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Major Junior vs The Rest of Junior Hockey and the NCAA


I recently was provided this article written by a person who I am not aware of the identity of. If anyone knows, I’d be pleased to provide credit. It  is well written and describes the dilemma faced by so many hockey players and their parents. Again, I do not favour one choice over the other, but impress upon people to do their own homework and chose what is right for their player through an honest analysis. I throw this article out there so it can be included in the discussion necessary to make the right  decisions…. David


Working as an Agent and in some instances as a Family Adviser, I have had the opportunity to work with some great people and some great players. From NHL draft picks to completely unknown prospects, each situation has been different and has presented its own unique challenges.

Players throughout the World have choices to make when looking at the opportunity to play Junior Hockey. Sometimes they have a clear path, sometimes that path is less clear, but more often than not it is a decision based on incomplete information. Far too often I get calls from players and parents that do not understand the choices, or have already made a choice they now regret.

Coaches, recruiters, General Managers, and runners for these people are competing for many of the same players. Some of these people are open, honest, trustworthy and do not apply undue pressure to obtain the player they want. Others are not so above board. You find both groups in every league throughout the world.

chlRecently, a family called and asked some questions concerning a Major Junior team. The questions asked showed a complete lack of understanding concerning how Major Junior is different from Junior Hockey in the United States, and how Major Junior can effect NCAA playing status. Had this been a parent of an 18 yr old, I would have expected a greater knowledge of the differences. But this was a high calibre Bantam players parent, someone very new to the process and investigation of what to do with their child.

Unfortunately, this parent was receiving information that could have placed the child at risk of loosing his NCAA eligibility.

Its no secret that Major Junior is the largest developer of NHL players. Although NCAA and USHL programs are gaining ground every year, Major Junior will remain the avenue of choice for Canadian players for years to come. Why is that the case?

In Canada, Major Junior hockey is tradition, it is held in high regard, and is the pinicle of hockey outside of the NHL. Players throughout the country talk about “getting there” almost as soon as they play their first competitive games. In the US, NCAA hockey is seen as the pinicle, and the bridge to “the show”. This different way of seeing things begins and almost always ends with the parents education within the game and the choices they make for their child. It is not much different than a political view of a Republican family vs a Democrat family. When your raised within and exposed to a belief system, you most often become a product of your environment.

Major Junior is great hockey. Its skilled, fast paced, and features some of the top players throughout the world. NCAA hockey is very similar in those regards, and the USHL is closing ground on Major Junior. Tier II and Tier III Junior Leagues are also great for developing players to promote to these higher levels, players who simply need more time to develop. The question then is what choice to make? Which league to aspire too?

When talking to players and parents I try to keep it simple. The number one question every player needs to ask themself is; “What is my long term goal in hockey?”.

So often I used to hear; “I want to play in the show.”, or “I want to play pro.”

More often now I hear; “I want to get my education.”, “I want to play at the highest level possible.”, “I want to play college hockey and after that I would hope some minor pro team would give me a look.”.

ncaaThe difference between those answers are largely geographical in nature. The vast majority of calls I get from Canada are still geared toward Major Junior hockey, while those from the US almost always go the NCAA route. The exception for US calls are those callers from cities close to Major Junior or Canadian border towns, and conversely those from Canadian players who have seen NCAA hockey due to their location in a similar border town.

Another difference between Major Junior families and NCAA families quite often comes from the players parents, and the choices they made regarding education.

So often we hear TV announcers saying, “he comes from a farm in Manitoba” or “in the summer he worked at the mill” or similiar phrases describing the “blue collar” background of the family and the player.

More often now we also hear these same announcers saying, “he went to **** University where his father also played”, or “he went to the USHL before attending ***** University where his mother graduated from.” The difference in decision making influences is pretty clear.

Now that I have provided some background on the decision making process influences, lets look at the decision.

Some players want what they want, you cant change their mind either way if they choose Major Junior, NCAA or another path. Thats fine, and that eliminates some discussion.

Some players have no clue about the choices they are making and how they will influence the rest of their lives. Some do not understand the Education payments from Major Junior, and some have no idea of how to go about playing NCAA hockey. Some have already made these choices unknowingly by making innocent choices they did not know could influence their future. Some make choices based upon bad advice from people who are too closely affiliated with one team or league.

All this said, there is no one league or path that is right for everyone. Some players are sure shot NHL players and for them there is no league they could go to that would hurt them. Those are the very select few players in the world.

For most players though, the NHL is and will always remain an untouchable dream. Sure, we may have friends or team mates that make it, but we need to remember that there are less than 750 NHL jobs. That is 750 out of how many millions of you that aspire to play in the NHL? The odds are better that you will win the lottery.

Thats the bad news.

The good news is that there is a place for everyone within the game.

Major Junior has an education payment plan based upon how long you play in a league. So when you age out you have money set aside for future education. But dont forget to read the fine print. There are time limits and restrictions placed uon that money, when you can use it, and how soon you must use it, and if you sign a pro contract with certain value you loose that money.

Aging out of Major Junior will put you into college and graduating at 25 or 26 yrs of age. That is if you dont go on to play minor pro for a few years, and that could make you 28 by the time you graduate.

Aging out of the USHL or another USAH junior program and moving on to play NCAA hockey will have you finishing your education at 25 or 26 as well. Sometimes it can be a year or two earlier.

The ages and graduation times being very similiar, I am often asked, “whats the difference?”.

The differences are many.

Lets say you finish Major Junior, move on to minor pro, and after three or four years you realize you are not getting to the NHL. Your Major Junior education money will have been forfieted. The fine print requires that the player enroll full time in school within thirty six months of finishing his junior career, this because of school calendars is realy just a 30 month window in most cases. The other fine print says if you sign a pro contract for a certain dollar amount, that you give up that money.

So if your lucky enough to get an entry level deal, you will loose that school money even if you never collect NHL game checks. The problem with that is that your pro contract value is high enough to void the education money, but it wont be enough to pay for your education after a few years in the minors.

The USHL or NCAA route, allows you to already have your education when you finish playing. There is no penalty after this when you turn pro at any level.

Some people have mistakenly reported that if you go on to play one game of pro hockey after major junior that you loose your school money. That is completely untrue.

Some people have stated that your school money is determined by what round you are drafted in. That is also completely untrue. I have negotiated free agent contracts that allow for more benefits than some contracts I have done for top 10 Major Junior drafted players.

two_centsEveryone outside of the actual business side of hockey likes to chip in their two cents. Usually one cent is right and the other is a penny from a foreign country and cant be cashed. Do not believe what you read on message boards, or what is said by people who do not actually work within the game. Most of that information is either half right, or completely wrong. Either way, that information is likely to lead you down a path that does not work for you. I recently read a reporters opinion on major junior hockey, his description of contracts, how the league and team operate; and the information provided was not even close to being accurate.

So how do you make your choice? Major Junior or another route? What is right for you? The choice will not be an easy one for the high end players.

The key is to ask the right questions of your adviser. Have realistic expectations and have a realistic sense of where you actually fit in and your talent level.

Get an adviser that has no direct loyalty to any team or league. Formulate a plan that is right for you, your goals, and your talent level. Ask the right questions, get answers based on facts, not based on emotion or someones ability to gain stature or money from your decision. Get an adviser that will not allow other people to influence the accurate presentation of facts.

Some coaches, scouts and team personel will try to discourage you from getting an adviser. Why? Would they discourage you from having a guidance counselor in school? The most typical reason for this kind of discouragement is that these coaches or scouts do not want to have questions asked, or have people make educated decisions that could mean they do not get the player they want.

The difference in the choice you make could be one that changes your life forever. Making such a decision at a time when hockey should still be fun and not all life encompassing is not an easy thing to do. Without the right information, without the right guidance the chances are only 50/50 that you will make the right choice.

Does anyone ever remember the players who made the wrong career path choices? Sure. About as often as people remember who lost in the 2002 Stanley Cup final.


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