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The long and winding road

05/29/2020, 3:15pm CDT
By Matt Carey

The unique path to men's college hockey

about the author

Matt Carey has been involved with hockey for nearly 45 years as a player, coach at U8 through Tier 1 midget major, founder of Team Wisconsin, USA Hockey Coaching Education Clinic Presenter & Evaluator for District Camps, and parent of youth hockey players.

He grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and currently resides in Colorado.

Matt Carey

Men’s college hockey in the United States is unique and distinct from every other college sport regarding the average age of a freshman.  

Randomly select rosters of NCAA teams and you will find many, if not most of the freshman arrive to their respective team at age 21, or even 22.  Considering most kids graduate high school when they are 17 or 18 years old, where are the kids going for two or three years after high school? Juniors! Juniors is a level of hockey for boys age 16 to 21.  (We will give an overview of the different Junior leagues in a different article).

I recently spoke to a friend of mine that is a high school hockey coach in Wisconsin.  He had a senior this past season that led his team to the state tournament, and was named conference player of the year.  By all measurements he had a great season!  If he had that success in football, baseball, basketball, wrestling or any other sport than boys hockey his path to college athletics would be quite clear.  However, the path to college hockey for men is long, arduous and full of uncertainties.   

If a boy wants to play college hockey, NCAA D-1, D-3 and even the top Club teams (non-varsity), it is likely he will have to play Junior hockey.

Many parents and players are surprised when they learn this. Shocked is what some people say after finding out some Club teams, not even varsity NCAA, only recruit players that have aged out of Juniors.  After all, their son is the leading scorer on his high school team, or played multiple years of AAA so he definitely can just go D-3.  Sad to say, that’s not how it works.  

A college coach once told me “I can recruit a Junior player that has been out of high school for several years, has hair on his back and can do his own laundry. Why would I take a player directly from high school?”   

There are some exceptions, for example, USA Hockey’s NTDP players normally go directly from high school to college teams.  And every year some of Minnesota’s top HS players will go directly to NCAA.  But those are exceptions.  

So, if you compare men’s college hockey to every other sport, including women’s college hockey, you can see a system that makes some people exasperated and others just scratch their heads and wonder why would my kid play two or three years after high school just to play for a Club college team.  These are tough decisions a player and his family must make.  Definitely more difficult than athletes in other sports have to make.  

But most importantly, parents and players must become fully informed of the path to college hockey.   Please share this article with other families, and you can also contact me for additional information. 

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