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NCAA Recruiting: Path to College Hockey out East needs fixing

USPHL All-Star Premier Division Game 1
USPHL All-Star Premier Division Game 1

Having watched a lot of college, junior, high school, midget and summer showcase games over the past few years, something seems painfully obviously, but it won't happen without a lot of pressure from key figures in the hockey community.

USA Hockey brass and NCAA coaches need to step in and make the game better and help the financial pockets of all hockey parents who have kids aspiring to play Division I or Division III hockey.

There are far too many junior hockey leagues and the crux of the problem is out east. Don't get me wrong. The United States Hockey League (USHL) is a terrific league and any parent or player would be silly to not jump at the opportunity to play in the finest development path to college hockey. This argument is not against the USHL, it is against the lesser leagues that are watered down and only viable due to the money it brings in for its organizers.

Where the problem lies is at the lower levels of "junior hockey." The words junior hockey are in quotations because half of the leagues and teams that call themselves junior hockey are an absolute joke. Not to pick on the USPHL, but that league having an empire, elite and premier divisions is just complete nonsense.

However, don't expect it to stop anytime soon. The owners of these leagues and the teams in the leagues make far too much money off gullible hockey parents and players who can't hang up the skates and realize the dream is over.

Several times in the past few years this writer has heard of or directly seen examples of kids not good enough to make their public high school team or gaining significant ice time heading off to "junior hockey." This is absurd and is proof of the watered down nature of "junior hockey." Junior hockey should be for the best of the best. It should be for kids who have finished playing high school hockey who need a little more time to develop, but who have a legitimate shot at playing college hockey. As it stands now, more than half the teams out east are filled with kids who have very little chance of playing Division I.

This is where USA Hockey and NCAA coaches need to step in and send a message -- loud and clear. Playing high school or prep school hockey isn't a bad thing. As a Division I college coach told me last season, "If you're a good player, we'll find you."

Sure, right now with the current makeup of the NCAA developmental path, many parents and players are forced to leave high school hockey in favor of full-year midget teams. However, that could change if enough influential coaches and others in the hockey community push for a change.

I'm not naive enough to think my opinion matters or will even change anything, but there has to be enough coaches and USA Hockey brass who have the ability to put an end to this nonsense.

Play high school or prep hockey during the high school or prep season and play for the split season midget teams during the fall and spring. When a player graduates and has a better than average chance of continuing his career to college, play a season or two of junior hockey in the USHL, NAHL or a single league out east. The EHL and USPHL need to be merged and about half the teams need to be eliminated.

There are several examples of kids playing Division 2 or Division 3 high school hockey in Massachusetts before heading to a year of junior hockey or a PG year at a prep school then receiving a scholarship offer from a Hockey East school.

This won't be a popular opinion among the lesser junior leagues and its owners and coaches, but it's a message that needs to be said. Watching today's two separate USPHL Premier Division "All-Star Games" at Merrimack College was a lost three hours for every observer in the building.

Sure, there were some good players. Vermont recruit Conor O'Neil of the Jersey Hitmen and un-committed Ryan Cloonan of the Junior Bruins showed off some nice skill, but there were far too many players who had no business being on the ice for a so-called junior hockey All-Star Game.

However, as the current makeup of the USPHL stands, it hurts players and doesn't benefit scouts trying to find good players. The Jersey Hitmen, Junior Bruins and South Shore Kings are relatively good hockey teams with several players going to Division I and some rightfully so garnering NHL Draft attention.

The problem is those players have to play against the bottom half of the league, which is just downright awful. Eliminate junior leagues, eliminate teams, combine the top half of the EHL and USPHL and everyone - players, coaches, recruiters and scouts - will all be better off.


Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.