Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mike Vecchione's Decommitment from UNH: Part II

Part I of the story began to explore how Mike Vecchione, a top high school hockey player in Massachusetts, initially committed to play at UNH, then recently decided to withdraw his commitment. As noted, Vecchione is the fifth young player since March 2009 who verbally accepted an offer to play UNH hockey but never ended up enrolling in the University. UNH Hockey is not the only top-tier Division I program to have committed recruits end up playing for other teams.

To illustrate, consider what has happened with recruits at Boston College, one of UNH's rivals in Hockey East. In just the the last year and a half, four committed recruits - Vinny Saponari, Brandon Shea, KJ Tiefenwerth and Cody Ferriero - ended up not playing for BC. Saponari, a 4th Round draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) who had been dismissed from BU in May, 2010, committed to BC in October, 2010. However, two months later, Saponari had his application for transfer denied by the Admissions Office at BC. He now plays for Northeastern University. Saponari's case is similar to those of Cam Reid and Matt White (see Part I of this series) in that a failure to successfully navigate the academic admission process resulted in the player not playing for the school's hockey team.

Brandon Shea, who is considered a solid NHL prospect, verbally committed to BC when he was 15 years old. In July, 2011, Shea gave up a promised scholarship from BC and a slot with the U.S. National Team Development Program to join the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Shea's chosen path is similar to the case of Ryan Bourque who gave up a hockey scholarship at UNH to play major junior hockey in Canada.

Thanks to the reporting of U.S. Hockey Report, the decommitments from BC of KJ Tiefenwerth and Cody Ferriero provide a rare glimpse into how the verbal commitment process typically works in Division I hockey. Tiefenwerth, who was identified as a potential late-round NHL draft pick by the Central Scouting Service in October, 2010, also committed to BC at a very early age. An October, 2011 article in U.S. Hockey Report described how Tiefenwerth was offered a full BC scholarship in August, 2007 when he was 15 years old but the BC coaching staff later changed their mind. BC reportedly told Tiefenwerth that if he followed through on his commitment to BC, his scholarship would be honored but he would never play hockey for the Eagles. In the face of this rejection, Tiefenwerth maintained his verbal commitment to BC right up until October,2011 when he decommitted. As a member of the Junior Bruins, Tiefenwerth is currently the 4th leading scorer in the Eastern Junior Hockey League and he is expected to sign on with a Division I hockey program.

In September, 2008 at the age of 16, Cody Ferriero verbally committed to accept a BC scholarship. Ferriero was subsequently drafted in the 5th Round of the June, 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks (where his older brother Benn plays). However, in July 2010, just two months before Ferriero was scheduled to enroll at Boston College, he decided to decommit and ended up playing for Northeastern University.

In an in depth interview with U.S. Hockey Report shortly after he decommitted, Ferriero described how he had been recruited by BC and his perspective on what lead to his decommitment:
"When I first went in, they offered me a two-year (scholarship) but they said if things changed I'd be considered for more money. As things moved along, guys left school, guys came in early, guys decommitted. Of the original forwards who originally committed for this fall - Chris Kreider came in early - I was the only one left. I was under the impression that more money would be considered for me. But I never got any calls from the coaches or had any indication that was going to happen and over the past year, year and a half, I kept feeling like I was getting brushed off and it wasn't going to happen. But it wasn't just about the money. It was more a feeling that I wasn't wanted. I was told I would be considered for more money but I never had a chance to get it. I was always told if I come in and play well I would get more money, but once I'm there they don't have to do anything. They don't have to give me more money. They already have me."
According to Ferriero, he requested a meeting with Coach Jerry York and his coaching staff before deciding to decommit.
"I asked questions that were pretty direct about where they saw me and I didn't get straightforward answers. I asked them where I would be on the depth chart and I was told there were 12-13 guys including me who would be competing. I was looking for a more straightforward answer than that... some indication of where they saw me. Most of the time when players get minutes they are usually four-year guys. I only got two years coming in. Where does that stack me up with the other guys? I didn't get a straightforward answer. They brushed me off and didn't worry about what I had to say. I felt pretty upset after that meeting, not so much with the coaches in particular, but... I just didn't want to be stuck in a situation where I wouldn't reach my full potential and be able to compete."
Of course, because of NCAA rules, the Boston College coaching staff have never publicly commented on what happened with Cody Ferriero from their perspective.

Do the Tiefenwerth & Ferreiro Stories Shed Light on Mike Vecchione's Situation?
There are obvious differences between Tiefenweith and Ferreiro's decommitment from Boston College and Mike Vecchione's decommitment from UNH. They involve different hockey programs, coaching staffs, and players. In addition, each player provided varying amounts of information on what happened from their unique points of view. However, these stories do offer insights into how the commitment process typically works.

Offer of Athletic Scholarship:
First of all, when published reports say that a recruit "accepted an offer" and/or "verbally committed", it generally means that the coaching staff of the university has made a verbal offer of financial aid for a specific number of years. The one exception would be a late recruit who will join the team as a "walk on" meaning no financial aid has been offered. From the numerous "commitment" articles I've read in recent months, it is often unclear whether the player has accepted a full scholarship or a lesser amount. I rarely see an article which explicitly says the player accepted an offer for 1, 2, or 3 years of financial aid (known as a "partial" scholarship). The one hard and fast rule is that if an article reports the player accepted a full scholarship offer, it means that tuition, room, board, and related expenses will be paid in full for all four years. Sometimes, the original announcement of the player's verbal commitment will specify a full scholarship (e.g., Shane Eiserman). In other cases, if you look closely, the local newspaper covering the recruit during the course of the season will mention that he has a full scholarship (e.g., this article on Jordan Masters and Michael McNicholas).

None of the articles on Mike Vecchione referenced in Part I reported that he accepted a full scholarship offer from UNH when he verbally committed in March 2010. However, given that the offer was made over a year ago and Vecchione stuck by his commitment until last week, it's safe to assume that a specific amount of athletic scholarship was offered and accepted. In other words, Vecchione has known the level of financial commitment UNH was making from the beginning.

Periodic Discussions of Player's Plans:
When Mike Vecchione first committed to UNH, he reported that Coach Umile was "straightforward" with him and asked him to play junior hockey in order "to get bigger, stronger, and faster." Later, in the spring of his senior year at Malden Catholic, Vecchione reported that the UNH coaches and his coach/advisor would come up with a plan for which junior team he would play for. Vecchione has not claimed that the UNH coaches were inaccessible or provided vague answers to his questions. In fact, the coaches appeared to be straightforward in asking Vecchione to spend another year in the USHL next season.

What About Vecchione's Claim That UNH is Overcommitted for Next Season?
Roster Size:
The only aspect of roster size for next season that is an absolutely certainty is that 3 forwards (Moses, Borisenok, & McCarey), 1 defenseman (Kipp), and 2 goalies (Di Girolamo & Scott) will not be on the roster due to graduation. In addition, Freshman Defenseman Eric Chevrier recently left UNH to play in the British Columbia Hockey League. This year's roster began with 27 players.

Looking at rosters back to the 2003-04 season, UNH has had between 24 and 30 players on the team. The average roster size has been 26. With the 6 seniors leaving, the 2012-13 roster could theoretically carry as many as 9 or 10 freshmen (to make a roster of 29 or 30). In fact, the NCAA does not restrict the number of players that can be on a roster.

Focusing on just the number of forwards on the roster, UNH has 15 this season. With 3 Senior forwards leaving, that leaves 12 forwards returning in 2012-13. Over the last 8 seasons, the highest number of fowards was 16 in 2008-09. In any given game, NCAA rules allow 18 players to dress plus 2-3 goalies. Assuming the typical complement of 6 defensemen in each game, that means that four lines of 3 forwards may dress.

Players who don't dress for games still participate in the rigorous practice and conditioning sessions throughout the season. By all indications, this strategy helped prepare Defensemen Eric Knodel and Justin Agosta for Division I competition. Plus, invariably one or more forwards get injured during the course of the season. Right now, 3 forwards who are upperclassmen have been out of the lineup with injuries providing 3 freshmen forwards with ample playing time.

Adding 4-6 freshman forwards to the 2012-13 roster would mean having 16-18 total fowards. Again, theoretically this does not seem impossible. It was an anomaly but in the 2003-04 season, UNH had 12 defensemen on its roster.

Sufficient Scholarship Money:
Without knowing how much scholarship money has been given to this year's seniors, it is impossible to know how much scholarship money will be available for incoming freshman next season. However, if Mike Vecchione was not offered a full scholarship when he verbally committed, he theoretically could play next season without receiving athletic financial aid. He still would likely be eligible for conventional academic scholarships and subsidized student loans.


As I explained in Part I, without corroboration from an involved party other than Mike Vecchione and the UNH coaching staff, there is no way to know for sure whether UNH did or did not guarantee Vecchione he could join UNH for the 2012-13 season. In describing why he decommitted, Vecchione said the UNH coaches "wanted" him to play another year for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL. This implies that Coach Umile and his staff were not demanding or insisting that he defer for a year.

What Vecchione, or any other recruit has a right to expect is an honest appraisal by the coaching staff of his readiness to make the jump to Division I hockey. Such an appraisal should include a relative comparison between his readiness and the other recruits under consideration. There is nothing in the public record to indicate that the UNH coaches failed to provide this assessment to Vecchione. Given how forthright UNH was in requesting Vecchione postpone enrollment for another year, it seems likely to this writer that they also discussed that topic.

I'd like to close with an anecdote described in the Muskegon Chronicle which covers the Lumberjacks of the USHL. This past summer, forward Casey Thrush had finished up his first season in the USHL and was making plans for the 2012-13 season. The Chronicle reported that:
"Thrush was actually planning to return to Muskegon for a second season this year. While he was ready to play college hockey, New Hampshire didn’t have an opening on the roster. But then a player was injured, opening a spot on the team for Thrush."


Blogger C-H-C said...

We at TUMHB appreciate the recent comment on Mike Vecchione's decommitment. It tried to advance the discussion and provide new information. However, TUMHB can not publish a comment which includes a claim that a player or coach took a particular action without having an additional source to verify what happened. We would be happy to communicate privately with the poster of the comment through our e-mail accounts.

Dec 19, 2011, 10:33:00 AM  

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