Questions Remain in Okposo Decision
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Kyle Okposo's decision to leave Minnesota in mid-season to sign with the New York Islanders, has the college hockey world in a buzz, particularly after the stinging remarks New York general manager Garth Snow made in the media about Minnesota coach Don Lucia.
Okposo is currently sequestered by the U.S. national program, with Team USA in the Czech Republic as it prepares to play in the World Junior championships. So no one is getting anything out of him that will clarify his decision.
And CHN's attempts to reach Snow for clarification were unsuccessful.
But sources close to the situation indicated that Okposo was looking to go pro over the summer, only to have the Islanders and Snow encourage him to stay. Snow, being a four-year goaltender at Maine, knows the value of college.
"Garth told Kyle, 'College is the best time of your life, go play college,'" said the source.
Something, however, changed between now and then. Judging by Snow's recent comments, it would appear he lost so much faith in Lucia and the Minnesota program, that he felt compelled to make the move.
Okposo has been inconsistent this season. In fact, he's been inconsistent since last year's World Junior tournament, where he was considered a "disappointment" after starting his freshman season with the Gophers like a house-of-fire. Okposo had one goal in his first nine games this season, but he had six in his last nine.
But could Snow really have lost that much faith in Lucia between this past summer and now?
Bob McKenzie, former Editor-in-Chief for The Hockey News and a current TSN commentator and columnist, said that Snow's comments may have been an attempt to relieve Okposo from looking bad.
"Far be it from me to criticize any NHL general manager for speaking his mind," McKenzie said, "because I'm in the media and we live for moments like that — I'm not about to rain all over Garth's parade.
"Having said that, it's highly unusual for an NHL GM to fire a direct attack at a college coach, especially one at Minnesota. If Garth really felt that way, why not take him out in the summer?"
According to the source, the push may have come from Okposo himself.
"A guy like Kyle, he's been on teams with (Jonathan) Toews and (Peter) Mueller. He sees all these guys he's played with, and he believes he's as good as, and they're having success with 10-plus goals in the NHL. So it's hard for him."
The source also said that Lucia's comments in the original press release — suggesting that the Islanders were pushing Okposo — may have set Snow off.
"I thought (the comment) was very benign," the source said. "I thought (Lucia) took the heat off Kyle by saying the Islanders put him in a tough position. ... If Kyle says no to the Islanders, he believes he can play in the NHL with his buddies. On the flip said, if he said yes to the Islanders, he says no to Minnesota. So the comment by Donny was accurate — the Islanders put him in a bad position.
"Well, now, if you're the New York Islanders, it's a bad position that he's coming to the Islanders? So (they take it as Lucia is) slamming the Islanders. As a hockey player, there's a challenge. And if you're looking for a fight, usually you'll get one."
Ultimately, with college hockey already ravaged by early departures over the summer, the concern is whether this sets a precedent and whether this indicates any disdain from Snow in particular for the college game.
"Kyle was back in college (this year) because of Garth Snow's belief in college hockey," the source said. "So I don't believe Garth is against college hockey. (But) what Garth says, that's Garth talking."