Wednesday, November 9, 2011

So you think Junior Hockey is for YOU

We salute those of you who are busy trying to sort through information about junior hockey and how to compile and make sense of all the readily-accessible information that you can find. This packet will hopefully help you to ask more educated questions, to find the answers to other important details that sometimes get overlooked, and how to somehow make a more intentional and informed decisions. Without some research and strategic thinking about what you uncover, you might still find a junior hockey roster spot, but it may not be the best fit to help you reach your long term goals. All teams are not the same, all leagues are not the same, just like all elite players and all coaches are not. This packet is designed to help you find the right fit for you as you work your way towards the goal of NCAA college hockey.
Ironically there are some players that keep working hard, that get a little lucky, and that work their way up to a college roster spot in a few years over someone who was more talented when they were 18 years old. Honestly, some very talented players de-select themselves from playing juniors and ultimately college because they get frustrated with the selection process and the system. Some make life choices that prevent them from moving up. Some players who did not have good grades in high school could use the time in juniors to get their academics in order to allow this option in the future but don't do it. Some players will sustain injuries that they won't enable this level of competitive hockey.
But for those of you who do find a place on a junior hockey roster, you will probably look back on this time of your life fondly because of the friends you made, the lessons you learned, the host family you lived with, the adventures you experienced, and the great competitive hockey you played. Juniors is a step up so the demands on your time will only get tighter - more ice time, more lifting, more dryland, more travel, more of everything. Taking some college coursework to keep your brain from getting soft is a wise decision even though you’ll wonder how to fit it all in. But taking classes now will lessen your load when you start full time college course load and varsity college hockey. As long as you take less than full time college coursework you won't jeopardize your NCAA eligibility. This is a great time to learn how to balance work, school, the demands of hockey and relationships. And with fewer colleges accepted or playing "true freshman" this stage in your development on and off the ice is critical to chasing your dream of playing college hockey. (See the NCAA College post below for statistics)

Tier I: USHL United States Hockey League
For-profit business runs the team that pays your hockey fees & housing expenses
13 teams located in IA,IL,NE,OH,SD,WI x 23 = 299 SPOTS
Veterans of that team: 106 spots = 33%
Veterans of Junior Hockey (trades/advancement): 20 spots = 19%
Young Projects: ’90 and ’91: 58 spots = 21%
Remaining: 80 spots = 73%
Tier II: NAHL North American Hockey League
For-profit business runs the team that pays your hockey-related fees but you pay room/board).
18 teams located in AK,IA,IL,MI,MN,MO,NM,ND,OH,TX = 450 SPOTS
Veterans of that team: 161 spots = 35%
Veterans of Junior Hockey (trades/advancement): 134 spots = 30%
Young Projects: ’90 and ’91: 104 spots = 23%
Remainging: 51 spots = 11%
Tier III Junior A 1675 SPOTS
Teams are most often run by a non-profit organization. Player's family help contribute up to $6500 to the team’s overall hockey-related budget (i.e. ice time, uniforms, team travel, staffing) Room/board expenses are also the responsibility of the player billet house coordinator.
AJHL (Atlantic) 11 teams in CT, MA,NH,NJ,NY,PA,VA = 275
CSHL (Central States) 13 teams in IA,IL,MI,MO,OH = 325
EJHL (Eastern) 14 teams in MA, NH, NJ, NY VT =250
MNJHL (Minnesota) 9 teams in MN,WI = 225
NORPAC (Northern Pacific) 11 teams in ID,MT,OR,WA,WY = 275
WSHL (Western States)13 teams in AZ,CA,CO,LA,OK,NV,TX = 325

Even if every Tier I-Tier III A junior hockey team had complete roster turnover every year (no veteran junior hockey players stayed in the USAH junior hockey system for more than one season) still only 2.6% OF THE USA ELIGIBLE PLAYERS would be able to find a roster spot in these levels. Because many junior hockey veterans return for more than one season, these roster spot opportunities decreases significantly. It is extremely competitive to get a roster spot, let alone play or to keep your spot all year.

*Note: There are other junior hockey leagues that are located in Canada, that are not sanctioned by USA Hockey and that are lower levels; therefore this number does not represent all of “junior hockey” which is not a trademarked term. Traditionally the percentage of players that advance to college hockey (especially to the higher levels of hockey) outside of the Tier I- Tier III A leagues in USA Hockey and Canada junior hockey system is quite small.

Remember that junior hockey is for young men between 16 and 20 years old. This means that some of these roster spots will be filled next year by veterans in their second or third year of juniors. So when you are looking at the actual number of junior hockey roster spots available each year, the number drops dramatically. With 12-15 Forwards, 6-8 D and 2 goalies positions per team it is wise to see how many of each position are actually open to be earned (not taken by veterans, drafted or tendered players). Most levels in USAH allow teams to roster 23-25 players, but only 20 players dress per game. Many teams allow more than 25 players to come into training camp and see how they perform in exhibition games. This level does not require a firm roster until February so it’s not like you “make a team” and then you’re on it for good. Likewise, you may not be formally on the USA Hockey roster list yet you are receiving some benefits in being allowed to practice with a team. Ask the coach where he sees you fitting in and then decide if that meets your goals for where you want to be in two years. You can see that in some cases, in order for you to develop as a player, it might be more beneficial for your development to play at a lower junior hockey tier in order to get more regular ice time and the opportunity for special teams. Take into account your morale if you are not given opportunities to play in games because there are just too many players ahead of you in the line up or dead-even that will rotate in and out.

Put another way:
“Are you good enough today to play on a NCAA college roster spot TODAY? If not, then you need to do something besides just get older and not get hurt if you want to improve and change your future!”
Will playing in five to ten games next year be enough? How many pucks do you need to shoot? How many pounds of muscle do you need to give you more mass? How much more intentional do you need to be to hold the blue line? How many shots do you need to take? How much faster can you get? How many times will you finish your check? How will you get re-trained to not circle and to make crisp starts and stops? How will you improve your backwards skating? How will you get confident and take the needed chances? How will you learn when to pinch and when not to pinch? Will you learn a new move so that the opposing team doesn’t have you completely figured out just by watching one game film? How many face offs do you need to win? How much better does your passing need to be? What save percentage do you need to demonstrate night after night? Those who thrive in junior hockey realize that this is a chance to focus everything you’ve got on getting better in your sport. At the end of the day you need to decide if a winning record or being included on the practice roster of a higher skilled team is more beneficial than playing lots of games and working on your weaknesses. Again, look at YOUR goals and what you aim to get out of juniors.