Most major sporting leagues have the luxury of selecting prospects that are ‘the cream of the crop.’ University hockey doesn’t have that.
Throughout Canada, minor hockey players line up to be selected in the Canadian League draft, making the process relatively simple for junior organizations looking to bulk up their roster.
Similarly, the NHL drafts from a group of world-class talent who’ve been scouted, interviewed and put through a series of physicals.
Development leagues like the American League, East Coast League, Central League, International League and Southern Pro League wait until the remaining players – both drafted and free agents – position themselves accordingly. Essentially, most leagues are given coachable talent.
The process seems understandable. What’s interesting is to see how university hockey gets lost in the mayhem.
Coaches, scouts and school officials search for the remaining talent or work to convince candidates likely about to chase non-hockey careers to think otherwise.
The summer recruitment process can be stressful for schools looking to improve their roster, but it’s an exciting time for a prospective player exploring his options.
Generally, career paths are dictated by a player’s ability to secure a role within an organization and perform as expected or better. As a result, players become a high demand piece of meat, shifting from team to team and in some cases, league to league.
Unless you’re a high-profile NHL free agent, a player rarely has a chance to decide where he’d like to play. So the option to pick and choose a school is very comforting.
But before a player can choose where to go, he must decide what to study. After all, he’s probably spent the past 15 years watching Rock ‘em Sock ‘em tapes instead of mastering algebra (I’m envious if you managed to do both).
During my last two seasons of junior hockey, I began to ponder life beyond the NHL. Assuming you graduate high school in four years, there’s a two-year layoff period where a player has the option to register for a course or two on the side, paid for by the CHL.
A good portion of players do take the option, but it’s also a time to process what life might look like if hockey doesn’t work out.
Once you have an idea of what to study, which team is interested in you and, finally, come to a decision, it’s all but over. Most schools operate on a verbal commitment policy, though it’s starting to shift towards written contracts.
Taking someone’s word can be a safe option, or it can backfire. Coaches haven’t officially landed a recruit until he arrives on campus and takes part in a practice. As a result, university hockey turns into a blindfolded game of poker in which all coaches are expected to come out with their chips lined up in perfect order.
Building a team around false hopes can be risky and tough to manage. Players select schools based on a few categories: the program, its location, the team’s reputation of winning and also the perks included (which is a whole other subject).
The summer months appear ever so quiet, but behind the scenes schools are searching for the foundation of their program.
Jason Cassidy is a right winger for St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He spent four seasons in the Ontario League's with the Brampton Battalion and St. Michaels Majors. He is from Whitby, Ont., and is working towards a degree in journalism and will blog on THN.com about his CIS and OHL career regularly. Read his other blogs HERE.
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