Monday, January 23, 2012

Introduction to Junior Hockey

Our goal is to help educate parents and elite hockey players who are finishing AAA/High school hockey. We have worked to build this site with the desire to help hockey families prevent the preventable and to empower you to make smart choices at this very important crossroads. Very few NCAA players play college hockey without playing junior hockey first. So if you want to play D3 or D1, junior hockey is probably where you will find out if you have what it takes to move up.


1. Opportunity: To provide an opportunity for players in this age group to play organized hockey

2. Development To improve and develop the skills and abilities of all the participants

1. Skill Development - To provide talented young players with the opportunity to develop in an organized, structured, competitive and supervised environment

2. Quality Coaching - To provide considerable training time, quality coaching instruction & concerned oversight

3. Social Maturity - To provide players with a healthy, constructive environment in which to develop socially

4. Educational Advancement - To provide assistance and opportunities for the accomplishment of the participant's educational goals

5. Recruiting Exposure - To provide players with exposure to collegiate and professional scouts and recruiters

6. Advanced Competition - To provide players with exposure to national and international competition

7. Protection of Amateur Status(College Eligibility) - To protect the amateur status of all participants under the rules and guidelines of USAH, NCAA and National Federation of High Schools

This information was compiled with high school/Midget AAA players and their parents in mind. First, congratulations on a successful hockey career and your upcoming graduation. It's an exciting time, so enjoy!

Whereas most high school families with a senior are starting to think about prom, graduation parties and are proudly celebrating fall plans, many hockey families with a senior in high school are still many months away from knowing what the fall holds in store for their family. Those players who were already on a "before-after" / "split season" roster with a junior team, or who have already signed a tender, or who know that a junior coach is planning to draft you, your plans may seem a little more clear.

But as we will explain in greater detail later, no roster spot is guaranteed next year unless you are still on a USA Hockey junior team after the roster freeze (February 2013). You'll soon discover that the junior hockey system is not designed for stability, rather it is about opportunity. There is a lot of transition with players joining teams, leaving teams, being traded, being sent home. So we challenge you to enjoy the journey of junior hockey and see where it takes you.
If you are not already affiliated with a junior team, your family is at the beginning of what may seem like a frenzied, time consuming, unclear, expensive process filled with lots of best guesses. And there are lots of voices you can choose to listen to. The loudest ones are the ones who say what you like to hear like to hear. Things like "you are USHL material" or "you're son's so good he's probably going D1." The reality is that there are hundreds of other young men who have heard these same things and have believed the same things.

Frankly, not everyone is able to play Division I hockey.
There simply aren't that many roster spots. Similarly, not everyone will be able to play Tier I USHL hockey and many discover that they are fighting for regular shifts on a Tier III team. As you move up the pyramid of success, less spots are available. This post is not meant to squelch your dreams, but hockey players have been told how wonderful they are since their first "A" team tryouts in Squirt or Peewees. It is the rare exception when players have an opportunity to play at the junior level, let alone Tier I, let alone eventually making a D1 program, let alone playing on even partial scholarship, not to mention making it pro someday. Many captains team struggle to make it past the first round of showcases/tryouts and even fewer make a Tier III Junior A team.

In some ways the next few months will be like a "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" book that you make the best decisions that you can along the way; only after turning the page will you see what options are available next. One guarantee: What happens in the next few months, this summer and into next year will stretch you and your family far outside of your comfort zone! Sadly, some very talented players just hang up the skates because they get frustrated with the system.

We have coined this word: de-selection. To those who haven't already gone through juniors with another son and to those outside of our sport, the process of selection probably seems crazy. And in some ways it IS crazy -- but it's the best system currently in place in the United States for identifying and developing the top players in the country. The authors of this post have been in the junior hockey business since the early '90s and although the system has become better, even WE believe it's crazy. But the rewards are tremendous for those who navigate well and are tenacious.

This site shares LOTS of information so it may be tough to digest on the first read-through. All statistics are gleaned from public online sources like league websites, Pointstreak, the USAH website or from the "College Hockey Guide" edition which you may choose to research directly. We were looking for a site that compiled all this information in one place; when we couldn't find it, we were motivated to create this one-stop-research-spot. We encourage you to check out the links to the right, to talk to families who have recently navigated the process successfully to find out what they learned and see if you can apply any of it to your situation. But we REALLY encourage you to take some time to really think about which bus you board, or you might find yourself going someplace with some team that wasn't the best opportunity to help you develop.

You need to consider junior hockey as an investment of your time, energy and finances. You're buying a bus ticket for a team that you believe will take you to your college hockey destination. Just remember that boarding the bus simply does not guarantee that you will make it to your desired college destination. You might get dropped off against your will because the coach wants someone else. You might get injured and abandoned along the way. You might find yourself traded to another team and facing boarding their bus or going home. Some players get frustrated and ask to get off the bus. Others make poor decisions and are kicked off. And others find this junior hockey system "as natural as breathing" --those young men flourish and transform into the elite student-athletes that fill the university rosters across the United States because of the junior hockey experience.

One thing is pretty sure, it's very unlikely that you'll arrive at your desired college destination WITHOUT riding the "junior hockey bus." You might show up at college in your family car or try to walk on, but there will be junior hockey buses dropping off players that will take most of the college hockey roster spots. Junior hockey allows young men to grow up physically, emotionally BEFORE becoming a college freshman. Junior Hockey players have had the opportunity to transition to a higher level of play, 50+ games over a season, travel and tough competition night after night. They have been exposed to the discipline of daily workouts and off ice training. Most junior players have now lived away from home and have either "figured it out" or were kicked off the bus.

So come join the adventure. Buy your bus ticket. You may not know the final destination or who's going to be driving the bus or who will be riding it along with you...but you need to get on a "junior hockey bus" unless a college has already signed you. For a lot of families, this is simply too unnerving and the player hangs up his skates. Others mistakenly believes that he'll somehow "walk on" and make a D3 team. Not likely.

This site is to help you detemine if you are a good fit for this junior hockey bus lifestyle and to help you pick the best bus for YOU. The normal "recruiting speach" is about their titles, how many fans they draw and the fun you'll have riding the bus. Watch out for bargains and promises (unless the coach will backed it up in writing) and beware of deals that sound too good to be true. Perhaps they are! And protect your NCAA eligibility by not accepting discounts/deals/freebees/scholarships. Do your research and make the best choice you can with the information you have in front of you. Then buy your ticket, sit back and enjoy the ride as far as it will take you.

At the end of the day, you need to develop. You need to find an opportunity to personally improve your conditioning, your physical strength/speed/power, your sport specific hockey skills, and in some cases your academics. You need a place where you have enough accountability that you won't crash and burn. You need a coach who believes in you and can help you reach your goals. You need lots of practice time. All the other things fade away. If the goal is a college roster spot, you need to do something to get better and to separate you from the rest of the crowd. Can you find a team that will help you improve in the areas you need? Will your success be seen or will you be playing where no scouts know you exist?

Your decision-making should first include if you are willing to invest the time, energy and finances to chase a college hockey dream. Second you need to do some research, then make your best guess of which "junior hockey bus" will get you where you want to go. Make a plan. Buy your bus ticket and climb on board. There will likely be some unexpected stops, some transfers and some delays along the way -- that's junior hockey, but one of those buses is your best chance to get to the NCAA College Hockey Destination. Hopefully this site will help you choose the best bus for you.

Good luck as you navigate the next few months! In years to come, hopefully we will see that you have become a consistent contributor on a college hockey roster. And even more importantly, we look forward to see which college degree you earn, how you contribute to your community and how you find ways to give back to our sport.