On March 13th, Osgoode Hall sent two teams (virtually) to the annual Hockey Arbitration Competition of Canada, hosted by the University of Toronto. This year’s Osgoode teams were executive members from the Osgoode Entertainment & Sports Law Association, Jordan Kazan Baigrie & Jeremy Wright along with Nolan Cattell & Vaughan Rawes.
The “HACC” as it is more commonly known was founded in 2012, and has grown with each passing year, featuring 26 teams from law schools across North America.
To give a brief breakdown of the competition, each team is asked to prepare submissions for 3 simulated salary arbitration hearings. These submissions are based on the performance of National Hockey League (NHL) players who were eligible for arbitration during the previous offseason. For this year’s competition, the players selected included Connor Brown of the Ottawa Senators, Dominik Kubalik of the Chicago Blackhawks and Matt Grzelcyk of the Boston Bruins.
Teams are assigned to represent either the Player or Club side and must submit a formal salary request for the player to an arbitrator, explaining in their submissions why the arbitrator should find an award in their favour using their own methodology and comparable contracts signed by other NHL players.
“You hear your friends or family always say ‘I can’t believe this player is paid that much’, but here you get to hear straight from the source and fully understand why that’s the case,” describes Jordan Kazan Baigrie, who has played hockey her entire life and followed the game for as long as she can remember.
Unlike real NHL arbitration hearings which allow parties 90 minutes to make their arguments, HACC competitors are forced to be much more concise, as their written briefs must be approximately 8 pages and they only have 18 minutes to make their arguments.
To make the competition as close to the real NHL arbitration experience as possible, competitors also present their arguments to some of the most well-versed professionals in the industry. This year’s judges included the likes of Laurence Gilman, Assistant GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Rand Simon of Newport Sports Management, as well as André Nowakowski and Dan Rabinowitz of Miller Thomson.
The depth of the feedback was really eye-opening to Wright, a former winner of the Torys Moot in his 1L year:
“We really liked the wide range of fair feedback we received from the judges, not just in terms of how we formed our arguments, but how we can improve our advocacy skills going forward. Even the constructive criticism, it was just great to learn the core concepts of arbitration from the experts working directly in the field.”
Unlike previous years, the Osgoode teams had a bit of preparation for this year’s competition. After Cattell advanced to the playoffs at least year’s HACC, he and Rawes decided to organize the inaugural Osgoode Hockey Arbitration Competition, the school’s first ever sports-related moot. Kazan Baigrie & Wright both impressed separately in the internal competition, leading Cattell to pair the duo up and help prepare them for the national version at U of T.
“We’ve got a lot of talented individuals at Osgoode whose passion for sport is just bubbling underneath the surface ready to burst. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at HACC last year and as a result, Vaughan and I wanted to provide Osgoode students with the same unique opportunity,” explained Cattell, “it’s not every day you get to intersect your legal studies with the sports world.”
“We definitely think Osgoode’s internal competition was the backbone to our performance at HACC. It also helped us understand how best to form our arguments, and what methods we should utilize in selecting our comparable players,” detailed Kazan Baigrie. Wright agreed, “It was great exposure to an area of law that wasn’t even on my radar when I came to law school.”
Although the competition was taking place over Zoom, it didn’t make hosting it any easier, as the University of Toronto Sports and Entertainment Law Society had a challenging task on the day of the tournament.
HACC Directors Gerrit Yau and Trevor Lorber certainly had their hands full in trying to facilitate breakout rooms for over 70 participants and judges from all around North America over a full day of hearings, but showed great poise in adapting to the new format.
Once the competition got underway, both Osgoode teams excelled in the round-robin stages of the tournament. Both teams won all three of their respective preliminary hearings and carried a 3-0 undefeated record into the quarterfinals with the 8 remaining teams.
The playoff rounds presented a new challenge for the Osgoode teams. They no longer had the luxury of seeing their opponent’s briefs.
“We were flying by the seat of our pants at some points” recounted Wright, as teams had to come up with counter-arguments on the fly. “Not knowing what the other side was going to say really cranked up the difficulty level in my eyes. I’m a visual learner, so it was a big test to have to absorb our opponents’ arguments, and summarize it to its key points in just a few minutes.”
Once again, the Osgoode teams emerged victorious in the quarter-finals. However, the winning streak for one would come to an end, as both teams were put on a collision course with one another for a bittersweet semi-finals. The hearing went to overtime and a shootout, but in the end, it was the apprentices of Kazan Baigrie & Wright advancing past the mentor Cattell, who had nothing but positive things to say about his Osgoode classmates.
“I knew they would be a perfect fit and I couldn’t be more proud of them. To have Osgoode put forward the two best performances in the school’s history and to see them lead the way for us through the same enthusiasm I’ve had for this competition was truly awesome.”
In the final, Kazan Baigrie & Wright put forward another outstanding performance, securing Osgoode’s first ever HACC victory.
For Kazan Baigrie, it was a thrilling opportunity she had never even imagined upon entering law school:
“Getting to combine law and my love for hockey was an awesome experience. Normally moots stress me out and they’re really adversarial, but the collegiality between all the competitors, it made it feel like I was just talking to my friends about a game I saw the other night.”
Wright, admittedly a casual hockey fan second to his love for baseball, enjoyed the challenge the competition presented and the nice change of pace from previous moots:
“The subject matter is so much fun to dig into compared to what you usually get in your readings. It makes you forget you’re spending hours on end writing submissions and presenting arguments. Even if you’re not a diehard hockey fan you shouldn’t be scared off by the competition, it’s an excellent opportunity to broaden your advocacy skills in a unique way.”
While the win was a cause for celebration, the two aren’t satisfied with being one-and-done. Kazan Baigrie says they already have their sights set on next year’s HACC and building upon this newly established Osgoode Hockey legacy, “We haven’t even brought the trophy back to Osgoode yet and we’re already preparing for our 3L title defence!”
Written by Nolan Cattell, 3L student at Osgoode Hall Law School and ESLA Co-president.
This post originally appeared on Obiter-dicta.ca.