College Hockey Experience takes players to another level
You’ve got questions? College coaches have answers.
The College Hockey Experience, a partnership between Smart Hockey and the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, was held at The Rinks-Anaheim Ice from May 19-22.
“It was a great, well-run camp with some of the top programs in the country represented,” said Jr. Ducks director of coaches Craig Johnson. “It was very informative for kids and their parents.”
The camp included Bantam Night, the three-day main camp and a goaltender camp. The Bantam and main camps included open question-and-answer sessions with the nine NCAA Division I college coaches in attendance.
“The best thing for families was the Q & A with the coaches about the process,” said Louis Pacella, a longtime California Tier I coach and the founder of Smart Hockey. “The Bantam kids and parents in particular brought a lot of great questions.”
Educating families about the college hockey experience is the event’s primary goal, and it’s enhanced by the presence of some of the nation’s top Division I programs. This year’s lineup included Arizona State, Colorado College, Dartmouth, Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan, St. Cloud State and Vermont.
The coaches also ran practices and scrimmages all four days.
“What I liked was the kids had the opportunity to practice; it wasn’t just come and have a coach behind the bench,” Johnson said. “This camp gives kids the opportunity to interact with coaches on the ice, see what drills they run in practice and get an idea of what to expect.”
Pacella added: “This level of involvement makes all the difference. The players clearly enjoyed that.”
While the camp can serve as a means to familiarize players and their families with specific schools, the coaches enjoyed the interactions just as much as the players.
“Louis does a fantastic job with this,” Arizona State assistant coach Alex Hicks said. “It gives Bantam- and Midget-aged players a good idea of how the college game works with the first-hand exposure.
“Every one of us likes the hands-on aspect of coaching kids on the ice and being able to talk to them on the bench during scrimmages. It’s a great camp.”
The camp’s popularity shouldn’t come as a surprise given how fertile colleges view the California recruiting ground.
“What we like about a lot of California players is you have to have passion to play there,” said St. Cloud State assistant coach Mike Gibbons. “The drives these kids make just to get to practice, you have to have passion to do that day after day. Once these players get to junior or college and have a chance to skate every day, they tend to shoot up and play even better.”
The Huskies currently have Californians Robby Jackson and Patrick Newell on their roster, and their all-time leading scorer, Ryan Lasch, is from Orange County.
“A hockey player like Lasch at St. Cloud is like the quarterback at USC or UCLA,” said Gibbons. “A great thing with college hockey is it is the biggest sport at a lot of mid-sized schools, and those schools can compete with, and often beat, the big schools.”
Hicks said the Golden State is a primary focus for the Sun Devils’ recruiting efforts.
“It’s so close, so easy for us to scout and watch these players multiple times,” he said. “In my personal opinion, having coached against kids from California for the past 10 years, they are as good as anywhere in the country.
“We have made that a priority for our program, and we’re going to continue to scout them heavily.”
The camp draws players from all over the Western United States and a handful from Canada, and Pacella has been pleased with the partnership with the Jr. Ducks.
“They have the right mindset,” said Pacella. “They want to promote kids to college.”
Lasch photo/SCSU Athletic Media Relations
– Chris Bayee