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Welcome To This Week’s Newsletter

Just a very quick hello, and welcome to this week’s newsletter.

Entering the holiday season, I hope all is well, and that things are progressing as you had hoped (they would) for the current hockey season.

As we wrap up the first half of the season, many will be trying to make decisions regarding future playing opportunities.

The primary purpose why I produce these newsletters is to remind players that there are many options available.

I remind players that it is not necessary to “leave things to chance”, similar to a situation like standing along the gym walls at a school dance waiting for someone to ask you “to dance”. I suggest that all players should be proactive in the pursuit of future opportunities.

There are excellent opportunities out there for those who wish to explore them.

If you are looking to make strategic decisions, I have attached a few articles that I hope you will find interesting, and will begin to get the juices flowing.

For those who are considering prep schools for next year, the ideal time to be making inquiries is now. Even if you are not interested in possibly attending until the following school year, it is not too early to be actively looking.

I remind those who are interested in pursuing an American college hockey career, to register for the NCAA Clearinghouse and to double check to make sure that you are on track for the core courses required from your 8 semesters of high school, and for those looking to play midget and junior hockey next season, you should let coaches know that you are interested.

Let us know if you would like our assistance at ensuring that you are properly being considered for available spots for next season.


David MacDonald, SPAD
Hockey Family Advisor


Posted in Newsletter

The Endless Debate: Major Juniors or NCAA?

By Ryan Ballard

Big decisions loom for 16 year old elite hockey players. I’m not talking about the typical issues for teenagers like “what should I wear to the homecoming dance,” “how am I going to pass my driving test,” or “what should I do this weekend?” Instead, many elite hockey players at that age have to decide whether they should play hockey in one of Canada’s major junior leagues- the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, or Quebec Major Junior Hockey League- or retain their eligibility to play for an NCAA institution.

For family advisors of hockey players, this decision presents a balancing of factors: quality of hockey, education, proximity to home, coaching, development physically and mentally, exposure to NHL scouts, etc. Cut and dry, the major junior leagues develop more National Hockey League players than the NCAA. The table below, taken from this article, is a little outdated but gives you the idea…

NCAA vs. Major Junior: 1990-2001

League      Picks     Made NHL   Rate     3 Years Rate

OHL          583           269           46.1%     106      18.2%

WHL         570           266           46.7%     111      19.5%

QMJHL    305            140           45.9%     58        19.0%

NCAA       291           124            42.6%     52       17.9%

Many times the main concern for the player’s family is education. This is where the NCAA has the upper hand. The major junior leagues, realizing they are competing for talented players and needing to fill the seats, offer their own scholarship program in which they pay for players to attend Canadian universities. The three leagues will provide around $2.6M in scholarships this year. That seems like a lot, but not when you consider that only 32% of players take advantage of the scholarship program and the money is cut off after 18 months of the player leaving major juniors.

But what do NHL scouts think? Here’s another excerpt from the article linked above:

So, is there a difference on draft day?

“No,” said Calgary Flames director of scouting Todd Button with a laugh. “How’s that for a simple answer? There’s good players in both leagues, and where you choose to hone your craft it doesn’t really matter.”

And here’s what Nashville Predators chief amateur scout, Jeff Kealty, had to say:

“From a strength and physical maturity standpoint, yes, the college players can be physically stronger,” said Kealty. “They’re older and they don’t play as many games, so they have more time to workout and develop physically.”

“But, on the flip side, the junior kids are playing more games, there’s more travel, there’s a longer training camp and preseason, the playoffs are different and each round is seven games. So there’s benefits to both sides of it. The college kids can be a little bit older coming out, but there’s certainly elements on both sides of the ledger that can benefit players and prepare them in different ways.”

So while major junior teams produce more NHL players (and more elite NHL players), NHL teams don’t let the league a kid is playing in determine whether or not they will draft him. My opinion, and one that is not often pointed out in blogs and newspapers, is that major juniors is really for kids who develop physically at an earlier age. College hockey is usually a better route for players who need a couple more years to develop.

As a family advisor, my approach is similar to that of the informed consent standard for doctors- lay out all the information the family could possibly need to make the decision, and let them make the call. Some agents/advisors favor one road or the other. I favor whatever path that the player will put the most effort and passion into.


Northern Junior Hockey Watch: CHL vs NCAA


SAULT STE. MARIE -Today’s edition of the Northern Junior Hockey Watch will feature my thoughts on an ongoing and increasingly ugly debate: Major Junior (Canadian Hockey League or CHL) vs.  NCAA college hockey.  Specifically, what route is the best one for the young hockey player?

In a perfect world this debate would not be necessary.  I would like to see young men who played in the CHL retain their amateur status.  This, however, is unlikely to happen.  I think the best that will happen is the NCAA will lighten up some.  I could see the NCAA let those who played a few games in the  CHL, say 10, retain their eligibility.

This is a good time to remind our readers that playing Major Junior hockey does not effect ones eligibility to play college hockey for a Canadian school in the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport).  The biggest challenge in writing a story like this is finding reliable statistics.  The NCAA and CHL are both a bit of snake oil salesmen in my opinion.

I believe the best way to break this debate down is to look at a couple of different questions as simply and as honestly as possible.  The first question is, what league is the best avenue to get your son to play in the NHL and why?  The next question is, both leagues talk about the importance of education.  Which one is telling the truth and which one is full of baloney?  The last thing to do is try to make some sense out of this debate and try to come up with an answer for our original question.  What route is the best one for the young gifted hockey player?

I will first take a look at the best route to take in order to find NHL riches. I do know the long odds of a youth hockey player, no matter how good, one day suiting up for an NHL club. This goes for players that play at the elite AAA level of youth hockey as well. There are a lot of good hockey players and not all that many jobs, 690 to be precise. With that being said, I want to examine which route is the best in order to land a spot in the best hockey league in the world.

The answer to that question is unequivocally the Canadian Hockey League.  The CHL is the number one developmental league in the entire world.  There are more players that go to the NHL through Major Junior than anywhere else.  I think now would be a good time to take a quick look at the numbers.  The CHL provides 52% of the players on active NHL rosters, 22% come from the Ontario Hockey League alone.  Looking at draft statistics, from 1969-2007 50% of the players drafted came from Major Junior.  If you look at the first two rounds from those same years the number is a mind boggling 69%.

There are a variety of reasons for this.  The main reason, in my opinion, is quite simple.  The vast majority of the NHL is comprised of Canadians.  It is the dream of just about every Canadian youth hockey player to play for the glory in the CHL.  The kids know that Major Junior players are held to celebrity status in many CHL markets.  There is also the dream of playing for the vaunted Memorial Cup, one of the hardest trophies in all of sport to win.  This is why, I believe, that the majority of talented Canadians choose the CHL route and why it is such a great feeder league for the NHL.

There are other reasons for this.  The players play an NHL like 68 game schedule, 72 games in the Western Hockey League.  This can be compared to a 34 game regular season schedule that NCAA teams use.  The league playoffs are also NHL like 7 game affairs.  The NCAA tournament, which sees only 16 teams qualify, is single elimination.

Other factors that prepare players for the NHL is that the CHL condones fighting, just like the NHL.  The players also wear half shields like their NHL counterparts, unlike the NCAA which forces players to wear the hideous full shield.  I doubt this makes any difference but it helps demonstrate how the CHL tries to be as much like the big league as is possible.  The NCAA seems to march to the beat of their very own drummer.

To recap I simply do not think there is any comparison as to which league develops NHL talent better.  The Canadian Hockey League is head and shoulders above the NCAA in this category.  The NCAA has recently hired former NHLPA boss Paul Kelly to help promote NCAA hockey to potential recruits.  It hasn’t seemed to help much as several high profile players have left college for the CHL.  There have also been several high profile American recruits that have told college hockey no thanks and taken their services north of the border.  This trend of uber talented  Americans going the Major Junior route I believe is especially troubling to Paul Kelly and company.

So Round 1 goes to the CHL but I will now look at the importance of education.  Both leagues stress this aspect in their recruiting pitch but I think only one of them truly believes in the importance of education.

To be able to fully examine what route offers the best education opportunities for their players we need to first take a look at how the NCAA’s and CHL’s education system operates.  Lets start with the NCAA as theirs is more straightforward.

The athletic scholarships offered by NCAA schools cover: tuition, room and board, required textbooks and university fees.  The NCAA has a limit of 18 scholarships per team available at the Division 1 level.  So with roster sizes of around 27, the coaches have to decide how much of the scholarship pie each player gets.   These scholarships are performanced based and are on a year-by-year basis.

If a player doesn’t live up to expectations, his scholarship money can be reduced all the way down to zero if need be.  This, however, works both ways.  A player that initially received very little in the way of scholarship money as a freshman might blossom into a fine player who has a full or near full ride his senior year.  The school has to July 1 each year to tell student athletes what the status is of their scholarship for the following season.

Now we get to see what the CHL is offering in their educational packages.  If the NCAA’s is fairly straightforward the CHL’s is anything but.   The very first thing we need to clear up is the CHL is an umbrella organization of the three Canadian Major Junior Leagues.  They are the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).  These three leagues offer slightly different educational packages each.  The league we will focus on, for arguments sake, is the OHL.

The OHL offers what they call The Best of Both Worlds.  This means that players can play in a league with a hockey-heavy lifestyle now and then go on to receive and excellent education afterwards.  The OHL says that for each year you play in the league you receive money for one year of post-secondary education.

So if you play in the OHL for one year you get one year at any recognized university in the world paid for.  Play four years and get four years paid for.  The educational package covers tuition, textbooks and university fees.  Players that went in the first round of the OHL Priority Selection also get their room and board covered.  This sounds all pretty simple right.  Oh but wait because as with a lot of things in life the devil’s in the details.

The first “catch” with this system is the so-called “domicile” rule.  Basically, how this works, is the OHL takes the cost of tuition at the college or university closes to your home as the basis of how much educational cash you receive that year.  So if your from a town where it costs $6500 in tuition to attend Acme College but your heart’s set on going to Generic University at $7000 a year you will have to come up with the $500.

The next “catch” is that it is real important to be on an OHL roster January 10th or later.  The reason is that if your not on the team on or after that date the money you would receive for education for that year is halved.  So on January 9th you get sent down to the Junior A affiliate you can kiss literally thousands of dollars goodbye.  Ouch.

The final ”catch” in my opinion is the biggest of all.  It states that you have 18 months from the time your junior eligibility has expired for you to access your educational money.  If you don’t tap into it then, on a full-time continuous basis, it is gone forever.

For example, Joe Smith just finished his 20 year-old overage season with the Sarnia Sting.  He then, like most OHL grads, decides to keep his dream of hockey glory going and signs with the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals.   He has a decent first year and the Jackals would love to have him back for a second year.  Joe Smith now has come to one of life’s crossroads.  He can return and hope he continues to develop as a hockey player and maybe catches the eye of an AHL team.

The AHL, being one step away from the NHL, can now be used as a platform for a call-up to The Show and a lifelong dream fulfilled.  Or he can access his educational package and go on to university.  How many 22 year-old hockey players, having played since they were 4 or 5, are ready to abandon their dreams at that age?  Not many, the OHL is counting on it.

Therein lies the big difference between the NCAA and the CHL in how they view education.  The NCAA teams want their players to succeed in college.  They, in fact, need their players to keep their grades up to be eligible to play.

The CHL, meanwhile, no matter what they say would much rather have former players go toil in the minors for a few years rather than access their education packages. Why wouldn’t they?  They are a business after all and the savings from players not using their educational packages is in the millions.
So with all that being said it is no wonder why the NCAA crushes the CHL in their graduation rates from college or university.

The CHL’s is so bad that they don’t even publish it.  The NCAA, meanwhile, has no problem publishing their graduation rates which for men’s hockey is 84%.  The CHL’s is likely under 20% according to everything I’ve read.

Lets look at those numbers one more time: NCAA 84%, CHL less than 20%.

Round 2 isn’t even close folks.  The NCAA pummels the CHL in the way they value the importance of an education.

Well looks like we have a draw folks at two round apiece.  What? We can’t have a stinking tie.  This article is longer than War and Peace and it’s answered squat.  Well that is our third and final task.  To make some kind of sense of all this stuff and answer the most important question.  What route is the best for a player gifted enough to play in one or the other?  The answer- NCAA U.S. Division 1 College Hockey.

So how did I come to this conclusion?  Let me explain.  For me it comes down to the fact that the chances are slim for players in Major Junior or NCAA making it to the NHL.  They are without a doubt better if a player goes and plays in one of the three CHL leagues.  Still, the odds are long even for Major Junior players.

The hard fact is only 35 North American players from any birth year will play in the NHL on a full time basis.  Only 1 player on average will make the NHL from a typical CHL roster of 25.

The NCAA, meanwhile, sends only .5 players to the NHL from an average roster size of 28.  So while it is “easier” to make the NHL via the CHL it is still a long shot at the very best.

O.K. so if the vast majority of these players aren’t making the NHL then what are they doing?  A large number of both CHL and NCAA grads will go and toil in the minor leagues for a few years before hanging up their skates.  So then what?   Well if they went the NCAA route then 84% of them are utilizing a college degree.

O.K. so these players have a college degree to fall back on if their NHL dreams don’t materialize. So what?  Well for starters the average yearly salary for a person with a bachelor’s degree is $52,000.  Those with a high school diploma earn significantly less at around $29,000 a year.  Over the course of a lifetime the difference is shocking.  A person with a bachelor’s degree earns almost a million dollars more in a lifetime than someone with a high school diploma.  That’s a million dollars, $1,000,000!  That piece of paper of paper is literally worth it’s weight in gold.

The last point I want to make is if you are good enough the NHL will find you.  I don’t care if your playing in Siberia or Shingleton.  If you are good enough they will find you.  It doesn’t matter if your suiting up for the Colorado College Tigers or the Medicine Hat Tigers.  If you are good enough they will find you.  And if you aren’t good enough but obtained your degree.  Then try not spend that million extra bucks all in the same place.


Don’t Shrink Your Game: Learn from Your Mistakes

With hockey being so fast and unpredictable, it’s only natural to endlessly evaluate your play. You kick yourself between shifts, your coach whispers/yells at you between periods, you lose sleep tossing and turning after the game and then the dreaded video session highlights your play in front of the whole team. In this day and age with parents, coaches, video, agents, scouts, etc., holding you accountable for your play, it’s hard not to work yourself up into a bite-sized mental breakdown after a game.

Of course you learn from your mistakes—and you need to be held accountable for the team to win—but there’s a difference between what good players and great players replay in their mind. In my opinion, 95 percent of players (myself included) think about the open net they missed, a failed defensive assignment resulting in a goal, a buddy pass that got their teammate rocked, a poor decision on a 2-on-1 and on and on. The list of mistakes and failures I experienced in my playing days is literally endless. It covers the entire spectrum from “why am I beating myself up over something so small” to “the entire team hates me for that game changer.”

The problem is that thinking about these mistakes makes you hide and shrink your game. The mistakes I’ve talked about here are specific situations. No matter how headstrong or confident you are, this pattern of thought can only lead to your brain continually replaying and magnifying the negative action. Trust me, you can’t control it.

Think Differently: Missed Opportunities, Not Mistakes

Great players replay the game in their mind a bit differently. They essentially see missed opportunities. They ask themselves self-reflective questions such as:

– Why didn’t I drive the net hard for that rebound in the first period?

– Why didn’t I gain the zone on the power play instead of dumping it in?

– Why didn’t I play more physical and take away my man’s stick down low?

– Why didn’t I get rid of the puck quicker because of forechecking pressure?

– Why didn’t I have a more aggressive gap against their top line?

It’s way bigger thinking in a fluid situation. Your brain—consciously and subconsciously—can then try to find ways to improve when faced with a similar play.

Push Your Game, Don’t Shrink It

It’s way more productive to push your game then to shrink it. We respond to what we keep track of and think about. You all have the skill to be playing at the level you’re playing at or the coach wouldn’t put you on the ice. Why not make this subtle change in your thinking to expand your game rather than mental beat-down sessions that constrict it. As the saying goes, a boat is safe in the harbor but was made for the open ocean. You can play a safe “off the boards and out” game, but puck possession and skill are key. This is how you were made to play and it separates you from the pack and helps your team win games.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Brett Henning of Score100Goals.com for this story. Henning is the author of 7 Pre-Game Habits of Pro Hockey Players, and was a member of the Inaugural National Team Development Program and 2000 World Junior Team with USA Hockey. He played Junior Hockey in Canada and at the collegiate level for the University of Notre Dame. He was drafted by the New York Islanders before a back injury ended his on-ice career.


Posted in Coaching, Mental Game, Tips

12 Defensive Tips


Defense and goaltending typically wins championships. It’s interesting how year after year the Stanley Cup–winning team typically has the fewest goals against. Great defensemen are great at getting the puck and starting the offense going the other way. Here’s how to keep it going.

Move your feet. Great forwards are great at battling and managing the puck. I tell the defensemen that I train that if you are not moving your feet, then you are doing something wrong. This is not to say you should have happy feet, but when you get the puck you need to move your feet. When you are shooting the puck, you need to move laterally. Lastly and most importantly, you have to move your feet to get great gap control.

Communicate. If you are not communicating on the ice with your D partner and goalie, then you are doing something wrong. I am talking about being a second set of eyes for your partner and navigating for them vocally—loud and clear right on the ice.

Master shooting the puck 13–15 inches off the ice. Both forwards and defensemen should work on shooting 13–15 inches off the ice, which is the hardest slot for goalies to see and the hardest shot to block. Most goalies will butterfly and the puck will go over the pads. It’s easiest for goalies to block shots on the ice or top shelf. I used to practice this shot myself for hours a day. Stack a couple of pads in your goal to force yourself to aim in that very difficult area for goalies to block—again, 13–15 inches off the ice.

Control the gap. Gap control starts after the breakout pass; defensemen should race up as fast as they can to support the forwards. Don’t ever think your job is done after your breakout pass. Skate up for the back pass and be ready to jump into the play—but be ready to get right back. If a turnover happens, you have created great gap control for your 1-on-1. Remember, if you are not moving, you are doing something drastically wrong. The game is geared towards offensive defensemen. The days of the stay-at-home defensemen are gone.

Use a longer stick. With your skates on, you typically want the stick at your chin—but defensemen should try an inch or two longer for a better reach. Stick on puck sounds basic, but defensemen need to do it at all times. They need to strengthen their arms to hold the stick firmly with one hand. Their stick should be disturbing their opponent at all times. I used to carry those grippers in my car and I would practice my grip all the time. Reach and arm strength is everything.

Skate faster backwards than forwards. Bobby Orr. He was the one. He was the first player who could skate faster backwards than forwards. When I coach—whether it’s a Squirt team, prep school or my highest level select team—we start off practice with three laps around at full steam. Forwards go forward. Defense goes backward. We may have to wait for them, and we do, but that does not make them feel good day after day of watching the forwards wait. As a defensemen, you can never turn your back to your opponent. I ask kids, “Would you cross the highway with your eyes closed?” You need to face the traffic or opponent at all times. Always stay square, looking at them in the face, with your long stick disturbing their flow if they are carrying the puck.

Study your teammates. To this day, I can remember guys’ jersey numbers and which hand they shot with. The defensemen especially need to know their team as the game is fast and you need to know which side your winger/center is going to catch a pass. It will become part of your subconscious memory. You will know who you are passing to by looking at his or her number. As a defenseman, you need to know what kind of blade your D partner so you can pass to the correct side. (There is a song on the radio right now that makes me laugh every time I hear it: “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5. It makes me think of Jaromir Jagr not Mick Jagger. When I played for the Penguins, I had the luxury of breaking out the puck and passing it up to Jagr. He told me, “Jeff, don’t worry about getting me a good pass. You worry about getting the puck to me. Shoot it at my head, my chest—as long as you get me the puck. I can slap it out of the air, I can grab it. Just get the puck to me every time.”

Take TREMENDOUS pleasure in your breakout pass. A good breakout pass used to feel as good to me as scoring a goal. Defensemen start the play and a bad start can turn into a disaster in your end. A bad breakout pass will get you benched in the pros and sometimes even in college. “Remember, you have more time than you think, but not as much as you would like.” Take that extra second to sit the puck down and give a nice pass. If you throw a grenade to a teammate, then it will eventually blow up and end up in your net.

Don’t get beat. Even in practice, you should feel a little on edge—worried about getting beat and not doing your best on each and every drill. This is for the guys and gals who are taking the game seriously. I was always scared one of my teammates would beat me. You should all feel that way. If you want to raise your bar to the next level, this is really great advice. The players who are somewhat nervous in practice are focused and giving it their all, and guess what? They will produce in the game. I am not talking about only goals. Good breakouts from the D. Forwards winning battles. Every time I had a 1-on-1 battle I treated it like life or death.

Fake a shot first. Almost every single time I took a shot, I would do a fake shot first. This is a beauty at younger levels, but it works during prep school, college and—believe it or not—the pros.

Defensemen have no time for crossovers. I was an old dog that had to be taught this new trick when I was playing. Now, I try to teach kids this early on now so they cannot fall into this trap. The game is too fast today. Defensemen need to hone pivoting not crossing over. This allows you to always stay square with your opponent. Watch Nicklas Lidström; he never crosses over, hence he very rarely gets beat.

Stay inside the dots. This is obvious but never forget it—stay inside the dots and force the forwards wide to the boards. Protect your house—your goal, your center ice. Those forwards ARE NOT WELCOME IN YOUR HOUSE. Get them out!

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Jeff Serowik, a former NHL player and founder/president of Pro Ambitions Hockey, for this story.

Posted in Tips, Training

Team manager scores 20 points in 4 minutes in first varsity game!

When Jason McElwain entered the game with 4 minutes to play, the fans in attendance showered him with applause. The autistic 17 year-old was entering his first varsity game as a player after serving as team manager for the year. Jason gave his fans and teammates lots more to cheer about as he proceeded to hit six 3-pointers and a bucket underneath for a total of 20 points.

It was the last home game, and Jim Johnson, basketball coach at the Greece-Athena high school, thought: why not? His team were cruising to victory and there were just four minutes left on the clock. So he put in the 17-year-old kid who had worked so hard all season at keeping statistics, running the clock, and handing out bottles of water and endless encouragement. The gesture was meant as a reward. Instead, coach Johnson created a sporting fairy tale for the ages.

The kid in question wasn’t just any kid. At the age of two, Jason McElwain had been diagnosed as autistic. So well, however, had he coped with the adversity that he became a hero to his schoolmates. He also became a relatively decent shooter of a basketball. But 5ft 6in is on the small side for a game where height counts for so much. However many times he tried out, the boy everyone knew as “J-Mac” could never quite get into the team proper – until those four magic minutes one evening last month. But only a Hollywood script writer could have imagined the real-life fantasy that would then entrance America.

In Jason’s words, “I just caught fire, I was hot as a pistol”. True, he missed his first two simple shots. But then, on the school gym floor, in front of 900 intensely involved spectators, he entered “the zone”, the almost paranormal state where everything a sports player attempts turns to gold. His third effort rattled the board and dropped through the hoop. And then another, and another and another. By the time it was all over, Greece-Athena had put its local rival Spencerport to the sword with a 79-43 victory.

Jason alone accounted for 20 of the points, six long-range three-point shots and a two-pointer from closer in. Even though the Spencerport players didn’t hustle him too aggressively, it was still four minutes of undiluted magic. When it was over, grown men were weeping as his teammates carried him off the court on their shoulders.


Seven to watch: Top OHL prospects for 2012 Draft

By Adam Kimelman – NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The top Ontario Hockey League prospect for the 2012 NHL Draft is an offensive dynamo from the Sarnia Sting, with a string of solid defensemen next on the list.

It’s a story reminiscent of the 2008 Draft, when Sarnia center Steven Stamkos was the league’s best prospect, ahead of a list of blueliners that included Guelph’s Drew Doughty, Peterborough’s Zach Bogosian and Niagara’s Alex Pietrangelo.

This year, the top player available is Nail Yakupov, who spent last season breaking Stamkos’ Sarnia records.

In his first season in the OHL, the 5-foot-10 1/2, 189-pound right wing led all first-year players with 49 goals and 101 points, topping Stamkos’ franchise rookie record of 92 points, set in 2006-07.

Yakupov is off to a similarly outstanding start this season, but he’s far from the brightest star in the OHL. Here’s a look at seven players NHL scouts are keeping close eyes on this season:

“He’s got a real good shot — a hard, accurate shot. His play on the power play has been very good this year. He sees the ice very well. He skates well, has good mobility.” — NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards on Cody Ceci

Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa — Scouts already have turned a sharp eye on the 6-2 1/2, 207-pound blueliner, who was one of just two 2012 NHL Draft-eligible players invited to Hockey Canada’s summer evaluation camp for the 2012 World Junior Championship team.

Ceci had 34 points in 62 games last season, his second in the OHL, and this season is off to an even better start, with 15 points in 14 games.

“He’s got a real good shot — a hard, accurate shot,” NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards told NHL.com. “His play on the power play has been very good this year. He sees the ice very well. He skates well, has good mobility.”

Radek Faksa, C, Kitchener — A rapid climber in the eyes of scouts is the 6-3, 202-pound Czech-born center.

“I hadn’t heard anything about him until he showed up in Kitchener,” Edwards said, “and he’s getting better every game.”

Taken with the 22nd pick of the 2011 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, he’s off to a strong start with 6 goals and 5 assists in 14 games for the Rangers. He’s been playing on a line with Oilers’ fourth-round pick Tobias Rieder and top prospect Matia Marcantuoni.

“He’s not afraid to play in traffic, go to the net, take hits, deliver hits,” Edwards said. “He plays with a bit of an edge. He’s got real good playmaking skills, good puck ability … he’s got real good ability to get the puck through to the net and make plays.”

Edwards said he’s looking forward to watching Faksa as the season goes on.

“This guy’s involved and not afraid to play tough,” he said. “He’s a big enough kid. Not much not to like about him.”

Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia (OHL) — The playmaking center is without doubt the wild card of this year’s draft.

Galchenyuk had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last month, and there’s a chance he won’t play this season.

However, scouts know just how good Galchenyuk can be when he’s at his best. A U.S.-born center of Russian decent — his father spent 20 years playing in the U.S. and Russia — his 52 assists and 83 points were second among all first-year OHL players last season, and he was a standout performer at this summer’s NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp.

“He’s got lots of skills and playmaking ability,” Edwards said. “Last year with Yakupov, the two of them really fed off each other.”

As good a season as Yakupov is having in 2011-12, Edwards believes it could be even better if Galchenyuk was feeding him the puck.

“Yakupov is having a good season,” Edwards said, “but he’s missing it a bit without Galchenyuk.”

Slater Koekkoek, D, Peterborough — The Peterborough Petes are renowned for producing top-flight defenders, with current or former NHL players Larry Murphy, Chris Pronger, Luke Richardson, Steve Montador and Zach Bogosian on the list. The 6-2, 184-pound Koekkoek could be next in their footsteps.

In his second OHL season, Koekkoek has 8 points in 15 games, putting him on pace to better last season’s total of 23 points in 65 games.

“He eats up a lot of minutes,” Edwards said. “When he’s playing well is when he just takes the puck and moves it quickly. … He has the ability to make good passes, he’s used on the power play and penalty kill. Peterborough is better this season and he’s part of the reason why they are.”

Edwards also likes that Koekkoek isn’t afraid to throw his body around.

“Not many mistakes positionally,” he said. “He’s a good size guy, not afraid to take the body.”

Olli Maatta, D, London (OHL)— The Knights traded a player and three draft picks for the chance to select Maatta with the first pick of the 2011 CHL Import Draft, and so far the Finnish blueliner has proven to be worth the high price.

Olli Maatta playing with Team Finland. (Getty Images)

In 16 games, Maatta leads the team’s defenseman with 8 points (all assists) and leads all first-year OHL defensemen with a plus-10 rating.

“The first think you notice is his outstanding skating ability,” Edwards said. “He’s smooth, agile, just gliding out there. … He’s got good ability, he handles the puck well. He’s used on the top defense pair, power-play and penalty-kill units. He showed no fear of being hit.

“At this point I’d say he’s a pretty skilled defenseman.”

Expect Maatta to increase his stock with the scouts when he plays for Team Finland at the 2012 World Junior Championship. He was scoreless in six games for Finland at last year’s tournament.

Malcolm Subban, G, Belleville — The middle of three hockey-playing siblings — older brother P.K. is a defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens; younger brother Jordan is a defenseman with the Bulls — Subban has been limited to just three games due to an ankle injury.

However, scouts remain very high on the 6-1, 188-pound netminder. He had an outstanding showing at the NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in August, and was the youngest goaltender invited to Hockey Canada’s summer goalie development camp, where he auditioned for a spot on Canada’s 2012 World Junior Championship team.

“He’s a really good prospect,” said NHL Central Scouting’s Al Jensen. “He’s strong, he’s athletic, he’s got phenomenal leg strength. He plays big, got great drive and determination. He can make the big saves when the team needs them. He’s in great condition. His positional play and net coverage is very good. He’s got a good pro upside to him.”

Jensen said the hope is Subban, who hasn’t played since Sept. 29, could return by Nov. 11.

Nail Yakupov, RW, Sarnia — The talented forward is the league’s early scoring leader, with 34 points in 16 games. He’s tied for second in the league with 12 goals; leads with 22 assists, power-play goals (5), game-winning goals (3); and he’s second in the league with a plus-14 rating.

“He has extremely high-end skill puck skill and playmaking ability,” Edwards said. “His skating is outstanding. His skill set is excellent.”

Edwards also raved about Yakupov’s tenacity, citing a recent game against the London Knights as an example.

“London had (Tyler) Ferry checking him and the kid did an outstanding job checking him, held him to 1 assist, but Nail was able to break away from him, create chances. He went to the front of the net and battled. He was just as tough with the London defense as they were with him.

“He’ll play with toughness. He’s not afraid to take a hit or deliver one.”


Many Paths Lead to D-I Hockey

There’s no one right way to make it to Division I college hockey. In fact, a survey of 2011-12 college rosters shows that more than a dozen junior or high school leagues sent players directly to the Division I ranks.

What does that tell us? It affirms a popular coach’s credo:

If you are good enough, it doesn’t matter where you are playing. We will find you.

From age 15 until players enroll in college they have a variety of different routes to take based on their priorities – including location, competition, educational goals and more.

A few of the development leagues that lead to college hockey.

There is simply no path that players “have to” follow to reach Division I. Experienced college coaches encourage players to challenge themselves wherever they choose to play and if they play well, they will receive attention from colleges.

‘Comes Back to the Kid’

“You have examples of so many different routes on our team alone,” veteran assistant coach Billy Powers of Michigan noted. “We’ve seen kids succeed from everywhere. It comes back to the kid and his passion and intangibles, not where he played.”

The top feeder leagues to college hockey are junior leagues in the U.S. (primarily the USHL, NAHL and EJHL), the various leagues that make up the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) and teams associated with schools (either prep schools or high schools). USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP), which plays in the USHL, is also a rich source of college talent.

“A great thing about the leagues and teams at that level is the coaching young players get,” said Jeff Dwyer, College Hockey, Inc.’s Director of Education and Recruitment who played in prep school, college and pro hockey before coaching in the USHL. “All of those coaches have been involved with the college game. They know what it takes to reach the NCAA level and they have contacts with college coaches to help place their players.”

As Powers notes, his team – perennially one of the top teams in college hockey – is a great example of that diversity. Michigan’s four captains this season played at prep school, the NTDP, the USHL and the NAHL. Two of them spent three years playing Michigan high school hockey. The Wolverines’ freshman class includes three players who spent last season in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL).

Another great example is the list of finalists for the 2011 Hobey Baker Award. Eight leagues were represented among the 10 finalists (see box). Three of those leagues are Canadian (AJHL, BCHL, OJHL), demonstrating the ongoing influence of Canadian players in U.S. college hockey. This year Canadians make up roughly one-third of all Division I players.

Explore Your Options

Each different path offers unique benefits. Just as they would in looking at a university, a prospective player should examine their options and find the best fit for them and their family.

Junior hockey can provide the best level of competition for a player looking to transition to college hockey. As USA Hockey’s only Tier 1 junior league, the USHL is widely recognized as the highest level of junior hockey in the U.S., though the NAHL and EJHL send a significant number of players to college each year as well.

“We play fast, clean and tough hockey, and we’ll take anyone on,” USHL Commissioner Skip Prince wrote in a must-read open letter promoting his league. “We send players to the NHL … by way of college. And to board rooms and careers … by way of college. And to the best years of their lives. Our players go to class, and they work in the community, and they have a blast doing so, and they come out of our league ready for the next step – on the ice and off it.”

College coaches recognize the wealth of talent the USHL offers, but also know they need to recruit beyond its borders.

“The USHL most closely resembles Division I college hockey in terms of tempo and competitive level,” said Red Gendron, associate head coach at Yale and a pro, college and high school coaching veteran. “But the EJHL, prep school, Canadian leagues, they all offer terrific opportunities. Plenty of players come from those leagues and as coaches, we know we have to recruit everywhere.”

Powers agrees.

“If you can get to the national program [NTDP] or the USHL, that can be the best preparation, but we don’t pigeonhole kids and expect that they all play there,” Powers said. “We’ve seen first-hand that successful players come from all over.”

Popular Canadian Route

Canadian leagues that make up the Junior A CJHL have a long history of supplying Division I talent. The most prominent members of the CJHL from a college standpoint tend to be the OJHL, AJHL, BCHL, CCHL and MJHL, though there are 10 leagues in its membership and all have alums playing Division I. Those leagues offer excellent competition and allow Canadian players to stay close to home.

“We don’t have any overnight road trips,” OJHL Commissioner Marty Savoy notes. “That can be a big benefit for kids and their families. You can be home and in your own bed that night. These are pretty important years in a young man’s life, and that allows them to really concentrate on schooling and getting the marks they need to get a scholarship.”

The prep school atmosphere, in many ways, resembles college with students living in dorms and a heavy emphasis on academics.

“In prep school we’re one of the closest mirrors to the college hockey development model,” said Matt Herr, a Michigan graduate who now coaches prep school hockey at the Kent School. “We have a $1.3 million weight facility, and our guys are in their all fall with a strength and conditioning coach. We have a college-oriented schedule, playing two or three games a week. Our kids are combining hockey and education and really becoming good people.”

Consistent with each option is the exposure to college coaches. Between scouting trips, contacts with coaches and other connections, assistant coaches have vast knowledge of prospective student-athletes across the continent. In fact, keeping tabs on these different leagues is easier than ever before.

“The advent of the internet has made it much, much easier to do the initial work of identifying players,” said Gendron. “We can access stats, videos and articles, and it’s also very easy for kids to reach out to us. Between us collecting information and the prospective student-athletes providing information to us, it is infinitely easier to find players, regardless of where they play.”

Onus on the Player

In the end, where a player prepares for college matters less than the work they put in – both on and off the ice – in the years leading up to school.

“The real challenge for a young player is to challenge himself,” Gendron said. “You have to have a mindset of growth. Don’t worry about where you’re playing, or who you are playing for. You don’t need a coach to tell you if your shot isn’t hard enough – if you notice other players who are getting opportunities have better shots, maybe that’s something you should work on.”

Gendron has seen first-hand that college hockey players can come from anywhere.

“I coached high school hockey in Vermont, which isn’t the highest level,” he said, “and I had John LeClair, who went from high school hockey to the University of Vermont to the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers. It really didn’t matter where John LeClair played, because he had some gifts and he had the determination to improve.”


College Hockey Sells Out Madison Square Garden

A sellout crowd of 18,200 packed Madison Square Garden Saturday night and many more watched on MSG Network as Boston University edged Cornell, 2-1, on Ross Gaudet’s overtime goal.

A sellout crowd cheered Boston University and Cornell at MSG. (photo by Steve McLaughlin)

The third installment of Red Hot Hockey at MSG marked one of eight NHL buildings that college hockey will visit in 2011-12. The others: Boston’s TD Garden, Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center, St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, Tampa Bay’s St. Pete Times Forum, Winnipeg’s MTS Centre

“This is the most exciting goal I’ve ever scored,” Gaudet said of his deflection that won the game in OT. “It was a great game to be a part of too, so it’s probably one of the best moments of my athletic career.”

Cornell head coach Mike Schafer knew to expect something special.

“Just going down there and getting a chance to play on the big stage is exciting,” he told the Ithaca Journal before the game. “A lot of our kids have never been to New York City. The players who were there two years ago say they’ll never forget the crowd that was there, skating on that ice with just a sea of red in the stands, and a huge alumni contingent we bring. It’s just a great sporting event.”

Dozens of other college hockey players will have the opportunity to make lifelong memories in NHL rinks this season.

Clarkson’s Paul Karpowich will face North Dakota at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre in January. He is eagerly anticipating that trip, as he told Rachel Lenzi for a story in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hockey News.

“I’ve never played in an NHL rink before, so getting an opportunity to play in one means a lot, especially being so close to home,” said Karpowich, who was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario. “Coming from Canada, hockey is everything there, the biggest sport. Here, you’ve got football and baseball, but you see college hockey taking off and getting more fans. Playing at these venues and going to Winnipeg, it shows how the game has progressed and how it’s attracting a new type of fan.”


Maple Leaf Gardens to host college hockey


TORONTO (AP) — Toronto’s storied Maple Leaf Gardens will resound again with the clash of sticks and pucks as the home ice for Ryerson University.

The Gardens will reopen in the spring for the first time since 1999, when the Maple Leafs moved to the Air Canada Centre after nearly seven decades at the old arena.

Though the ice has not been installed, the centerpiece of Ryerson’s new athletic complex was open for a preview Tuesday.

The multi-use Maple Leaf Gardens also will house a grocery store and clothing outlet. The retail space is scheduled to open Wednesday, and the arena in May.

Tie Domi played in the last game the Leafs hosted at the Gardens. He says it’s going to be “a real great destination for downtown Toronto, and I think it revitalizes the whole area.”