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In the run of my day, I never know what my telephone discussions may entail.

Of late, I have had many discussions with people who have wanted to talk about various American U-18 programs, and the fact that many are now becoming overly elite, and have a majority of their players as billeted players (or plan to).

There has been a terrific shift in the hockey world, and I am afraid that it will set things back tremendously for many of our young male student-athletes.

Traditionally, once players get to be a certain age, to develop as top talent, some have played junior hockey, some have played U-18 hockey, and some have played prep school hockey.

My personal feelings are that each offers a terrific springboard…., each for its own reasons…., and each is ideal for a different type of player, also for different reasons.

My belief is that some players benefit from playing junior hockey, depending on the level of the league, and depending on the player’s likely role on the team (top 6 forward minutes vs. top 13 minutes, for example).

Over the years, many players have developed very nicely, by playing on their local U-18 team and competing at a high level.

I like it when players can play locally.

In my opinion, teenagers should be living at home with their families, and attending their local high school.

In the case of junior teams, it’s less than ideal for 16-17 year old kids to be hanging around with 20-21 year old teammates, simply because they are living away from home. You have heard my thoughts on this before, in relation to many teams.

I constantly hear from parents who want their sons to develop into the very best hockey players that they can, (and it often seems) regardless of whatever other sacrifices that it may invplve.

The way that hockey teams promote their programs, and attempt to establish a competitive advantage, is by promoting such things as i) a large number of games, and ii) a large number of practices.

To get the most amount of ice time, as is possible, and at the cheapest rate, teams often hold practices during the daytime, often during normal school hours. Players on these teams are often expected to take online courses, or schedule their classes around practices, often taking less classes.

Rather than recruiting local players, and improving the level of play through excellent coaching, many programs (these days) are attempting to improve their win-loss record through recruiting practices, and chasing players from one coast to the other, and even internationally.

In Canada, this sort of practice used to be rampant, but over the past decade+, players have had to play in their local geographical region until they turn 18 years of age, and (my belief) is that it forces teams to provide excellent coaching, if they wish to be contenders.

The real irony is that, most often, players are registering for these programs in the US, hoping to eventually play NCAA Division 1 college hockey.

Often times, these programs (and their expectations) are actually taking players further from their dreams of ever playing college hockey.

Among the many requirements to play NCAA Division 1 hockey, players must have certain high school credits. They must also have taken those credits during their “normal high school years”. Depending on their high school grades, and their SAT score, a player may be eligible to attend one college or many.

The higher the player’s GPA (and/or his SAT), the more options there are to play college hockey.

Within the past month, we have declined to work on behalf of a number of players because of the fact that those players will most likely never be able to achieve their dreams of playing NCAA college hockey, based solely on poor decisions that they had made which made it unlikely that they would ever play at that level.

These players are exceptional hockey players, and could have (likely) played college hockey, if not because of poor academic decision that they have made, making (what they believed) was a wise “athletic decision”.

I have never seen as many ineligible players, still chasing the dream, and not realizing that the dream was long over, as their folks continued to pour tens of thousands of dollars into their hockey careers, while ignoring the other important prerequisites.

Of late, I find (more and more) that prep schools are excellent choices for hockey players to ensure that they have a positive academic and athletic experience. Prep school programs (most often) wisely plan their hockey practices and games around the academic calendar (and not the other way around). They provide wonderful support for their athletes and a proper environment for complete success.

Of course, this is not true of all prep schools (or those that disguise themselves as such), nor is my criticism of many U-18 programs true of all programs. However, the trends are starting to become a larger concern of mine.

We are currently working with a player who would have qualified to play exactly for two Division 1 programs (academically) a year ago. After enrolling in a proper prep school, with excellent academic supports, which has realigned his priorities, it is anticipated that his academic improvements would now allow him to be considered by about 15 colleges. His odds of achieving his dreams have improved greatly.

At the same time, from a hockey perspective, his game has improved tremendously. The important junior decisions that he will make over the next few months will likely place him in line for a college commitment within the year.

We know the difference.

If you think we could help you make wise decisions, please send me a message, and we can discuss it.

Sincerely,

David MacDonald
Hockey Family Advisor