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College Hockey Recruiting Process: 10 Things to Know

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Denver celebrates winning the 2017 NCAA Championship.
Denver celebrates winning the 2017 NCAA Championship.
Matt Dewkett/SB Nation

It’s becoming increasingly frustrating to see young hockey players and their families make bad decisions, often times due to less than stellar advice from so-called advisors.

There are many different paths to playing youth hockey and growing as a player and as a person. Not every kid who laces up the skates as a bantam is going to play college hockey, and that’s perfectly fine. There is no shame in playing for the love of the game.

What’s becoming clear is that families and potential prospects need to be better educated about their options and how they should move forward. Here are 10 rules that every prospect should know before going through the college recruiting process.

1. Proceed with caution

This first rule will be a recurring theme in this post.

Don’t jump at the first offer — whether it be a commitment to a school, choosing a family advisor or playing for a certain junior team. Listen to those around you and soak in advice from more than one source.

Coaches are going to want you to play for their team and agents are going to want to jump on you before another agent does. Contrary to what some coaches, whether it be prep, junior or college, may tell you — that offer will still be on the table in a few days. If they’re that desperate to have you in the next 24 hours, they’ll wait a week.

It’s imperative you reach out to your current coach, trusted friends and parents who might have been through the process already, and others in the hockey community. It lessens the likelihood of being caught up in a scam from a midget or junior coach, or agent with their own agenda.

2. Family Advisors

There are many great NHLPA agents out there who scour the globe looking for the next great hockey player. Visit http://www.nhlpa.com/inside-nhlpa/certified-player-agents to find a list of NHLPA agents.

These agents make an investment in a player like many people invest in the stock market. They want to find the best players. They have great connections in the hockey world, from junior and NCAA coaches to NHL front office types.

If an “agency” contacts you without a member of the so-called agency’s staff being NHLPA certified, proceed with caution, and probably don’t proceed at all. It’s likely that the agency is a sham and will do you no good.

Google the agency. The following examples of negative traits can be found on websites of these so-called hockey advisors.

If the agency’s website is full of typos and grammatical errors, there is zero chance this agency can help you play college hockey or proceed through the youth and junior hockey process.

That same agency with all the typos on its website lists a “Director of Scouting” who is committed to play Division III hockey in the fall. It’s a sham of epic proportions.

Agencies that have staff listed as junior league scouts, know that they might have an agenda. If an agent is a scout for a team in the QMJHL, do you think that agent will be as likely to push your son to play in the USHL as the QMJHL?

Another agency counts a prep coach on its staff of advisors and consultants. The agendas work both ways. Do you think this agency is as likely to suggest your kid play for the Junior Bruins 16U team as a prep school?

If you (or your son) isn’t good enough to be represented by a NHLPA agent, chances are you don’t need an advisor. If a player somehow slipped through the cracks of the NHLPA guys and is good enough, a college coach will find a way to contact that player. He’ll inquire with the midget, high school or junior coach.

Never trust an advisor who tells you that he’s good at “placing kids.” It’s absurd. The role of an advisor is to give players and their families pros and cons of each option. It is not to place kids into low-level junior teams.

It’s important to add that agents need an active NHLer to be NHLPA certified so there are a select few agencies who do things the right way even if they aren’t NHLPA certified.

Don’t waste your money paying the lurkers in the dark at these showcases. Many of them are preying on your ignorance and will happily take your cash.

3. Specializing in Hockey

A lot of people on Twitter get on their high horses and advise against specializing in a sport and playing too much of one sport.

It’s all too funny to see certain coaches speak out against summer hockey when they are being paid to work showcases, camps and district and USA Hockey festivals. Talk about hypocrisy.

If a player loves the game and wants to play year round, let him. Tons of kids play AAU baseball all summer and fall. Some kids play golf all year round. Some play summer AAU basketball. There is nothing wrong with having a passion and wanting to play hockey.

Certainly, no player should be forced by a parent or youth organization into playing year round and not being a multi-sport athlete if that’s what they’d rather do. There is a certain USPHL franchise that has advised its 16U and 18U players against playing for their high school in other sports. That is wrong.

If a player wants to be a multi-sport athlete, go for it, but it’s just as wrong for those to suggest kids shouldn’t specialize if they want to play just one sport. There’s far worse things kids could be doing than playing hockey all summer.

4. The Myth of Showcases

As was said, if a player just loves the game and wants to play all the time, no one should stop him. However, it’s necessary to point out that many showcases aren’t exactly that.

Just about every school in the country sends coaches to USA Hockey National Camps (Select 17/16/15) in Amherst, NY each summer. There are several other showcases throughout the year that are heavily scouted, but many are not.

Most showcases will boast “scout lists” and brag about the number of NHL scouts and NCAA coaches in attendance. Just know, most of those coaches and scouts are only at these low-level showcases to watch certain players. If a player barely cracked his high school team, don’t think playing in a watered down showcase with too many teams is going to help his chances. It won’t. It’s a lot of money for nothing if the only goal is to get exposure. Only do it if it’s for the love of the game.

5. Development Path

The development path varies from region to region. There is no right or wrong path to playing college hockey, no matter how hard some midget and junior organizations try to tell you otherwise.

Minnesota has the best model and it is why hockey has been so successful in the state. It’s cheaper to play town hockey and for a public high school than shelling out thousands to play for select travel teams like many think they have to do in Massachusetts and the Northeast.

That aside, if a player is good enough, a college coach will find that player. A player was drafted in the 2013 NHL Draft a year after playing four seasons of Division 2 public high school hockey. Another player makes almost $1M in the NHL now after playing three seasons of Division 2 public high school hockey. There’s another player still in the Stanley Cup Playoffs who played two seasons of Division 2 public high school hockey before making the jump to prep hockey. He’s making $4.6M. There are other examples, but that’s three right off the top of my head. Don’t believe the propaganda that no one makes the NHL out of public high school hockey.

Are those cases rare? Sure, but so is making it to the NHL from midget hockey. The point is, be educated on the benefits of both paths. Playing high school or prep hockey gives a player the advantage of school spirit and playing with the kids he goes to school with. Playing midget hockey might offer better coaching or better competition in some circumstances. However, there are plenty of high school and prep coaches that played Division I and/or NHL.

This typist has often lambasted midget hockey. If a player is competing for the North Jersey Avalanche, Boston Junior Bruins or Jersey Hitmen, they are playing for good organizations that have a history of moving players on the Division I. It’s not these organizations that should be the center of criticism. It’s the lower level teams that have no history of moving players on to the next level.

Google the midget organization and see if they have produced Division I players in the past. If they haven’t, chances are playing for your local high school is just as good an option. Graduate, and if good enough, play a year or two of junior hockey and see what happens.

It’s the player, how hard he works and how much skill he has that is going to get him to the next level.

6. Skills Coaches

Growing up and living in Massachusetts, Paul Vincent is the undisputed best and most respected skills coach in the region. There are other good skills coaches in the region, and in other parts of the country.

The key is to choose wisely and not be deceived by skills coaches who are just into watching film and thinking they’re experts of the game. In Massachusetts, there are skills coaches who work with the Boston Bruins or other NHL organizations in some capacity over the Summer, and some of them played college hockey. Choose them over others who just are in it for themselves and to hear themselves spew their nonsense.

7. Social Media

The best — and most succinct — advice is to be careful what you post on social media. This goes for both prospects and their parents.

Never post anything that you wouldn’t want your grandparents to see. Kids will be kids and everyone should have fun, but keep it to your circle of friends on the weekends and in the halls at school. Don’t retweet vines, videos or memes that could be viewed as insensitive.

There is a USPHL player that would have received a college commitment by now for his play on the ice. However, his Twitter account probably scares every coach away. His immaturity and priorities — or lack thereof — are on full display.

Everyone is entitled to their own political and social views. That’s what makes the world go around, but realize that what you post politically or socially could be viewed as great by some and bad by others. It’s the risk you take if you get political on social media.

Lastly, it’s great to be a staunch advocate of your son. Every parent should support their child. Just don’t do it on social media. Tweeting that your son should be drafted into the USHL won’t make it happen. It’s just downright embarrassing for all involved. Don’t do it. It occurred in the days leading up to the USHL Draft.

8. School Matters

There are only 60 Division I NCAA schools. Some are world-class institutions. Others are not as challenging to get into, but the better a player does in school, the more options he will have when looking for a commitment.

14 Division I hockey schools are ranked in the top 50 of the US News & World Report Top Universities. That’s nearly a quarter of Division I hockey programs. There are several other schools not too far behind. Not everyone is academically inclined and that is fine, but the better a player does in school, the more options he’ll have.

9. Commit to the School

Canisius, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Niagara, Northern Michigan and RPI have had to replace their head coach for one reason or another this offseason.

When committing to play college hockey, commit to the program and the school. Commit for the academics, the social life, the history of the program, the winning culture, the way it produces NHL players, the facilities, the location or the size. Don’t just commit to a coach.

That’s not taking anything away from the coaches. There are many great coaches who I can see a player wanting to run through a brick wall for. There are legendary coaches and there are up-and-coming coaches who would be great to play for.

Just know, coaches come and go.

10. Trust the Process

With all this being said, there is nothing wrong with playing the game through high school or midget hockey and then calling it a career or playing Division III or club hockey. There are some great Division III programs out there. NESCAC schools in Division III offer a world-class education and great hockey at the same time.

Hockey is a great sport, but one of the worst things about it is the culture it promotes to hanging on to the dream. Educate yourself and know when enough is enough. There is no reason to play USPHL Elite, NA3HL or other low level junior hockey past 18 just to play club hockey.

Division III hockey can be great. Club hockey is great for continuing to play the game competitively while going to school for the fun of it. Don’t fork over upwards of $20,000 to play junior hockey for a few years just to play club hockey.

This is NOT an insult directed at players competing in Division III or ACHA. It is a thought that the culture needs to change so players don’t have to play junior hockey to play club hockey in college.