“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchhill
About a dozen years ago, the owner of the North American Hockey League team in Albert Lea got caught up in a pay-to-play scandal that shook the foundation of the league. Fast forward to 2021 and similar questions are mounting in connection to the unusually high number of players from the United States Premier Hockey League teams operated by ex-IceRays coach Ryan Cruthers on the pre-season roster of his former NAHL team.
The burning question: did those players pay a premium to make the Ice Rays roster. If so, who collected the money?
North American Hockey League officials have confirmed that former Corpus Christi IceRays coach’s attempt to purchase the NAHL team (a lease-purchase type of plan) was rejected by the league earlier this year. Instead, the team agreed to allow Cruthers to remain through a management agreement.
Cruthers has been able to keep substantial connections to the NAHL team since leaving back in 2019. Since that departure, Cruthers has been able to move players to and from the NAHL team to his USPHL programs.
Despite the NAHL’s rejection of Cruthers’ bid to take over ownership of the club, his USPHL teams’ staff heavily leaned on that false NAHL ownership claim to recruit players to the USPHL teams. It’s my opinion that Cruthers accomplished exactly what he set out to do this off-season; stuff his USPHL rosters with full pay players without having to shell out the money he promised to provide to fund the NAHL team. Meanwhile he was able to leverage the NAHL brand, camps, and network to gain a sizable advantage over his USPHL opponents along the way.
How many of those deceptively recruited players, that were signed by Cruthers’ USPHL teams, have been promised ice time in Corpus Christi this upcoming season? How many others refused to take the bait? Those are serious questions that authorities from the USPHL are going to have to ask for themselves.
Now that Cruthers and the Ice Rays have completely severed the relationship, it is certain that those players are likely not going to be getting the promised opportunity.
We had this text conversation with Cruthers last month in regards to reports that his USPHL staff had made promises to players regarding the NAHL.
RC: I know our coaches speak to our track record of moving guys to Tier II, especially Corpus, but I hope no promises are being made. Again, man please feel free to call me.
SH: Ryan, there are a pile of parents that feel they were taken advantage of. Your staff used your relationship with Corpus to attract players to your USPHL program, and yes, on ice opportunities in NAHL were promised according to these families. Staff also told players you owned the IceRays. It looks bad Ryan and never should have happened in the first place.
RC: Sorry they feel that way, would love to learn more on the situation for these families. Did they go to the NAHL main camp? Were they signed with my USPHL teams beforehand and then cut? There are currently eight players that played for my USPHL programs last year that made Corpus roster, three others on different NAHL rosters. That’s a pretty good amount, I think. As I said. I hope nothing was promised, but the relationship is obviously strong and healthy.
Regarding ownership, since June there was an agreement in place that had B&B Hockey operating and managing Corpus Christi and financially responsible for everything regarding the organization. They did not misspeak.
Our programs have always moved guys in season, post season or whenever always looking to advance players on and our coaches are certainly proud of that and use that in recruiting efforts for future players.
I feel that it’s very important that the NAHL investigate the circumstances surrounding the placement of Cruthers’s USPHL players on the Ice Rays roster. It’s very clear that history does have a way of repeating itself and the NAHL has the responsibility to protect the integrity of its brand.
The big question is very clear; how is the USPHL going to respond to the deceptive recruiting tactics that Cruthers’ group has been utilizing to fill the rosters?
Another troubling question for the USPHL; why is the USPHL operator pushing players to any other league and not the NCDC? It’s clear that there are USPHL owners and coaches that completely comprehend that the NAHL is the far superior developmental route in comparison to the NCDC. This is further evidence that the NCDC is just another developer of talent for higher levels of play in leagues, like the NAHL.
We expect that the majority of USPHL club owners seriously oppose what Cruthers has done. Will the management of the non-sanctioned league take the necessary steps to investigate and take corrective action? How will the league react when players realize they won’t be getting what they paid for? Will such complaints to the league continue to fall on deaf ears?
It’s clear this is not the end of the story, and I will provide updates as they come in.