This is one more article that talks about that ever-ending question…. and there really is no right or wrong answer, in my opinion. The answer truly lies within each player, through a self-evaluation, and realistic view of the position in which a player finds himself, from many different perspectives. What is important is that a player and his family must know the implications of the various decisions, and be willing to “live with such decisions”.. I have reprinted this article as a reminder of some of the things that need to be taken into consideration…. David
Major Juniors vs. College Hockey, what’s the better choice?
by Russ Bitel
A major topic these days both in the youth and professional hockey ranks is the argument of which is the better path to follow for a players hockey development and career advancement.
Should one choose the major junior level of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) or does one take the route of playing on campus at a US college or university in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association).
Historically, the major juniors of Canada were the primary and really only avenue for players to take their game to the NHL.
Although the game has been evolving now for many decades and not only are college programs popularity growing for players and NHL scouts, but also the European elite leagues are breeding the next NHL superstars too.
Major Junior Hockey
The CHL is made up of 3 leagues for players ranging from age 16-20, with most teams based out of Canada. A total of 60 teams over nine Canadian provinces and 5 American states.
Established in 1975, the CHL includes the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Western Hockey League (WHL), and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
Most hockey experts will make their statement that the major juniors is the best option for the best players. For one, the major juniors has produced the most players historically in the NHL and because the CHL is formulated closely to the National Hockey League. It purposely creates a schedule, travel, playoff series format, and top prospects game for draft eligible players in order to resemble the NHL. Not to mention the fact, the three league champions and a host team play for the holy grail of the major junior level, the Memorial Cup. It’s the Stanley Cup only on a lower level. Statistics dating back to the 2005-06 NHL season will show more than half the players developed in the CHL ranks. It is Tier 1 Junior A hockey and considered the world’s top professional development league.
The major junior schedule is much longer compared to the college game as games begin in September and regular season ends in March. If a team advances to the Memorial Cup, the season then extends to May.
NCAA hockey is comprised of 2 divisions, Division I and Division III from college and universities within the United States. The Division I level is a higher calibre of play and differs by also offering athletic scholarships.
The are 58 total D1 teams currently through 5 different leagues: Hockey East, ECAC, CCHA, WCHA, and Atlantic Hockey. One independent team in Alabama-Huntsville is currently without a league. Typically the college season begins later than the CHL as schools can not officially hit the ice until October 1st and unless in Frozen Four (April), teams season end in March. The average game schedule is about 35-45 games for the reason.
Hockey gurus, scouts, coaches, former players around North America will say the CHL game is more parallel to the NHL, thus the higher numbers in producing NHL products.
From the speed and style of play, to the length of schedule, or the playoff best-of-seven series format. The CHL is more like a pro atmosphere with the “in your face” attitude that many feel is best development road to the NHL. Players wear half-shields or visors, plus fighting is accepted. Just another aspect to the CHL that makes the major juniors quite attractive for a raising young star looking to someday get his payday in the NHL. Although, one draw back is the fact that a player is no longer eligible to play after the over-age or 20 years old. So if a player has not fully developed physically an NHL team will most likely pass him by and the ability to make it the big league is that much more challenging.
Secondly, if the name isn’t called at the podium in June at the NHL Entry Draft and the free agent market is tougher than expected, what does this 20 year old kid’s future now hold. Let’s face it folks, you don’t sign with the Windsor Spitfires to graduate valedictorian. Oh no, you’re trying to raise your game to the next level and sign a big million dollar contract and get paid to play a game you hopefully still love. Just read the education sections to the CHL’s web site, common on folks we’re in it to win it!
Now here comes the NCAA hockey with a burst of speed down the wing. Hockey East sets things up on the 5-on-3 power play, as the CCHA and WCHA form the top of the “umbrella” and ECAC and AH work hard down low for the screens.
And here’s the one-timer from the point…
The college game over the past decade is bringing more game. The statistics of players drafted and playing in the NHL is on the rise in recent years. They must had noticed something because the league commissioners created a new entity in 2009, College Hockey, Inc., headed by Paul Kelly, the former Executive Director of the NHLPA. This firm was created with the sole mission in mind to get the top North American and European players for that matter, to play college hockey, not major juniors. There are indeed many positive aspects to the campus life and that’s why players are taking a closer look now at the D1s. For starters, they can get a $100k plus education for simply playing hockey and staying academically eligible. Also, the colleges are getting smart by offering the highest quality training with the coaching, strong player development programs and facilities, and the student life environment. Like in all cases, if a player possess the necessary skills and mind, he will achieve the NHL status. Although, making it to the “show” is a difficult task.
Therefore, the college hockey game also gives another opportunity of earning a degree from many prestigious schools if the professional sports career does not materialize. It is estimated that 80% of NCAA hockey players earn a university degree with less than 20% of players out of the CHL achieving that same goal. Not to mention the fact that the college allows a player to develop both physically and mentally a bit later if needed. Players have that 4 years of eligibility and can still be 22, 23, or even 24 years old. Like the NHL too, the college game can have a wide range of age from a young 17 year old to the 24 year old. Right down the lines like that of the NHL rookie to the NHL veteran.
In the end, the player really needs to decide what he wants to do with his hockey career first. A player must truly know where he is in his hockey development, academic success, and personality. It seems if you’re a guaranteed early-mid rounder the CHL is a safe bet, as you have a higher percentage to be successful in the NHL. Although nothing in life is guaranteed, certainly not an NHL roster spot. Hey you never know when that knee might blow out…
On the other hand, you could keep playing the game you love in college, pick up an invaluable degree in the process, and set the table for more life options. Hhhmmm, which one should I choose…play for the NY Rangers at MSG or be a player’s agent with an office in lower Manhattan. Both sound like pretty good options. If you really play your cards right in college you can have both at some point in your life. A career in the NHL both as a player and agent. Who doesn’t like having their cake and eating it too!
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