eligible to suit up for the University of Denver, where he'd offered a verbal commitment.
Midway through the season, Honey stating that he'd like to play for the Thunderbirds, thereby sacrificing his NCAA eligibility.
In this world, a verbal commitment is nothing because it can be discarded by both sides.
Honey, who had been playing for the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers under former DU assistanct coach Derek Lalonde, was obligated to follow through on his spoken commitment to Denver, which he had made when he was 16. As is the case with top notch football and basketball players who offer a verbal pledge to one school and sign with another, seeing a teenager change his mind really shouldn't come as a surprise.
Fitting somewhere in between Gropp and Honey is Bonney Lake, Washington native Dylan Gambrell. Having gone undrafted in the WHL's Bantam Draft, Gambrell turned some heads at Thunderbirds camp last month as a 16-year-old.
Since Gambrell has committed to the University of Denver, many have been curious about the likelihood that Gambrell instead chooses to play for the Thunderbirds. Turning Point Sports Management acts as Gambrell's advisory committee, offering advice to both the player and his family to help them make the best decision's for the player's future.
"Dylan is a special case. I've known him since he was 7 years old. I've coached him and I've coached with his father. He's an exceptional player that has really developed in the last two years into an extraordinary player," Sosa said.
Having gone undrafted, Seattle chose to add Gambrell to their protected list, indicating an interest by the team in closely watching his development.
"He has options and he's going to keep those options open. Him and his family are going to make a decision at the time and place of their choosing as to which options they're going to accept," Sosa said. "They've made a verbal commitment to Denver and their intent at this point is to honor that commitment. But again, anything can happen. All options are open."
The circumstances surrounding Gropp, Honey, and Gambrell are all unique in their own ways and point to the constant competition between CHL teams and American universities to attract top-level hockey talent.
For those players whose development situations may take longer, Sosa believes the NCAA may be a better choice, but still says it's ultimately a personal preference and the choice of the player.
"If your choice is purely 'I want to get an education,' then go to college. Just realize that if you're not one of the top end guys, you're not going to get there very quickly. It may even get to the point where you can't start college until you're 19, where most non-hockey college students are starting at 18."
Each option remains a great path that may eventually lead to hockey stardom. However, with such even competition, both sides are constantly trying to gain the upper hand and things can get ugly.
In the cases of Gropp, Honey, & Gambrell, each comes from a different background and has different influences.
Often universities & major junior teams can have a good idea about where a player is headed, but until it's in writing, and even sometimes after, nothing is set in stone.
2013 Recruiting Class Updated StatsD Matt Van Voorhis (Sioux Falls, USHL) - 32 gms, 3 goals, 11 assistsF Brad Hawkinson (Lincoln Stars, USHL) - 27 gms, 5 goals, 2 assistsF Landon Smith (Chicago, USHL) - 30 games, 10 goals, 5 assistsF Connor Chatham (Omaha, USHL) - 34 games, 12 goals, 11 assistsF Ray Pigozzi (Chicago, USHL) - 31 games, 6 goals, 14 assistsD Will Butcher (U.S. Under-18) - 34 games, 6 goals, 13 assistsF Cody DePourcq (Penticton, BCHL) - 38 games, 5 goal, 9 assistsF Trevor Moore (Tri-Cities, USHL) 35 games, 15 goals, 23 assistsD Gage Ausmus (U.S. Under-18) 33 games, 6 assists.
2014 Recruiting Class Updated StatsF Tyler Pham (Indiana Ice, USHL) - 35 games, 3 goals, 12 assistsF Jared Fiegl (U.S. Under-17) 33 games, 4 goals, 9 assistsF Garrett Gamez (Tri-Cities, USHL) 29 games, 6 goals, 5 assists.
2015 Recruiting Class Updated StatsF Dylan Gambrell (Dubuque, USHL) 29 games, 4 goal, 12 assists