Securing standouts

University hockey not first choice for many top recruits

Brett Gibson has brought several OHL talents to Queen’s.
Brett Gibson has brought several OHL talents to Queen’s.
Success in 2013-2014 made the Gaels an attractive option among other universities and professional opportunities.
Success in 2013-2014 made the Gaels an attractive option among other universities and professional opportunities.

One of the most stressful moments of many parents’ lives is helping their children decide where to go for university.

Men’s hockey head coach Brett Gibson is more concerned with where other people’s kids choose to study. Gibson and his coaching staff participate in the player recruitment process from November to June, looking to bring in around 10 new recruits to Queen’s hockey program every year.

Gibson described the process as an “emotional rollercoaster”, where often the slightest difference can lead to a recruit picking one school over another.

“It’s all about building a relationship with the player and with their family,” Gibson said. “These parents are investing a lot into their children’s future. You need them to trust you. You need them to believe that they’re going to a good hockey program, and at the end of it get a four-year degree. We’re looking to bring in impact players into the program, guys with a lot of character. That starts within the family.”

Recruiting top-end junior talent can be a challenge. Canadian university hockey has a stigma attached to it as a second-rate league, but Gibson is adamant that it’s much more than a graveyard for straggling careers.

“We know these kids want to go play pro hockey, and we want to be the best possible plan B on their road to get there,” he said. “Kids in junior hockey, they want to go pro. Sometimes [university hockey] ends up being the end of the road for them, but I know what their goals are and we want to help them reach them.”

One notable example is former Queen’s defenceman Patrick McEachen, who was invited to the Carolina Hurricanes’ rookie camp this summer following four years with the Gaels.

While the Queen’s name is well known for all sorts of reasons, “powerhouse men’s hockey program” isn’t a statement one could truthfully make. Gibson, the incumbent CIS Coach of the Year, is working to change that.

The Gaels had their most successful season in decades last year, featuring multiple times in the country’s top 10 rankings and winning their first-ever playoff series under Gibson.

Much of the Gaels’ resurgence had to do with division MVP and CIS Rookie of the Year Kevin Bailie. While the goaltender’s on-ice contributions were more than notable, his close friendship with Kingston Frontenacs centre Darcy Greenaway helped sway the player Gibson called “maybe the country’s top CIS recruit” into a commitment with the Gaels.

“Your players are everything [when you’re recruiting],” Gibson said. “They speak out for you, they tell their buddies and other players about the program. All players want to win. Why wouldn’t you want to be on a winning team with your buddies?”

Greenaway, who racked up 35 goals and 27 assists last season for the Frontenacs, said seeing Bailie’s day-to-day life and the Gaels’ growing success were key factors in his decision. “I got to sort of go through that first-year experience a year in advance [through Bailie],” Greenaway said. “You see what it’s like balancing school and hockey.”

While Gibson was more than thrilled to recruit Greenaway, he said there were periods of time where he feared the forward was going to commit to another program. Other top players committed to the Gaels without a second thought.

Eric Ming, a 32-goal scorer last season with the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs, wanted to enroll in engineering at Queen’s and was mostly disinterested in going elsewhere, Gibson said. Mississauga Steelheads captain Brett Foy expressed a strong interest in the Gaels back in January, near the start of the recruiting process.

“Last year’s performance was a big reason for a lot of the guys to come here,” Greenaway said. “You play against them and see who we’ve brought in, we’re certainly bringing quality players to Queen’s.”

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