The NCAA Transfer Portal: College Hockey’s Version of Free Agency

Last week, it was announced that UND forward Ashton Calder had entered the NCAA transfer portal. I had a few people ask me why a high-end player like Calder might be moving on? Was he pushed out? We may never know. That’s a conversation between the player and the coaching staff.

When looking at the transfer portal. My best advice is don’t assume. Not every situation is the same. There are a couple of things driving these discussions. The free Covid season players received has put a wrench in things. Now coaches have to decide between bringing back players they’re familiar with or moving on to new recruits.

Second, the NCAA has said a team can’t go over 18 full scholarships. Coaches will have to decide how they divvy those scholarships out. Each situation is different. Some players may not fit into a team’s chemistry. Keeping a fifth-year player might put another incoming player on hold. With that said, some players may not want to play an extra year of juniors and could end up de-committing and moving on.

This past week, I was reading an article by Brad Elliott Schlossman in the Grand Forks Herald. Schlossman mentions the high number of division one hockey players in the NCAA transfer portal. Schlossman breaks it down nicely.

The general assumption seems to be that players are bailing on their teams, looking for the next best thing. Yes, some players are using their success as a springboard to play for more prominent programs or hoping to find more playing time elsewhere.

But the majority of players entering the portal right now do not have the option of returning to their teams.

The NCAA transfer portal has become Division I college hockey’s version of free agency. The transfer portal can be a good thing, but it can also be a double-edged sword.

UND’s Player Culture

Back in March, I attended a Wednesday press conference and I asked UND head Coach Brad Berry this question.

You talk about coming to North Dakota, there’s a culture, there’s a mindset. Is there something you’re looking for, like attitude or something in players that you want in your program?

“We talk about hard skill all the time,” Berry said. We want skill, but we want firmness, hardness.  Have we had some guys come through that don’t have the hardness that you need? Yeah, there are a few of them, but for the most part, it’s a situation you can control. Part of that is your work ethic and your body language.  Different things like that. We look for that big-time in players. So, we want those skill guys and if they have that, it’s a no-brainer for us.”

Speaking of players that embrace UND’s culture.

Hain and Senden to Return for a Fifth Season

Last week it was announced Captain Mark Senden and Assitant Captain Gavin Hain would be returning for a fifth season. Immediately, some in the UND fan base wondered if this would push future recruits to other teams or cause them to reopen their recruitment process? In some cases it might, however, I applaud this move.

“I am so excited to get the chance to play for UND one more year,” Senden said in a press release. “This team is my family and Grand Forks has become my home. I can’t wait to get to play at the Ralph in front of the best fans in college hockey for another year. I can’t wait to get to work and keep adding to the tradition.”

“Pumped and honored to play another year for North Dakota,” Hain said. “Can’t wait to play in front of the best fans again and capture that ninth banner!”

Before dismissing this move, think about this for a moment. After Hain suffered a season-ending injury against Cornell, UND lost an element to the team game they had prior to that series. Hain played on a shutdown line with Senden and Louis Jamernik. This line had the job of playing against other team’s top lines. Against Denver’s top line of Carter Savoie, Bobby Brink, and Cole Gutman, the Senden line held college hockey’s best forward line off of the score sheet. None of them got a single point all weekend long. By the end of the series, Savoie was so frustrated he went after Senden, picking up a five-minute major and a game misconduct.