How hard is it to play college hockey?
Not any student-athlete can make a men’s college hockey roster. College coaches across all three NCAA division levels look to junior hockey players and international athletes first when building their list of prospective recruits. Tier 1 USHL players compete in the toughest junior hockey league and two percent of these athletes are scouted and signed to NHL programs. The other 98 percent of USHL athletes are recruited by NCAA Division 1 programs and are the first in line for athletic scholarships.
Tier 3 athletes make up the majority of NCAA Division 3 commitments and some Division 2 commitments. These athletes compete across four different leagues: EHL, USPHL Premiere, NA3HL and WSHL. Of these four leagues, the EHL produces the most Divisions 2 recruits.
Hockey athletes who are unable to play for a junior hockey league will have to work extra hard to prove to college coaches that they can be a difference maker. These athletes will need to evaluate their own athletic talent to determine what division level their talent is best suited. Club and high school hockey coaches are great resources to help college hockey recruits evaluate their skillset.
When does the recruiting process begin for college hockey? How does it work?
Division 1 college hockey coaches can begin contacting recruits after January 1 of the recruit’s sophomore year, while Division 2 coaches must wait until June 15 after the recruit’s sophomore year. Of course, there are steps in the hockey recruiting process that recruits should take before contact is permitted. Below is an outline of the college hockey recruiting process from early recruiting to national signing day.
- Early Recruiting: It’s common for college coaches to evaluate talent at tournaments, hockey recruiting camps and combines before they can begin contacting recruits. During these events, coaches will build a list of prospective recruits that they will reach out to once communication is permitted by the NCAA.
- Communication and Verbal Offers: Division 1 and 2 college coaches can begin contacting recruits after January 1 and June 15 of the athlete’s sophomore year, respectively. College coaches must wait until August 1 of the recruit’s junior year to make a verbal offer.
- Official and Unofficial Visits: Starting January 1 of their sophomore year, recruits can schedule unofficial visits. Starting August 1 of their junior year, recruits can schedule an official visit and talk to recruiting with college coaches on campus.
- Accepting Scholarships: 650 NCAA institutions use the National Letter of Intent (NLI), a binding agreement that recruits sign, along with an athletic aid agreement, to officially accept a scholarship offer with an NCAA sponsored sport. National Signing Day kicks off the signing process in November and runs through the beginning of August. Recruits can view all signing dates on the NLI website.
At what age do hockey players get scouted?
The hockey scouting process can begin as early as 8th grade, which is why the NCAA established new recruiting rules the prohibit Division 1 and 2 college coaches from contacting college hockey recruits until their sophomore year of high school.
In 2017, the NCAA surveyed 15,454 recruited Division 1 student-athletes to learn about their recruiting experience. The survey revealed that the later college coaches recruited athletes, the more positive of an experience the recruits had during the process. As a result of these findings, the NCAA changed the recruiting rules to prohibit communication between college coaches and student-athletes until after January 1 of the recruit’s sophomore year for Division 1 programs and June 15 of the recruit’s sophomore year for Division 2 programs.
Before communication between coaches and athletes begins, coaches attend athletic events to evaluate and build a list of prospective recruits, while student-athletes focus on researching hockey programs and marketing themselves with a recruiting profile and video.
Do you have to play junior hockey to play college hockey? What you should know about junior hockey:
Yes, if a student-athletes wants to best position themselves to be recruited by an NCAA hockey program, they need to compete on a junior hockey team. There are many benefits to competing for a junior hockey team:
- Exposure to college coaches: Junior hockey athletes can maximize their exposure to college coaches by creating an NCSA recruiting profile for coaches to review and compete in 40+ regular season games and three high-profile events that college coaches attend to recruit.
- Advancement within junior hockey: Lower tier athletes are called up to compete in stronger junior hockey leagues during the season.
- Competition experience: Competing on a junior hockey teams gives recruits valuable experience competing on some of the biggest hockey stages for athletes 16-20 years old against top talent.
- Recruiting education: The main goal of junior hockey is to set up student-athletes to be recruited by college hockey programs. This includes mandatory NCAA Compliance and Education seminars.
Understanding the junior hockey tier system
Tier 1 is made up of one junior hockey league, the United States Hockey League (USHL). This league is home to the best amateur hockey players in the US, ages 16-20. Tier 1 junior hockey offers free tuition, housing and travel. Training, coaching, equipment and other services are covered by the team and league. The free equipment is offered through a partnership and includes skates, sticks, protective equipment and training apparel.
There are two tier 2 leagues: The North American Hockey League (NAHL) and National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC). These leagues are known for the social maturity and skill development of student-athletes looking to play at the collegiate level or professional hockey. Tier 2 athletes enjoy free tuition, travel and equipment. All athletes are given sticks, pants, gloves, helmets, jerseys and socks. Each athlete is given a housing stipend. More than 200 tier 2 athletes make NCAA commitments per season.
Tier 3 junior hockey athletes are primarily recruited by Division 3 and ACHA hockey programs. This tier consists of eight leagues: NA3HL, NA3EHL, EHL, MJHL, NPHL, RMHL and the USPHL. Of these eight leagues, the NA3HL and NA3EHL are to top two programs for coaching, recruiting exposure and development opportunities. Both of these leagues draw recruiting attention from Division 3 and some lower-end Division 2 programs. The NA3HL and NA3EHL are managed by the NAHL, and these athletes enjoy the same benefits as tier 2 NAHL athletes. Athletes who compete in the other six tier 3 leagues do not have access to these same benefits, receive no funding and are generally recruited by ACHA programs.
How college hockey coaches recruit prospects
If you look into the stands at large hockey combines, showcases and tournaments, there are likely college coaches sitting in the crowd watching the talent on the ice. These events serve as one of the main recruiting opportunities that college coaches rely on to evaluate prospective athletes. Some of the most popular events include junior hockey combines, the CCM showcase and national festivals.
Hockey recruiting camps are another recruiting opportunity for college coaches where they have the chance to actually interact with recruits with hands-on instruction. We suggest exploring NCAA, global hockey and ACHA camps to maximize on exposure and access to college coaches during the recruiting process. Recruits can find hockey camps and tournaments near them.
Another tool that college coaches turn to in their recruiting efforts is highlight video. This is why it’s crucial for collegiate hockey hopefuls to create a strong highlight video with strong varsity game footage. Learn, in detail, how to create a quality highlight video.
How to get recruited by a D1 college for hockey
If a student-athlete wants to compete for a Division 1 men’s hockey program, their best shoot at a roster spot is competing on a junior hockey team. But it can’t just be any junior hockey team. Division 1 college coaches focus their recruiting efforts on two junior hockey leagues.
The first is the USHL, a tier 1 league that is home to the top men’s hockey talent in the US. These athletes are masters of the game with the drive, experience and technique needed to compete on the biggest stages in hockey. In 2018, the USHL had a record number of 45 players selected at the NHL Draft and more than 400 players commit to an NCAA Division 1 school.
The second league is the NAHL. This is the only tier 2 junior hockey league that acts as an alternative to the tier 1 USHL. These athletes compete at high-profile events like the NAHL Showcase, the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament and the NAHL Robertson Cup Championship. Six NAHL athletes were selected in the 2019 NHL Draft, while more than 230 athletes committed to an NCAA Division 1 program.
Outside of junior hockey leagues in the US, Division 1 college coaches focus their recruiting efforts on elite international athletes. In 2016, 21.6 percent of NCAA Division 1 men’s college hockey players were from outside the US, including Canada and Europe, where hockey is a popular sport.
In additional to competing for one of these two junior hockey leagues or an international team, student-athlete will need to have a strong academic record. The NCAA has established academic eligibility requirements that each athlete must meet to compete at a Division 1 school. Recruits should familiarize themselves with the recruiting guidelines.
When to contact college hockey coaches
- NCAA Division 1 college coaches can contact student athletes starting January 1 of the recruit’s sophomore year
- NCAA Division 2 college coaches can contact student athletes starting June 15 of the recruit’s sophomore year
Though, this shouldn’t discourage student-athletes from reaching out to coaches to market themselves and express interest in a program at any time. As soon as a student-athlete has a recruiting profile with updated stats and a recruiting video, they should reach out with an introductory email to college coaches at programs on their list of prospective schools. While recruits won’t hear back from these coaches until contact is permitted by the NCAA recruiting rules and calendar, coaches will take the time to evaluate the talent of those athletes who reach out and possibly add them to their list of prospective recruits.
Researching hockey schools
Finding the right hockey program for a recruit requires a great deal of research, so it can be hard to find the team between hockey practice, school and managing the overall recruiting process. To help ease the stress of the college search, NCSA has identified the top men’s hockey colleges across all three NCAA Divisions based on factors that we know are important to families, such as cost, location, size and academics. Using this list, follow the guidelines below to build a prospective list of colleges that meet your needs.
- Reach School (5-10 schools) – Everyone has at least one dream school that may be a bit out of reach because you aren’t athletically qualified, your grades might not meet the requirements or maybe tuition exceeds your budget. Don’t rule these schools out. Keep them on your list because you never know what opportunities might open up, but don’t only have dream schools on your list.
- Target School (10-20 schools) – These schools are right on target when it comes to your qualifications and expectations. But it’s important to remember that while these schools may be a perfect fit athletically or academically, there are other recruits interested in these programs and there are no guarantees that you will be offered a roster spot.
- Safety School (3-5 schools) – Every student-athlete should have a list of safety schools. These schools are ones that, even in the worst-case scenario, you are still likely to be accepted and offered a roster spot.
How do you get a hockey scholarship?
NCAA men’s hockey is an equivalency sport, which allows college coaches to divide up their budget amongst recruits and current roster players however they see fit. The good news is, fully funded hockey programs have a decent amount of scholarship money, which makes it more feasible for college coaches to offer full-ride scholarships. The caveat to this is that Division 1 college coaches tend to reserve full rides for top tier talent from junior hockey’s USHL and international recruits. For recruits who do not compete in the USHL or those aiming for a roster spot on a Division 2 team, there is still the opportunity for a partial athletic scholarship.
Recruits who select an NCAA Division 3 program will not be eligible for an athletic scholarship but can still aim for funding through merit-based aid. These recruits must meet the school’s academic standards, which include GPA and ACT/SAT test score requirements.
College hockey national signing day
More than 650 four-year institutions use the Collegiate Commissioners Association’s National Letter of Intent (NLI). Student-athletes who have been offered an athletic scholarship from one of these institutions will be asked to sign an NLI and an athletic aid agreement to accept their offer. For Division 1 men’s hockey, the signing period starts November 13, 2019 and ends August 1, 2020.