"There is an NCAA rule, applying to hockey as well as other sports, that may get broken very soon. If it does, everything in professional scouting is going to be turned upside down. The NCAA says that no kid can play in college who has ever accepted money for the sport, right?
"Well, two kids from BU were suspended because they had played junior hockey in Canada. Juniors get up to $60 a week during the season, and it is given to them straight out, as salary. That's not much, of course, but it's enough for the NCAA and ECAC.
"The kids were declared ineligible. They decided to fight the ruling. They got a lawyer and went to court. A federal judge handed down an injunction saying the NCAA could not impose any sanctions until the case is finally decided. That gives you some idea of the seriousness of the matter.
"And the kids' reasoning is pretty valid. The NCAA says an American athlete can have books, tuition, free room and board and jobs that are nonparticipatory in sports. So take a kid at Harvard. Over four years that amounts to about $24,000. Plus college kids get jobs like being towel boy in the locker room and pick up $50 a week or so. Next to the $60 a week offered up in Canada, things seem out of proportion. It's just a matter of terminology.
"Now, if these guys win and the NCAA has to back off and let kids in who have played some kind of semipro hockey, the Canadian leagues are going to be overrun with college scouts. All the so-called assistant coaches in the U.S. will be up there competing with the NHL and the WHA. A lot of kids are going to take the college route, get an education and a secure future instead of going pro. It will be a madhouse for a few years."
Back in the motel room it is difficult to remember if this is Boston or Toronto or London or Montreal or if one is floating down the St. Lawrence Seaway and out to the ocean. Thirty or more hockey scouts sitting alone in motel rooms like this one will probably not be wondering the same thing. There is a game tomorrow night, and statistics to be entered in the books.
If this is Friday, it must be Boston. They served scrod in the press room at the Garden, and there is no X-rated film on late-night TV. Jim Sutherland is packing for Vermont. "I have to leave in the morning," he says. "A few more weeks now and it'll be over. Then the draft and I'll be home for the summer." And next fall the friendly innkeeper will turn back the starched sheets, and wipe the fingerprints off the mirror, and Sutherland will start again.