When I was playing minor hockey (in the late 80’s to the 90’s), my main pathway to the NHL was only through Canada Hockey League (CHL), under the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) banner at the time. Today, minor hockey players can choose another path, which is the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) hockey program. In this article, I will discuss the basic benefits of the NCAA pathway.
At a certain age, talented minor hockey players will face a choice of where or how to pursue their hockey dreams, and what are those choices?
One path is the traditional route of playing major junior hockey in the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL that make up the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). The other path is the US College/University hockey path, more specifically the 60 teams that make-up NCAA Division I, which is the most beneficial way, in my opinion.
Let us look at a few major points for players and parents that are considering choosing the NCAA Path
NCAA considers the CHL a professional league because the league includes players who have signed professional contracts. Therefore, players who have played a game (even an exhibition game) in the CHL are deemed ineligible to play for an NCAA team.
Now, there are ways for players who have played a limited number of CHL games to have their NCAA eligibility reinstated and must be initiated by an NCAA school. But, and like always – nothing is guaranteed. Be mindful before playing any game or exhibition game in the CHL if you are considering playing for an NCAA team.
US College’s arenas & training areas are historically first-class facilities and very well-funded. These facilities are constantly being renovated or need-be, new construction to meet the needs of these hockey players. These College facilities typically include weight rooms, video rooms, hydrotherapy tubs, and other features to help develop such as off-ice shooting bays, which typically very few CHL organizations will have these types of facilities to offer their players.
Coaching & Training Staff
Just like the CHL, NCAA colleges run similar or enhanced hockey programs by hiring coaches who are well-known professionals who have played in the NHL or Semi-Pro in Europe. The rest of the staff includes assistant coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, and equipment managers who are dedicated to their players by helping them achieve their fullest potential.
Practices & Conditioning
With an average college, hockey schedule is approximately 40 games allows players to have three or four days per week for them to focus on practice and off-ice training, which helps players get into game-ready conditioning much faster. Also, the additional time in the weight room allows players to add significant weight in muscle to grow into their adult bodies during their college careers. This system has proven to be a much healthier environment for player development.
NCAA College hockey features players ages 18-24, rather than 16-20 in the CHL. That older, faster, stronger competition helps players elevate their games in the NCAA environment that can help easily transition their game to the fast pace of the NHL.
Because players are older and play fewer and more meaningful games, college hockey is intense and hard-fought. I am more often marvelled at the intensity of college games vs CHL games overall.
Since NCAA players can remain in college until graduation (receiving their diplomas, which is a major factor) vs CHL players having to sign pro contracts by 20yrs. This gives NCAA players more time to develop and mature and allows them to easily jump right from college into the NHL.
How many major junior players have we seen not be ready at 20yrs and needed that extra time in a development system to pursue their hockey dreams?
The Most Important Key factor – In My Opinion
NCAA College hockey is played at some of the finest educational institutions in the world, like Harvard, Yale, MIT, etc.… This template allows the athletes to progress toward their chosen degree while pursuing their hockey dreams at the same time. Most importantly, this is the ideal environment to improve their education with proper paid Educators/Professors vs “On-The-Go” Tutors in the CHL.
Very simply put – free education, and you get to play hockey – ALL IN as parents! Yes, there is more to it like earning a scholarship and going through the process. That is a challenge to achieve, but it definitely helps with college living expenses.
I am not here to discredit the CHL and yes, the CHL’s education program has made strides from the days when I was playing hockey, but it comes with restrictions that families need to consider. For example, expenses covered can be limited and packages can be eliminated if players sign certain pro contracts or fail to begin their pursuit of education in a certain timeframe.
My main point in this article is the educational side. Players who take the NCAA pathway will receive a degree, which is incredibly important in today’s environment, and learning a skilled trade is just as important. A recent NCAA study showed that 88% of men’s hockey players earn their degrees. Published reports have shown that fewer than 20% of major junior players go on to earn their degrees. Another big reason why the NCAA is a great pathway is due to its hockey development program. In a report in 2017 by College Hockey Inc, the NCAA has produced 32% of players playing in the NHL. College Hockey Inc – Infographic.
The other upside is, that the ability to socialize with thousands of other students the same age, make lifelong friendships, and live on their own makes for a great experience and prepares college hockey players to be more mature when they move on from school. That is why having an education degree will help in the long run and being an alumnus of a college is also beneficial for creating long-lasting relationships.
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