Updated: Mar 30
Last week I wrote about how the best time to get exposure towards Junior hockey clubs is now, but you should first decide if Junior hockey is something for you and if you know what you are getting yourself into.
Let me be completely upfront before you read this article: I never played Junior hockey after high school as it wasn’t in the cards for me. I went directly to play for the local ACHA hockey club and attended college there. That said, I know or have played with, numerous players who took the Junior hockey route and I have watched or coached players who have gone that route as well. I’ve also scouted and recruited players who have gone both routes.
In my opinion, after seeing how their careers ended or hearing the stories about what happened, I personally don’t believe Junior hockey is right for everyone. I’ve had numerous players tell me they want to play Junior hockey and make a certain club, but they don’t know what the entire lifestyle entails.
They don’t realize that at the Tier III level it might mean mom and dad are spending money (easily $5,000 or more and that's being very conservative, with numerous organizations in the area of $10,000) that could be going towards their potential college education. I know of one player whose parents took out a second mortgage so they could play in a now-defunct Tier III league.
Players don’t realize that most programs -- the “quality” and “in it for the right reason” ones -- are still going to require them to take some college courses or get a part-time job during their free time away from the rink. It’s not all just hanging with the boys playing ‘chel.
For most, they have to uproot their lives and go live with a family that is completely unknown to them with a new set of lifestyle rules determined by the team and billet family with whom they end up living. This experience is different than what their college-bound friends will have, which involves more freedom and little oversight.
I think it is important for players and their families to look at what they hope to get out of Junior hockey. If you are looking to play at as high of a level as possible, whether that is NCAA or high-level ACHA, then Junior hockey is a great vehicle. It’s practically the only vehicle.
The kids that think two-plus years of goofing around, paying to play hockey while trying to wheel some girls is going to lead to some type of scholarship without are the ones who need to sit down and think if it’s truly worth it, or if just shooting for their potential college team is more worth it.
This planning and examination of goals can be a double-edged sword. TJHP founder, Josh Gresko mentioned on a podcast once that playing Junior hockey helped him for his next step in life. It provided him with structure, taught him time management skills, as well as discipline, and helped him mature so he was ready to become a committed freshman at 20 years old, instead of fresh out of high school.
Again, this is something players and their families need to reflect on and see if it’s truly worth it for themselves before they start investing the time and energy it takes to get involved in Junior hockey. There is no blanket right answer, rather each player is different and has to apply his decision to his plan for the future.