Is U Sports hockey the best kept secret in North American sports?: a case study of the legitimacy of U Sports men’s hockey member schools as a pathway to professional hockey

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University of New Brunswick


Previous literature recognized (e.g., Chard, 2013; Edwards, 2012) a perception that U Sports men’s hockey is not a league to advance careers towards professional hockey. Chard (2013) established this perception through the opinions of 54 Canadian hockey players between the ages of 15-19, with their perception that U Sports is an end of a hockey player’s career professionally. There is a gap on CHL, U Sports, and professional hockey literature pertaining to this thesis topic. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis is to explore current and former hockey players' perceptions of U Sports men’s hockey, as a means of gaining insight into how legitimacy is maintained by the member schools as it pertains to a pathway to professional hockey. To examine this purpose, a qualitative case study approach, guided this research to gain an in-depth understanding of the opinions of current and former players regarding the legitimacy of the U Sports pathway. As part of this, semi-structured interviews were employed through open-ended questions to explore these perceptions and opinions. Purposeful sampling was implemented for participant recruitment, as this topic is highly specific and can be difficult to access individuals in relation to the key criteria. The findings revealed the following themes to be influential in maintaining legitimacy in the U Sports pathway: Athlete Development, Education/Scholarship opportunities, Professional career opportunities, Marketing, and Reputation. The themes reinforced Pragmatic legitimacy (i.e., Exchange and Influential) as the type of legitimacy that was found within the context of U Sports men’s hockey. It can be determined that the individual member schools from this study are establishing credibility, sustainability, and social judgment, thus maintaining legitimacy in U Sports men’s hockey as an alternative pathway to professional hockey.