You probably have heard other players or families talk about them, but advisors are an area that have a bit of a mystery to them in the hockey community. Whether you believe they are worth the cost or they are useful or not isn't what is being discussed here. What is being discussed below is ways that you can attempt to be your own advisor and do part of the work that you would typically pay a few thousand dollars for.
1) Honest Self Assessment
The first thing you need to do is have a honest self assessment with yourself and with your family on what you want to get out of junior hockey. Do you plan on going to college? Do you have the grades or ACT/SAT scores to support your chances of getting into a college that you want to attend? Where are you as a hockey player? Are you playing in a rec league or are you AAA or in between? Are you willing to up heave your life, leave your friends and family behind and move to another state or country and live with another family while you go to school and play hockey? Do you have the funds to possibly pay for junior hockey? These are just sample questions you need to figure out before you go down the junior path.
2) Be prepared to do a lot of homework.
One of the main reasons people hire advisors is because they don't know anything about getting into junior hockey or about what is the right route for them. So to save themselves their time and try and get into the best situation possible, they higher someone who will save them that and do the homework for them (though it's already done as the advisors have the knowledge and network).
Essentially to do this on your own, this is going to be like going and asking the smartest kid in class to give you all the answers and write your essay for a fee, to actually opening your text book and taking notes and asking questions through the whole process and then write the essay on your own. Which one do you prefer all comes down to one option costs money and is easier, while the other involves more work and your time.
Start by researching the different leagues that are available to you. Figure out what the difference is between each and every one of them are. Find out what each Tier means, what the difference between a tender and contract is. What leagues are pay to play or cover your tuition?
Is it better to go to an open camp or a showcase?
Listen to The Junior Hockey Podcast or read one of our previous articles for information and ideas (I know cheap plug).
3) Get exposure
As I've said before, the more eyes you can play in front of at anyone time is the best place for you, especially when trying to get your name out there. Showcases typically have been the perfect place to play at to get that exposure as at the really good showcases, they have many junior programs in attendance (see my article on the CCM Showcase for example). So, you may have to spend a few hundred dollars to play 4-5 games during a showcase in order to get that exposure, but it opens yourself up to a vast network of Junior clubs and their hockey operations staff (which many advisors also already have). The other bonus of a showcase is it lets you see where you stand among the players who have the same goals as you do and are within the same age range. Maybe here you really decide "nope, I'm not talented enough for this and I'd rather go to the local college, party, play rat hockey and pick up girls". You could also realize "Hey, I can really hang with these guys and I'm actually doing really well, this is something I want to pursue".
From that exposure you will either get offers to come to a teams main camp, get drafted by a team, get an actual contract offer to be on the team, or get absolutely nothing besides a showcase jersey, a workout and the experience.
4) Weigh your options
At a certain point you will need to weigh your options. If you don't receive a contract or tender offer, then things will be more difficult for you. At that point you will need to start reaching out to other clubs or try an open camp/pre-draft camp. The thing is, unless you are a bender, nowadays there will be a team in Tier 3 that will most likely need bodies and take you on their roster (*cough* Evansville *cough*). But at that point, junior hockey really isn't for you and it's probably time for you to move on because there is nothing worse than playing on an awful Tier 3 team and getting nothing out of it.
If you do receive contract or tenders offers, you will need to continue to do your homework and figure out which program works the best for you and your self assessment from above, then also for you as a hockey player (will I be getting a lot of ice time, where does the coach see my role being, what type of amenities are offered by the club, how much am I on the ice, what is the advancement rate of the players from previous seasons, what is the coaches coaching style and is it going to work for me?)
Again these are answers you must figure out, typically with your parents help as their going to more than likely be footing the bill.
5) Be your own advocate
Let's say you sign with a team and in the middle of the season you've realized that either you aren't getting what you want as a player or you have issues with the coach/GM/teammates/etc. If you had an advisor, you would typically call them and have them do the dirty work for you and mediate the situation (please note that many coaches are not a fan of this and would rather work and discuss things 1 on 1 with you. Plus it will help you develop the skill of telling people what you want, develop confidence through experience, and conflict resolution techniques) and either get the situation figured out or even get a trade or released.
Without an advisor, you will need to do that on your own which as stated above, isn't a bad thing and gives you experience in certain areas. Your parents will probably want to get involved if you are asking for a trade (you'd want to run this by them first) but I know of plenty of players that just felt the team wasn't a fit for them and asked the GM/Coach for a trade and moved on. If they asked for their release they typically got it as well (I've never heard a story of a player not getting it, but I'm sure it's happened maybe a couple of the times, and then you just leave the team and review the contract and determine if their is any legal action). All of this is much easier at the tier 3 level, but none the less it's still something you can control if you know what you want and are willing to face the fear of confrontation and go in and talk about it.
At the end of the day, you can choose to get an advisor if you believe that they will help you further your playing career and get you into the best position possible. You may also feel like it's just not worth the money or you are able to do this on your own and you can forge the path for yourself. There have been thousands of players that have played juniors without an advisor and had successful careers and gone onto college and even lower levels of pro hockey (higher levels you'll need an agent for contract discussions, or at least a lawyer at minimum) as well as I'm sure thousands that have had an advisor and done the same exact thing. Each players situation is unique to them, so at the end of the day, do your homework and see what all your possible options are and which path is best for you.