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The Hockey Arbitration Competition of Canada

Dylan Robertson (2L)

HACC logo

On November 11th, I had the pleasure of travelling to the University of Toronto to represent the Faculty of Law at the Hockey Arbitration Competition of Canada. The Faculty of Law sent two teams to the competition: Adam Kolowitz and Frank Carbonaro comprised one team, while Rajiv Bansal and I comprised the other. An unfortunate issue with university funding kept two rightful participants – Olivia Sutter and Jeffrey Troy – from participating, but hopefully we managed to make them proud with our showings.

What is the HACC, you ask? The competition – which brings together over thirty teams from law schools across Canada and the United States – simulates the arbitration proceedings that players undergo in the NHL. Using actual players who underwent arbitration last summer, teams of two compete against each other by arguing whether a player should be paid more or less than the “midpoint” (the salary they actually received). A key part of both sides’ arguments is finding players who are similar in performance, and whose salaries are similar to what they are seeking, and essentially comparing them to highlight similarities. Each round is judged by a practicing sports agent or lawyer with experience in sports arbitration who provides feedback that the teams can carry with them into the next round.

That attempt at an explanation should make it clear that I do not know hockey particularly well. While you might immediately think that would be an issue, I found that it was not as big of a requirement as I expected. While you can tell which teams understand the game better, the most significant part of the scoring for each round comes from the team’s advocacy and presentation, which is something Raj and I worked hard to prepare for knowing we were at a disadvantage in genuine hockey knowledge. It paid off immensely for us, and we received a lot of valuable feedback after each round which we then used to revamp our arguments for the next round. We ultimately had the opportunity to participate in five separate rounds of arguments, and the improvement that we showed by the end was incredible.

It is definitely hard to pick just a handful of highlights from the competition, but I will try. To me, the most valuable part of the experience was the feedback we received after each round. Not many moots provide teams with the opportunity to receive feedback and apply it immediately to a new competition later that day, but the ability to do so effectively is a requirement in the HACC; we would finish one round and have less than an hour to incorporate the feedback into our arguments before we had to compete again. Furthermore, most of the feedback we received focused on our advocacy skills rather than our hockey knowledge, which means it has universal application. The things that they emphasized – for example, the importance of a strong narrative – are important regardless of whether you’re arguing a criminal trial or a salary dispute.

Another highlight – and this is just for me – was that it gave me a unique experience: it taught me what it’s like to have to argue an area of law you might not be an expert in. Here, preparation and confidence went a long way. I may not have understood the importance of a shot percentage, but as the day went on, I definitely felt more comfortable discussing it. Part of that is no doubt due to the fact I spent a solid month learning all I could about hockey stats and comparable players, but another part came from the knowledge that our preparation paid off throughout the entire competition.

Lastly – and this is for the big sports fans – the competition takes place during the Primetime Sports Conference, which brings together executives from nearly every major league in North America to discuss issues facing professional sports. While I did not attend any seminars (I instead ate poutine and watched some filming of The Handmaid’s Tale), the insight into the profession and networking opportunities available are big for anyone who is interested in a career in sports & entertainment, or just interested in the Toronto market.

For anyone interested in participating next year, I highly recommend giving it a shot. Between the internal competition in February – which determines the teams that get to go to Toronto – and the competition, I feel my advocacy skills have improved by leaps and bounds. I also had the chance to receive some great practical advice that I will no doubt carry with me into practice if someone ever decides to hire me. Best of all for next year’s teams, however, is that you will have a group of past participants willing to coach you and provide feedback to ensure your success. Whether you have an interest in hockey, want an eye-catching experience to put on your resume, or just want to develop your mooting skills, I definitely recommend giving it a shot.