This is an interview about how to get an NCAA hockey scholarship. Steve Thompson, the director of hockey operations for the University of Anchorage Alaska (UAA) Seawolves, works directly with UAA’s coaches as they recruit players. (You see them in the background, actually.)
He also is a former NCAA player who played junior in the USHL and BCHL.
Steve was kind enough to sit down with me and record this interview.
You will learn:
- the first and second thing coaches look for when giving an NCAA Hockey Scholarship
- where schools go to recruit players year after year
- how academic standards work from school to school
- what players MUST do in grade nine/freshman year to maintain their eligibility
- how a team starts the recruiting process with a player
- how common/rare full four-year scholarships are
- how your scholarship amount affects your ice time
- what coaches think when parents become involved in the recruiting process
NCAA Hockey Scholarship – The Key Points
- NCAA teams first require that a player be capable on the ice. If he is skilled enough to recruit, the school then looks at his academic scores. Academics include his high school grades and SAT/ACT scores. A player needs to check both boxes in that order to before serious recruiting begins.
- Most times, NCAA teams approach players. Players can contact schools, but typically the school makes first contact with the player or his coach. Click here to check out our Training Camp Invite Formula.
- Schools are more apt to recruit locally. An East Coast school recruits in the East, a West Coast school recruits in the West. The less travelling that needs to be done by the school, the easier it is for them to see the player and save money. However, they do not exclusively recruit local players.
- Players can contact schools that aren’t seeing them, especially schools that are far away. The likelihood of the player being recruited depends on how they fit the schools needs and what they can offer. However, the standard route is the school contacting the player first.
- NCAA teams are almost always actively recruiting players throughout the season. Most trips to watch players are planned.
- Schools will return to the same coaches, teams and leagues who have sent them winners in the past. They want players with a reputation for winning because these players already know how to win. Relationships between schools and junior coaches are key. Play on a junior team with a respected, connected coach.
- Every university has different academic standards. These standards are set by the university, not the team. These standards must be met in to order to get an NCAA hockey scholarship.
- Plan your schooling as far ahead as possible. This planning should start in grade nine/freshman year. The most common mistake players make is not obtaining all of their core credits. Start taking core classes early and stay on pace.
- Develop a strong relationship with your high school academic advisor. He will help you get your core classes.
- Verify pre-requisites for your potential school and program early in the recruiting process. You don’t want to accept a scholarship only to discover you are missing one pre-requisite at the last minute.
“The last thing you want to do after pouring your life into your sport is find out there was some little detail that was missed and you can’t get a scholarship regardless. That’s not fair to anyone.” –Steve Thompson
- Skilled players get recruited differently than what’s typical. A red-hot prospect will be recruited quickly and fiercly by multiple schools. Schools do not want to miss a top recruit by taking too long to make an offer. Likewise, they can take more time with depth players. These players have less schools vying for them and there are more of them available. Supply and demand.
- In addition to the previous point, young players who aren’t in too high of demand may take longer to recruit because a school will want to ensure they continue developing as they age. Alternatively, schools may watch an older player longer because he likely doesn’t have as many options and is less likely to be picked up by another school.
- If possible, schools like to build a relationship with a player before offering money. They want to know who the player is as a person before investing in him.
“Our mentality is that you want to have the right culture in the locker room, and the personalities within it are what creates that.” –Steve Thompson
- Some parents get very involved in their son’s recruitment. Others are hands off. Either way can work. If parents are involved, their impression on the coach can influence his decision positively or negatively. Involved parents are okay; aggressive, overbearing parents are detrimental. As a parent, ask educated questions, but do not be threatening.
- Each team has 18 NCAA hockey scholarships to spread throughout the team. This means not every player receives scholarship money. In fact, more players receive partial scholarships than full scholarships. Walk on players do play NCAA.
“Full rides are pretty rare to come by.” –Steve Thompson
- Players born within the school’s state who receive a partial scholarship may, in effect, receive close to a full scholarship/pay almost nothing. This is a result of lower tuition for local players, i.e. in-state tuition.
- There are a variety of scholarships outside of athletics that players can apply for in order to earn more money toward school.
“There is just something special about being a hockey player. ” –Nick Olynyk
- Players should consider how much playing time they’ll receive in the NCAA before committing. If you are better suited to division III, you may better off playing at that level. Not only will your receive more ice time when you’re in the lineup, but also you won’t be in the stands as much as a walk-on NCAA player.
- The more money a school puts into a player, the more patient they will be with that player. Schools want to protect their investment and coaches want their choices to be winners. The more you earn, the more ice time you’re likely to get.
- Schools may be willing to negotiate what they offer you (before you sign). If you are unhappy with what you receive as an initial offer, ask if you can get more. Ask questions and see how much your son is worth to them.
- Before you get offered a fly-down, you need to have your academics handled. Your core courses need to check out and your SAT score needs to meet the school’s requirements.
“If you have the opportunity to get a fly-up or a fly-down, I recommend taking it.” –Steve Thompson
- The biggest differences between NCAA and junior are the maturity and age of players. From a physical standpoint, the age range in junior is 16 to 20. In college, it’s 18 to 24. It is the difference between playing against boys and men. Players cannot just rely on skill in college; they need strength too. Players who are physically ready their first season often perform better than those who are not.
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