Every year, thousands of young hockey players and their parents want to know how to get recruited for college hockey.
If you’re one of them, keep reading.
This guide will help you get started in the right direction.
At this point you may have put in years of practice and spent tens of thousands of dollars on equipment and team fees. You (and your parents) are hoping to see some return on that “investment.”
Those early morning lessons, long car rides to away games and expensive replacement sticks should to lead to something, and for many of today’s players, college hockey is that ultimate goal.
What Is The Path To College Hockey?
The toughest part about this question is that when parents ask, they are typically looking for specific step by step answer.
Often, parents are hoping for insight into the right team, or league, or showcase tournament that will help propel them or their child to college hockey stardom.
Unfortunately, like many things in life there is no simple or easy path to college hockey. Every player’s road is different and, with few exceptions, all are long, winding, and wrought with potholes and detours.
Ok, so we dispelled the myth that there is some magic path to college hockey…
Let’s take a look at how players actually get there.
Like any difficult task in life, achieving this goal takes hard work, skill, time, determination and a good bit of luck.
There are, of course, things that a player can do to help increase their odds, but a lot of that starts with becoming educated about the realities of college hockey and the different paths that you can take to get there.
Odds Of Making It
Everyone knows that reaching the top level of a sport is difficult and hockey is no exception.
In a ground-breaking study published in 1999 hockey veteran Jim Parcels analyzed data from 30,000 youth hockey players born in Ontario in 1975. Shockingly he found that of those 30,000 kids, only 26 ever skated a game in the NHL, which suggests that statistically a player has a 1/1000 shot of making it onto an NHL roster.
Now fortunately, the chances of becoming a college hockey player are a little bit better than skating with an NHL team, but many people are surprised to learn that getting to college hockey is a harder than they might think.
Statistically, the chances of a high school aged player from the United States lacing up their skates in college are approximately 1/10. Now at first glance those odds seem a lot better than the 1/1000 chance of making it to the NHL, but those statistics can also be a bit deceiving because the landscape of college hockey in the United States is almost as diverse as the pathways that a player can use to get there.
College Hockey Landscape
When people typically think about college hockey they often think of places like Boston University, Denver or Michigan. Sure, these are wonderful programs and college hockey hotbeds, but the reality is that as NCAA Division 1 programs, they make up a small component of the college hockey landscape here in the US.
In the simplest terms the college hockey landscape can be separated into varsity hockey programs competing under the umbrella of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and club hockey programs competing under the umbrella of the American College Hockey Association (ACHA).
NCAA Men’s hockey can most easily be broken down into the Division 1, and Division 3 levels (there is only one conference that sponsors NCAA D2 hockey for 6 schools and as such there is no NCAA D2 Men’s hockey championship)
Division 1 (D1)
Currently there are 60 teams competing in Men’s NCAA D1 college hockey. The overwhelming majority of these schools are located in the Northeast and Midwest and as the only division offering athletic scholarships, this is pinnacle of the college hockey pyramid.
Surprisingly, getting to this elite level of college hockey does not automatically equate to a free education.
For starters, schools like the service academies and Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships to their athletes, and many other programs opt to take advantage of partial scholarship offerings that dramatically reduce the amount of money that is offered to each athlete.
Division 3 (D3)
At present there are 79 schools with teams registered at the men’s NCAA D3 level. Unlike many of the larger Division 1 schools, most D3 schools are smaller colleges that are geographically spread out across the county. Division 3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships, but players may qualify for financial aid programs based on academic criteria.
Because Division 3 programs do not offer athletic scholarships people often assume that the level of competition is not very high, but this could not be further from the truth. Many NCAA Division 3 schools run extremely competitive varsity hockey programs that attract top student athletes from across North America and Europe.
As an alternative to NCAA varsity hockey, nearly 400 colleges operate competitive “club hockey” programs under a governing body known as the American College Hockey Association (ACHA).
The colleges that operate programs under this umbrella are of varying sizes and locations, and with D1, 2 and 3 levels of play, the ACHA provides competitive opportunities for players of all different skill levels. Many of the top ACHA D1 programs can, and do, compete against NCAA programs and at some universities, ACHA programs are run as seriously as varsity NCAA teams.
What Are Colleges Looking For?
So now that you know how competitive it is, and that there may not be as many full scholarships as you may have thought, you want to know what colleges look for when recruiting athletes.
So besides the obvious, being a good hockey player, what other factors can make you stand out among the candidates?
Of all of the things you can do to open doors for yourself in college hockey, having strong grades is one of the most important.
College coaches have very little flexibility in easing acceptance standards for their institutions so a player who can easily clear admissions is always going to be more appealing than one who can’t. Also, if you look through the list of colleges with NCAA D1 and D3 hockey programs you will see some very academically competitive schools (including the Ivy League) so statistically speaking the stronger your grades, the more options you will have in the recruitment process.
In the competitive world of college hockey recruitment, an athlete’s character can play as big of a role as their talent on the ice.
What players often fail to realize is that at the collegiate level they are very much a commodity for their institution. Colleges, especially at the NCAA Division 1 level, are making a significant investment in their student athletes. These schools want to be certain that they are recruiting not only good players, but good people both on and off the ice.
During the recruitment process many college coaches will reach out directly and speak with your current and former coaches. They will ask questions about your character, attitude, work ethic and ability to fight through adversity.
At this level of competition there are many players that are battling for a single spot on a college hockey roster so elements like character and attitude can often help separate you out from the rest of the pack.
Winning Isn’t Everything
Everybody likes to win, but in the world of college recruitment winning youth hockey games takes a firm backseat to skill and development. You will rarely hear a college coach talking about how many games a recruit’s team won when they were a peewee. What you will hear them discussing is a player’s skill, their character, and their ability to step in and contribute at the collegiate level.
Now ideally a youth hockey team that is winning will also be filled with players who are developing their talent, but surprisingly this is not always the case. When selecting travel teams, players need to consider how much development they will receive before worrying too much about wins and losses.
Given their limited time, many college coaches will utilize social media as a tool in evaluating your attitude and character.
While social media can be a very powerful resource for today’s college prospects, you need to be smart about the way you portray yourself online. As a good rule of thumb, you should assume that anything you post online is visible to a college coach (including shared items like retweets).
It’s also important that parents remember that their online behavior can reflect either positively or negatively on their child, so they too should be smart about the things that they post.
How Do I Get Seen By Colleges?
Getting the best exposure depends a lot on your collegiate goals as a player.
While there is no one perfect league where colleges go to find talent, it is best for a player to skate at the highest level where they can be competitive.
Each staff has their own bias for where they like to look for talent, so it is important to do your homework. When narrowing down a list of targeted schools, be sure to look at their rosters and see what recruiting tends you notice. If you see that a particular school high on your list only recruits from a specific league, then it would be helpful to try and get yourself into that league so that you can increase your chances of getting noticed.
Showcase Tournaments Can Work
Showcase tournaments are one area where colleges might go for recruiting, but it’s important to be selective because many tournaments are simply money-making events for their organizers.
When selecting a travel team do your research and speak to the coaches about the tournaments the team will be entering. Since college hockey teams have limited time and resources for recruiting, staff members will typically focus on specific high-profile tournaments with a reputation for strong competition. Putting yourself on a team that is attending these high-profile tournaments will give you the best opportunity to showcase your talent.
Summer Tournaments Aren’t Widely Watched
Summer showcase tournaments are a fun way to play competitive games during the off-season, but they are rarely the recruiting machines that organizers claim them to be.
Some college coaches (especially at the lower collegiate levels) may attend these events in the off-season, but it is typically to watch very specific prospects who are already on their radar. Moreover, with summer showcase tournaments popping up all over the place, the odds are against a player getting in front of a targeted number of eyes at many of these summer events.
The NCAA Clearinghouse
In addition to being accepted into school, if you are hoping to play hockey at the NCAA D1 level, you will also need to be sure that you have satisfied the requirements of the NCAA Eligibility Center (often referred to as the NCAA Clearinghouse).
As a governing body for collegiate hockey, the NCAA sets academic eligibility standards for NCAA athletes based on high school academic units and standardized test scores. Furthermore, the Eligibility Center is tasked with certifying that NCAA student athletes have maintained their armature status prior to participating in collegiate athletics.
Do I need a family advisor?
Family advisors are becoming more and popular in amateur athletics and hockey is no exception.
These professionals often have diverse backgrounds with varying degrees of experience and expertise in helping athletes reach the higher levels of the game. The role of any advisor depends on the specific needs of their client, but typically they help provide information and guidance when selecting programs and can help promote players to schools during the recruitment process.
Like any profession there are good and bad advisors, and their necessity depends a lot on a player’s specific circumstances. It is important to do your research when considering working with a family advisor and be sure to ask very direct questions of anyone offering to help you in an advisory capacity.
College Hockey Recruiting Is A Marathon not a Sprint
The biggest thing to remember about the college recruitment process is that it is very much a long process.
Don’t get too hung up worrying about which other players were committed early or who else is talking to what school. At the end of the day your goal should be to have an opportunity to play at a school that is a good fit for you both on and off the ice.
If you have any questions about college hockey recruitment or there are some specific topics that you would like to see covered here, leave a comment below.
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