Navigating the path to College Hockey can be arduous and complex with the endless variables to consider. What is the right place for me? How do I get there? What is the recruiting process? Am I good enough to play?...and so on and so forth. The primary factor that should always be on your mind is making the choice to be a student-athlete; with the word "student" being first for a reason. The greatest benefit of choosing the collegiate path is education in addition to overall personal development. Being part of collegiate athletics gives you greater purpose to your experience. It requires a serious commitment, sense of selflessness, excellent time management, and strong moral character. Practicing these attributes as a student-athlete perpetuate greater personal development and unmatched preparation for the real world. Choosing this path, while difficult, can be the single greatest decision you make in your young adult life.
Understanding the Levels
College Hockey is not limited to the elite, there are various divisions that accommodate almost all levels of hockey. Let's begin with the basics and identify the difference between NCAA Varsity and ACHA Club Hockey.
NCAA I, III - School funded teams that are comprised of elite players from around the world and compete for an NCAA Championship. NCAA I schools are typically bigger, have more funding, and can offer athletic/academic scholarships, while NCAA III schools are typically smaller, not as much funding, and can offer academic scholarships. NCAA teams mainly recruit from Junior leagues and rarely do you ever see "true freshmen" anymore.
ACHA I, II, III - Club level collegiate teams are typically funded by a booster club and have limited, if any funding from the school. Some club teams recruit from Juniors, although you do see more "true freshmen" at this level since it is not as competitive. Club hockey is ideal for the athlete that does not seek the high level of commitment but still seeks the college hockey experience.
Choosing Your Destination
Now that you understand the various levels and the opportunity for any passionate athlete to experience college hockey, choosing your ideal destination is the next viable step. Unless a hefty NHL contract is in your future, I recommended you choose your destination based on the ideal location best suited for overall personal development. Variables such as: location, school size, education major, class sizes, campus life, etc...are all important factors when laying out your options. In regards to choosing a location for your hockey experience, your level of commitment to the game must match the demand. While the reward is worth it, the level of commitment at the NCAA (both I and III) is very intense. You sacrifice part of your social life and fun in order to balance the demands of school and hockey. If you are not willing to make those sacrifices but still want to enjoy the game, then ACHA club is probably the right choice.
Making a List
Next, make a list of schools with a good variety from your top choices and backups. I usually recommend a list of about 6-7; not too many to lose focus and not too few to limit your options. If you have set your eyes on NCAA I, understand the difficulty to penetrate those ranks. Sometimes being good enough is not enough, so make sure you choose backups in NCAA III. Choose schools based on your academic interests and visualize yourself in a location that suits you. Lastly, there is no better way to get a feel for schools than by physically visiting them. So I highly encourage campus visits of schools on your list and others to get a pulse of what different schools have to offer and how you fit in.
There is no way around it, if playing hockey at the NCAA level is your goal, then you will have to play junior hockey. Leaving too early for juniors can be a mistake sometimes; say for example if you make the jump as a 16 year old you sacrifice losing "stock" by not being quite ready to make an impact at that level. Better for your stock to be an impact player in 18AAA than a non factor in juniors. Target the junior teams by working backwards from your desired college list. You are able to do this by using sites such as, www.eliteprospects.com, to see what teams these colleges recruit players from. You usually notice a pattern from teams and leagues schools like to recruit from at which point you make a list of those junior teams that could possibly lead you to your desired final destination, contact the coaching staff and make arrangements to attend their training camps in the off season. Conceptually, this process is summarized for the purpose of this article. Realistically, the process can be very complex and it helps to be guided and mentored by an experienced professional that has a clear understanding of how things work. There are so many leagues and regions that have junior hockey, which can make the process difficult to navigate the most fitting destination for the athlete. Below is a general depiction of the hierarchy of hockey.
Tier I and elite leagues, such as the USHL, usually have camps that are invite only and have the most college commitments per capita every season. If you have not been drafted or tendered by any Junior teams, tier II and III teams typically have "pre draft" or "open" camps that players can sign up for and attend. Coming from an elite "AAA", prep school, or high school is the best preparation and a better source of exposure when setting foot on this path. The more experience you have competing against elite players in your age bracket, the better prepared you are to penetrate junior and collegiate levels. Most importantly, the decision of where to play every season should be based on what is best for your personal development. The best team in the league may or may not be what is best for the athlete's development. Choose every destination where you are most likely to succeed and keeps you on the path that gets you closer to your ultimate goal.
Building a Resume
Marketing yourself as a young athlete is a valuable life skill you learn going through this process of advancement. Unless your a highly sought after player nationwide, coaches probably do not know about you. Its your job to market yourself and make coaches aware of who you are. Here are common unknowns about most coaches:
- Coaches love a player that takes initiative. Pick up the phone and call them. They will more than likely answer or call back.
- Coaches want game tape. Send video of some of your shifts or game tape. They will watch and give feedback if you follow up with them.
- Coaches do not want to hear parents marketing their children. The player should always take the initiative.
So what to do...make it simple and send an introductory email with an attached "player resume" see sample below) and game video. Ask for a good time to speak on the phone and make a follow up phone call. It is important for the coach to know of your communication skills as it does play a vital role in how they evaluate your "coachability." Some communication tips:
- Be direct and concise. Make your intentions known and a brief intro of who you are.
- Ask questions and listen. Do not babble on about yourself or talk too much.
- What does your roster look like for next season? Number of returners and new players?
- How do you recruit new players?
- What type of character and player are you looking for? What roles do you need filled?
- Play the long game. Always make your next move based on what is best for your personal development.
- Make a list of your possible final destinations and work backwards. Use www.eliteprospects.com for intel
- Take initiative in marketing yourself using: player resume, game tape, and phone calls
- Be honest with yourself about what your intent really is and match your level of commitment with the level of play
- We are here to help, feel free to contact us to further discuss your path