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High School Hockey Coaches Declare War on CHL

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Coaches Association sends strong message to players considering major junior hockey.

It's a sad day at WCH when CHL commish David Branch isn't the story's biggest villain
It's a sad day at WCH when CHL commish David Branch isn't the story's biggest villain
Claus Andersen

It's been a while since I've ranted about the horrors of the CHL, but I like to think my track record of doing so is pretty established.So I like to think it says something when I'm put in the position of defending the CHL, but here we are.

Earlier this month, Benilde-St. Margaret's freshman Alec Baer chose to sign a contract with the Vancouver Giants, after being kicked off of Benilde's team for visiting the Giants a few weeks prior. I passed on sharing my thoughts on Benilde head coach Ken Pauly's decision to do that at the time, mostly because I used a lot of words we're strongly recommended not to use here. Frankly, I thought the decision was as petulant and unsporting as what that Farmington goalie did, though coming from someone who show should more reason and maturity.

But today, a newspaper published a story on the incident, which included comments from Ken Pauly, speaking not only as BSM's head coach, but also on behalf of the entire Minnesota High School Hockey Coaches Association, of which Pauly is president. Pauly, given the opportunity to share his side of the story, chose to double-down and make himself look worse. From the article:

"I don't think we're trying to send a message of, 'Don't come into our backyard,' " said Ken Pauly, coach of Benilde-St. Margaret's and president of the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association. "But we want it to come through loud and clear what we are about, what the high school experience is about and continuing to stand by those things."

...

Pauly said his decision to dismiss Baer "is related to Major Junior hockey" but declined to comment further because Baer remains a student.

Speaking as the president of the coaches' group, Pauly said: "A trip to a college is in keeping with the overall mission and vision of high school athletics. I don't believe the Major Junior and Minnesota high school model are complementary pieces."

The question you have to ask is: Who is Ken Pauly sending a message to? Certainly not the WHL. They came out the big winners in this mess. They really wanted Baer to sign with them, but Baer was more than likely headed back to BSM next season to keep his options open. Thanks to Ken Pauly, Vancouver got what they hoping for.

So what exactly is his message? Pauly is basically using his position to bully other players in the state of Minnesota from even considering all of the options available to them. Players need not explore what path is best for them, because Ken Pauly has already decided what is best for them, and, shocking surprise, it's the route that most directly benefits Ken Pauly. Again, I've written a great many words about why the CHL isn't the best route for a great many players, but trying to unilaterally deny players the option of even looking into it is an incredibly selfish position to take.

The measure of a good coach should be the quality of opportunities he's able to provide for a player; not the quality of opportunities he is able to deny a player. That should be what the Minnesota High School Hockey Coaches Association is about.

Random Thoughts:

-I've heard the "Benilde is a college prep school" argument as a justification for this. The problem with that is that BSM players have reportedly taken the same type of visits to USHL teams in the past. At least Baer gets a college scholarship for signing with Vancouver(one he'll more than likely never use). Maintaining eligibility to play NCAA athletics is different from preparing for college. Same goes for Benilde's Jack Glover being allowed to leave midseason to participate with USA Hockey in the Youth Olympic Games.

-Baer and his family likely aren't without fault in all of this. Given the opportunity to do it over, I'm sure they would have handled it differently, especially if they knew how vindictive Pauly would be. It's a tough line for players and families to walk between the CHL and NCAA eligibility, and the Baer's aren't the first to get caught on the wrong side of it. It's a shame the punishments for doing so are so severe, especially in a case like this where there was no reason to be. Ultimately, Baer was treated as an example, and not as a human being, by BSM, which is a shame.

-I understand the stresses and pressures of being a high school hockey coach. Skimming the biggest HS hockey message board, there's lot of really good coaches on the hot seat because there's about eight different schools that "have the talent to win the state tournament every year" and they only hand out one trophy per year. That's no excuse. When coaching becomes more about your own ego than it is about helping kids, you've gone off the right track.

-I really hope other coaches around the state of Minnesota were upset about Pauly speaking for them like that. If that's really how the rest of the coaches in the state feel, I'd be very, very disappointed.