This is always the most amazing time of the year to me.

By “amazing”, I mean “crazy”.

I refer to the insane amount of money that is being transferred at this time of year from hockey families (who likely cannot afford to participate in all they do) to various hockey programs and individuals throughout North America.

As I indicated a few articles ago, there was a time when, if a player indicated that he had been to a USHL tryout that it would cause one to take notice.

You could presume that the player had been identified by a scout as a potential player in that league, and that he had been followed for a period of time, before being invited to a Fall Camp for a real tryout.

These days, players get invited to a camp because their email address is included on a list.

Usually, on a list, that they have paid to be on.

Years ago, the identification of players was done the old fashioned way…. old guys hanging around cold rinks….

Junior teams used to expend a fair amount of money to bring in 40 top players who were all contenders for their roster spots. The team would pay for the ice time, which in today’s dollars would amount to a couple of thousand dollars for 3-4 ice times, as they held their camp.

Of late, teams have come to the realization that they can turn (what had been) an expenditure into a “cash cow” by charging players to attend an “identification camp”.

Starting about six or seven years ago, this annual expenditure for most teams became a bit of a “money-maker”, by bringing in (the same) 40 players and charging about $100. The team would bring in a surplus of a couple of thousand dollars.

This has now gone from about 40 players per team to a couple of hundred players, and from a hundred bucks to several hundred dollars.

These camps are no longer primarily about searching for talent.

Camps are now driven as an economic engine.

What used to be a couple thousand dollar expenditure (over a weekend for a team), is now a line item on the revenue side of the income statement of over over $50,000.

For most teams, they now bring in more money running an ID Camp, than they do, for whole season, at the gate.

We are familiar with some teams which offer several identification camps in multiple locations and the revenues generated exceeds six figures.

In fact, there are some teams, which offer camps, where participants are not even eligible to play in the league, but yet these teams will still take the participant’s money.

It is the almighty dollar that drives the hockey marketplace today.

It does with most things.

Hockey Camp expenditures for families are excessive, and organizers are masters at getting people to part with their money by stroking egos.

Last week, I was talking to the head coach of a Tier II junior team, and he said “I have to be at (a certain location) for a fundraising camp”.

Not once, did he describe it as a tryout, although that is how it is described on their website.

He knew that his team would raise almost $60,000 over three days, and he told me that he did not expect a single player on the ice to have a chance to crack his lineup.

The twenty players who had been identified as likely going to be on his team would not even be on the ice, as they were home resting after a busy season.

The original purpose of our conversation was to ask me to clarify a certain NCAA rule, and to ask if I had any clients who I thought would like to attend his camp (and sweeten his pocketbook).

I told him “no”, although I will have three player clients attend his Final Camp, later in the summer.

During the conversation, this Tier II head coach told me that part of his annual compensation was based on a percentage of revenue, produced from the players who attend the event, and the kickbacks from local hotels and eateries.

During the discussion, he used the phase “Quantity, not Quality”.

With most Junior Tier I and Tier II team tryouts, there are now at least 50 players who have absolutely no business being on the ice for the identification camp, as they will never have a chance to make that team (ever). They are simply on the ice because of they are willing to spend the money.

There are the players, and there are the payers”.

There are roughly 300 junior teams in North America, who are absorbing approximately $4.8 million from the economy, that they really do not deserve from Camps this Spring.

The receipt of those monies from those families, will not make those teams any stronger, or identify players who may otherwise slip through the cracks (as a whole).

They are revenue generators.

This is in addition to the multiple private showcase events that are set up to simply remove money from people’s pockets….., although in most cases, I prefer these events for exposure purposes.

We know of some junior team coaches who do not go to their own team’s identification camps, recognizing that they are just for fundraising purposes.

We know of some camps that are set up by professional event organizers, using the name of teams and leagues, and no one from the actual teams will actually be in attendance. Teams get a percentage of the revenues generated by organizations that run these events, using the name of those hockey clubs.

Players will pay silly dollars to have their picture taken with an USHL NAHL, CJHL, or CHL logo on their jersey to display on Elite Prospects or NCSA or another similar website.

For some reason, players and parents love to brag about the camps that they have been invited to.

There are some websites that we can go to, and many of the players have listed the various camps that they have attended (and presumably not made the team)…., and they will have their photo wearing a USHL or NAHL jersey.

The first thing that goes through my head, if I am asked if I think that the player could play at that level, is “obviously not”. Otherwise, he would be….

I know of many GMs who weed prospective players out, based solely on the events that they have attended (and teams they have not made).

As a player approaches Junior hockey age (but it also happens at midget and bantam hockey today), players begin competing with others from all over North America (and possibly Europe and Russia and China, etc.). Competition will start to include players from within a five-year age range.

Players, and families, will truly not realize what they will be up against, until they land at one of these events. Unfortunately, they usually land where they will not show well, and they often get earmarked for the remainder of their hockey careers as that type of player.

An important part of what we do for our clients, is to save a lot of heartache, and identify the right spot for a player to tryout, based on a number of of criteria.

We strategically help them make important decisions to “climb the ladder”, and not “get thrown from it”.

We promise our clients that we will save them thousands of dollars every year by sparing them from unnecessary camps (and hotel and travel costs associated with these camps).

Monies should be better spent on things that will truly make a difference, such as development, which would move them closer to their actual athletic dreams, rather than (a total of less than an hour playing time) for a weekend camp, costing lots of dollars….. for a team that they will never make.

We know the various hockey organizations and we know the quality of the play.

We are familiar with the other players who will be competing for a limited number of spots. We know the coaches, and in many cases, they trust us to recommend players for their final camps.

We are often asked (by coaches) to make recommendations for final camps, which allow families to skip the expense of a Spring Camps (not to mention the time away from school, and spring chores, etc…).

In my opinion, players should be taking time away from the ice to heal injuries (that they often don’t even realize they have) , etc., which is sometimes difficult to do while training for, and attending, Spring Camps.

Based on the trust that has been built up over the past 16 years of operating our business, many coaches will trust our recommendations, and rarely will our clients attend these spring fundraisers.

A big part of what we do, to help our clients, is to identify the right spot for their long-term development and exposure, so that they have a positive experience that will gradually help them maximize their skills, and leverage their hockey experiences for future benefit.

Unfortunately too many players do not understand Junior hockey, and the many rules, and what is really happening when they are told certain things, and where their vulnerabilities lie.

Junior Hockey is UGLY, and unlike anything that a player, or family, will have ever experienced.

From September to January, of ever year, the first five words from 50% of all enquires from midget and junior players, that we receive, are “My coach lied to me”.

It is not that the coach has lied, but that the player did not realize the vulnerability that he was being exposed to.

He did not understand the business side of the game of hockey.

Unfortunately, in many cases these players are stuck with two choices, which are the move to a less than desirable situation (than he could have been involved with an earlier proper decision), or quit the game of hockey.

Too many incredible players end up quitting, who (if they had made a better team choice to concentrate on) could have gone on and achieved their academic and athletic dreams.

If you would like to discuss how we can help, please drop us a line.



David MacDonald