Chalk Talk: To play junior hockey, ask questions, make smart choices
During the past two months, I have traveled across the U.S. scouting for junior teams and during that time, I have watched over 500 players (1996-2001 birth years), two USHL combines, three NAHL combines, two top prospect tournaments and numerous Junior A and AAA hockey games.
The states and the players change, but the thing that doesn’t change is the question I’m asked most by parent and players alike – “What are you looking for in a hockey player?”
My general reply is, “What are looking for as parent or player?” With that in mind, here are some tips to help you in making the best decision on how to achieve your final goal in hockey.
Dream big, but also choose a realistic path. Everyone’s dream is to put on that NHL sweater, but unfortunately, not everyone is Sid the Kid. Some players are Major Junior and USHL ready at 16, but most aren’t. Remember, the players in juniors are independent and mature. Mom and dad aren’t there to do laundry, cook meals, enforce rules or tuck you into bed.
Make sure your life away from hockey is straight. Your off-ice behavior is just as important as your play – this is where most players make mistakes.
Just because you are drafted or tendered, that doesn’t mean you will stick on a final roster. Many head coaches do not even see players until camp; they rely heavily on the scouts. If you don’t show up ready for camp, be prepared to go home. Coaches expect more from draft picks and tenders and camp is your place to show them what you’re made of.
Junior hockey is a grind. Once you make it, it doesn’t get any easier. Consistency is huge in junior hockey. I have often heard one of my favorite hockey coaches ask his players, “What have you done for me lately?”
Talk to the coaches of the teams you are trying out for. If you haven’t been contacted by a team you want to play for, reach out to a coach via email or phone. Juniors is a numbers game, so if a team is returning all of its roster, try and find a team that has openings at your position. It’s important to find out which players are moving on from the team. Don’t show up thinking that just because you got an email that you are on the team. Ask the coach where you fit in on the team and how many spots are open.
Pick the right coaches in youth hockey. Pick a coach that is teaching the game of hockey the right way. Bad habits are learned in youth hockey and those habits are hard to break. Look closely at which coaches are moving kids to the next level, who they are moving along and where they move them. Think twice about coaches who say, “Stay with me Mites to Midgets and I will get you to the NHL.” A coach who truly has your best interest at heart will always assist in moving you to a better situation. Remember, it doesn’t matter where a coach played. If he/she can teach the game of hockey the right way, teaches the skills of hockey, and has the best interest of the players at heart, then that could be the right coach for you.
If you don’t make a Tier I or Tier II junior team, your career is not over – and there is nothing wrong with Tier III. Once again, it all comes down to the coach and program you play for. Pay attention to the teams that are moving players up during the season and which are moving players at the end of the season.
There are different routes for every player, but do your homework, ask questions and choose wisely. Good luck and keep wheelin!’
Jeremy Daughaday coaches with the Los Angeles Jr. Kings organization and is a Western Region scout for the NAHL.
Interested in being a Chalk Talk columnist? E-mail Matt Mackinder at firstname.lastname@example.org.