College Hockey, Inc. returns to Southern California
With the abundance of emerging hockey talent coming out of the West Coast these days, players and their families are forced to make some tough decisions relating to their futures at a young age.
Advocates of the college hockey experience – namely College Hockey Inc., an organization designed to ensure those players and their families are in-tune with the NCAA route and all it has to offer, on the ice, academically and socially – converged on Southern California last month to make their case.
This year’s College Hockey Showcase, which was held at The Rinks-Anaheim Ice and run in cooperation with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks and Los Angeles Jr. Kings, was tailored for the region’s top 2000-, 2001- and 2002-born male players and their families and featured a series of on-ice sessions and educational seminars.
Players from six programs were represented at the event: the Jr. Ducks, California Titans, Jr. Kings, Phoenix Jr. Coyotes, San Diego Jr. Gulls and Wildcats Hockey Club.
“California is a crucial area for us,” said College Hockey, Inc. executive director Mike Snee, who was in attendance along with deputy executive director Nate Ewell and director of education Brent Darnell. “The overall growth of hockey across the state is tremendous, and it’s not surprising that some of the players are turning out to be very skilled.”
The evening included Q-and-As with three former NCAA players: Craig Johnson, the Jr. Ducks’ director of coaches who played at the University of Minnesota; Alex Kim, the Jr. Ducks’ director of player personnel and co-head coach of Anaheim’s 16U AAA team (with Johnson) who skated at the University of Miami-Ohio and Colorado College; and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Greg Pateryn, who played at the University of Michigan (Pateryn is a Michigan native who trains in Southern California during the offseason).
Two NCAA Division I coaches – Arizona State University head coach Greg Powers and Bowling Green State University assistant Ty Eigner – also addressed the players and their families, and Darnell delivered an detailed educational presentation.
“Our message to the players and parents is, first, learn all that you can about college hockey,” said Snee. “From how good it is on the ice to the educational and social aspects of it; it’ll play a vital role in allowing an aspiring player to reach his full potential, both as a player and a person.
“But we recognize that many players and their parents feel certain pressures at very young ages and can be tempted to artificially attempt to speed up the process, so in addition to gathering information, we stress the importance of understanding what’s normal for a hockey player’s development and that patience is vital.”
Powers and Eigner were also on hand to watch the on-ice scrimmages, which were broadcast live via the Internet for other NCAA coaches to survey.
“Events like this bring college programs to the players and parents,” said Eigner, whose Falcons have two California natives on their roster. “Because of the location, it’s difficult for California players to attend college campuses and games, so at these seminars players and their parents can at least begin to get a feel for what certain schools are about.
“We’ve had a California player on our team at Bowling Green for the past six years, and I really hope that continues. The skill level of players in California is very evident, and hopefully we’re able to recruit some of the high-end talent I’ve seen over the past couple of years.”
Powers, whose Sun Devils will enter their first season as a full-fledged Division I program this year (it played a hybrid NCAA-American Collegiate Hockey Association schedule in 2015-16), believes College Hockey, Inc.’s presence in the region is vital.
“They do an incredible job educating prospective players on the value and benefits of pursuing college hockey, and (the Anaheim seminar) was a tremendous experience to be a part of,” said Powers, who boasts three Southern California recruits in goaltender David Jacobson (Calabasas) and forwards Rory Herrman (Poway) and Jakob Romo (Fullerton). “As a program located out west, we’re obviously excited to push the NCAA message to California players.”
Scott Eckstein, the father of Max Eckstein – a 2001 birth year playing in the Los Angeles Jr. Kings organization – was impressed with the wealth of information delivered by all the presenters.
“They did an outstanding job,” he said. “The presentations clarified a number of questions I had relating to my son’s goal playing Division I hockey, and the questions asked put straight some misnomers regarding what coaches are looking for and how the process really works.
“The skate the boys had in front of college coaches was very good, too. All in all, it was a very worthwhile evening.”
From a player perspective, the event offered plenty more motivation for Max – already a college hopeful.
“It was great to be able to hear from college coaches and former players about what it’s really like to play at the NCAA level and what’s needed to succeed,” he said. “It was also really cool to be able to ask them questions and then play in front of them. It made it all real and makes me want to work even harder to get there.”
Last year, 57 student-athletes from California played NCAA Division I men’s hockey – more than any other state outside of the more traditional hockey hotbeds of Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota.
“It wasn’t long ago that you could count that number on one hand,” Snee said of California’s presence in the NCAA. “And based on the caliber of players we saw this year in Anaheim, the numbers are only going to grow. The NHL’s success throughout the state, coupled with USA Hockey’s vision of growth in places like California, is sure paying off.”
Approximately 30 percent of NHL players in 2015-16 toiled in the NCAA ranks and, this past offseason, a record 66 NCAA players signed NHL contracts – soundly surpassing last summer’s 55 who inked NHL deals. That and the graduation rate of NCAA hockey players is 90 percent, which ranks near the top of all NCAA Division I men’s sports.
From a local perspective, forward Beau Bennett, a former Jr. King from Gardena who played his college hockey at the University of Denver, became the first-ever California born-and-trained player to hoist the Stanley Cup when the Pittsburgh Penguins staked claim to the coveted trophy over the summer.
“College hockey has never been in such a good spot,” said Snee.
And with all the burgeoning talent coming out of the region, College Hockey Inc., which presents in person to players and families across the U.S. and Canada about 50 times a year, absolutely plans to return to California for a fourth visit in 2017 – most likely at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, says Snee.
“They just get better every year,” said Snee, who also noted that College Hockey Inc. hopes to add an event in Northern California in the near future.
Powers wouldn’t be surprised if College Hockey Inc.’s presence out west helps ignite more NCAA Division I programs to form in the region in the not-too-distant future.
“As hockey grows out west, it’s our hope ASU will be the first of many dominoes in the area to go Division I, and getting the very-talented state of California more educated on college hockey through any means necessary is a huge priority.”
“It’d be exciting to see a few schools in California offer NCAA Division I hockey,” Snee added. “With so many good players in the state, the school could literally win a national championship with a roster made up entirely of California players.”
– Brian McDonough
Photo: From left, the Montreal Canadiens’ Greg Pateryn (University of Michigan), Anaheim Jr. Ducks’ director of player personnel Alex Kim (University of Miami-Ohio/Colorado College) and Jr. Ducks’ director of coaches Craig Johnson (University of Minnesota) addressed a group of talented 2000-, 2001- and 2002-born players and their families about their college hockey experience during last month’s College Hockey Showcase, which was held at The Rinks-Anaheim Ice. Photo/Scott Eckstein