The NCAA is a hockey option right on par with the CHL nowadays. With the proliferation of top American talent being developed, and the rapid spread of quality junior hockey programs to feed colleges, I think landing an NCAA division I scholarship will become more competitive than ever.
It will also be more fruitful than ever.
The NHL is taking more players from NCAA than every before, and more players are choosing the NCAA route over Major Junior so they can get their schooling done while they play.
In part one of this two-part series, I’ll discuss why your son may want to play NCAA. You’ll also find out what he can do today as a bantam or midget player to not only maintain his eligibility, but also align himself with a junior team that can get him a good NCAA scholarship.
Why Play NCAA Hockey
Here are the big advantages of what the Junior-A-to-NCAA route offers players…
Get Your School While You Play
The NCAA route allows players to earn toward their degree while their playing. (Makes sense, it’s collegiate hockey, right?)
This is a nice cushion for players who sign NHL contracts or try out the pro game after school because they have a fallback. It’s even better for players who don’t make it—they are covered and have set themselves up for a good career.
It’s also worth mentioning that being an NCAA alumni is a great advantage on a resume.
Compared to the CHL route, where players bank school and use it after their junior career (if they aren’t playing pro), the NCAA route leaves players with something tangible upon exit—a degree.
The often overlooked catch to this is that players actually need to earn the scholarship (or the lesser talked about partial scholarship) first. Few people talk about the players who try for a Division I scholarships only to end up empty handed at the end of junior or being relegated to the Division III level.
However, if you get a Div I scholarship, you’re going to leave school with a degree and a chance at a higher level of hockey afterward.
More Time To Develop
The NCAA route allows players more time to develop. This not only applies while they are in the NCAA but also beforehand.
If a player is on the smaller side in junior, not drafted by a Major Junior team, but has finally found his way in his last year of midget, the NCAA route allows him to still reach his full potential.
This player will have one or two (or even three) years of junior to land a scholarship. He can grow physically and mature, i.e. learn the high-level game, while in Junior A and still get a scholarship. If this same player wanted to go the CHL route, he would probably be too late to the party. Starting CHL at 18 is not the easiest as team’s start drafting prospects and projecting rosters with 14 and 15 year old players. That 18 year old really has to have an impact to make a team.
Furthermore, that 18 year old will have to fight earn a free agent contract before he is done Major Junior. He’ll have to have an immediate impact as a rookie to sign by the time he is 20/21, all while others players he plays against are getting drafted. It can be done and does get done, but the NCAA may be a better route…
This same player can get that NCAA scholarship at 19, play NCAA for three years and sign an NHL contract at 22. His timeline from 18 to 22 is five seasons of development. He’ll more than have caught up on his ability to jump to the pro game. If this same player went CHL, he only has two years to make a serious impact, and that includes his rookie year. If he can’t do it by the time he is 20, his likely will find himself sent down to Junior A for his final season.
The ability to become a dominate player in Junior A and to learn how to carry a team as a dominant player will serve this player well in the NCAA. If he can do the same things there, he will be mature enough and be earmarked to sign an NHL contract.
For crucial differences between NCAA Division I hockey and Division III college hockey, make sure to watch the video above.
Three Things Your Bantam or Midget Hockey Player Needs To Do Today For NCAA
Here are three things minor hockey players need to do in order to put themselves in the best position for an NCAA scholarship.
Choose The Right Classes in High School
The NCAA has a set of core courses that players are required to take in high school. If a player doesn’t have these credits, he can’t be cleared to receive an NCAA scholarship.
It’s simple enough to enrol in the classes; the snag that gets players is they head down the wrong academic path too early.
If your son is in grade 9/freshman year, he should ensure that the classes he takes now will get him into the grade 10 classes he requires, that will get him into the grade 11 classes he requires, that will get him into the 12th grade classes he requires. It’s all about getting the right pre-requisites.
Fortunately, it’s not like these classes are hidden, rare or special. The key in most cases is to take the advanced level classes required to go to university, not the basic classes. (For the construction industry, think engineer degree vs. tradesman certificate. Take the classes an engineering applicant would need.)
For more information on the specific classes required, check out my Junior Hockey Truth book. I have the classes listed and I tell you where you can find info about them straight from the NCAA themselves.
Align Yourself With A Good Junior League And Team
NCAA schools return to the same hunting grounds every season. If an NCAA coach has found players who suit his program, coaching style and work ethic, he’s very likely going to return to the same well for more players.
Also, different NCAA clubs and coaches build their teams differently. Boston University, a top hockey program, takes players from all over the world and at least seven different sources to build their program. Boston College, meanwhile, is made up predominantly of USHL and Prep School players. Two elite programs in close proximity who recruit from entirely different areas.
In another NCAA conference, Lake Superior State has virtually no USHL players and relies almost solely on tier II Junior A recruits and no prep schools. UAA in Alaska, with their unique location, pulls the majority of their players from the nearby BCHL and AJHL. Know the options each junior league presents.
What I’m saying is that where your son plays junior is going to affect which schools look at him. It’s not the be-all, end-all, but just like getting scouted for junior hockey, it’s your son’s job to put himself in front of the scouts, not the scouts job to come to your son.
It’s also important to look at who is coaching the junior team and who they know. Coaches and managers with a track record of developing players for the NCAA will be better able to forward your son to an NCAA program. Connections count.
As an example, one of my team’s old managers, who still manages a top Junior A team in Canada, has had at least one of his players on Quinnipiac’s roster for 10+ consecutive years. This manager has managed different clubs in that time, and even changed leagues, but the team still goes back to him for players to this day, one decade later. That’s not random.
If your son wants to know which schools scout from where, and which leagues and teams get good NCAA scholarships, check out www.collegecommitments.com and sort the scholarships by team. You’ll see where junior players from this season are headed next season in the NCAA.
Write Your SAT Early, Then Write It Again
The SAT is a aptitude test that must be taken almost everybody entering an American college.
It’s a three hour exam comprised of math and English reasoning questions to test your son’s problem solving skills. He can’t study for it in the sense of learning new knowledge in order to prepare; however, he can practice writing it and get familiar with the types of questions/puzzles he’ll be quizzed on. (For more information on the questions asked, see Junior Hockey Truth.)
I recommend that players write their exam the first time in grade 11, and then again in either their senior year or in junior. There are two reasons for this:
1) Your exam score is required by the NCAA Clearinghouse, the gatekeeper for whether or not your son is academically eligible to accept a scholarship. He needs clearance before he can accept a scholarship, so it is better to have that handle in advance.
2) People almost always score better the second time they write the exam. If your son ups his score, it will make it easier for him to meet the minimum requirements of certain schools, particularly Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale, etc.
You may also hear about an exam called the ACT. It is similar to the SAT, but leans more toward science-based questions. Writing this exam may be to your son’s advantage.
This was part one of a two-part series highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of NCAA and the CHL. Next day I’m going to be break down why your son may want to go the CHL (Major Junior) route in Canada and how he can prepare himself.
Put any questions you have in the comment box below. I get alerted of every question and respond to every one. I’d love to hear why you think the NCAA route is the route for you or your son.