By Elizabeth Boger
Brad Berry knows the recruiting trail can be a grind. The second-year head coach of the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team recalled one harrowing adventure many years ago.
In the wee hours of the morning, Berry and then-fellow assistant Dave Hakstol were coming home from a scouting trip in Denver, Colorado. The roads were less than friendly.
“We hit some black ice and we went through the ditch,” Berry said. “We went through one side of the interstate and then through the other side. Then we went through a corn field and got back on the highway.”
They stopped at the nearest gas station and checked the tires and fuel levels – never mind the front corner panel that was no longer on the car. Then back on the road for the remaining 10 hours back home.
“We looked at each other and we said, ‘OK. Let’s keep going,’” Berry said.
You better believe that college coaches, who spend countless hours on the road and log thousands of miles, want to make these trips worth their while, and recruit not just the right players, but the right people.
Berry, who was an assistant coach for many years before taking over the Fighting Hawks program last year and eventually delivering an NCAA national championship in his first season as head coach, offered some advice for young players with college hockey hopes.
Be aware of body language
“Our culture is based on positivity, and playing with energy and having a team-first mentality,” Berry said. “Any time we see that body language, whether we go watch a team, or recruit, or have that kid in our program that has it, it’s immediately addressed.”
Coaches want to make sure incoming players will feel comfortable at their new home away from home. When talking to coaches, ask good questions about the program, players, philosophy, school and more.
Coaches also love players who ask questions about the game. It shows a desire to learn and improve and it shows you are not satisfied.
Be a team-first player
For many coaches, a powerful point shot or keen playmaking abilities mean very little if that player’s personality doesn’t live up to their skill level. It’s not just about what a recruit can take in, but what they can give as a person.
“Giving and care – those are two words we use a lot in our culture,” Berry said. “If you can give a lot, it’s going to come back to you. … I think there’s a deep belief or a deep care in our locker room that everyone has each other’s back and that we’re really team-first.”
Stay on top of your schoolwork
Be committed to your schoolwork and driven to excel in the classroom. Remember that only a very small percentage of players go on to play in the NHL. Getting a college degree will set you up for life after college – and life after hockey. But to get into college, you need to be eligible. And remember, the better your grades and test scores are in high school, the more recruiting opportunities can present themselves due to different academic standards at different schools.
How do you respond?
Coaches are very interested in how players respond to certain situations. Complaining to the officials, flailing your arms in the air after allowing a goal and over-the-top goal celebrations show that a player cannot keep their emotions in check during the game or through adversity.
You can still be an intense competitor with an even-keeled temperament. Look no further than former North Dakota standout and current Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise.
Coaches aren’t just excited to land good players. They look forward to mentoring them and continuing their development, on and off the ice.
“The biggest thing for me is having a role in shaping these kids’ lives to be a good person,” Berry said. “I love seeing our players go through our program and it’s a sad day when they leave our program.”
But if you’re not a coachable kid or responsive to criticism, recruiters can see that. There are a lot of really talented players out there, and for college coaches, a lot of the time their decision making comes down to character.