The boys’ high school hockey season kicks off this week, and that means Junior Gold hockey is just around the corner.
For many players and families, Junior Gold can be a bit of a mystery. The focus of most players is making their local high school team, and if that doesn’t happen, there’s often a time of disappointment and uncertainty.
The good news is Junior Gold ensures hockey doesn’t have to end in that moment. There are now three levels of Junior Gold, a growing number of teams in greater Minnesota and a Minnesota Hockey State Tournament with an incredible atmosphere.
Simply put, Junior Gold provides a fantastic hockey experience for high school age players and is an age group many coaches, administrators and players are proud to be a part of. Here are some of the fundamental features of Junior Gold hockey from people who are actively involved with the age group.
Why should players join Junior Gold hockey?
“Really, the focus is that hockey is part of the fabric of our culture, and we don’t want to let kids go. Our expectation is that these young men will be entrenched in hockey so that they carry on this sport into adulthood.” - Tom Slaird, former MHL Chairman who has been involved with Junior Gold for over 25 years
“Early on, most players are involved with hockey because they enjoy the game and have fun playing. Junior Gold Hockey is more of the same. The chance to play with your friends, buddies and many times schoolmates can be very rewarding. The rewards can be life changing.” – Bill McCarthy, Junior Gold 16 coach for St. Thomas Academy
“Generally, I just let them know there’s a place for them if they want it. I remind them know how much fun the game is, and that they’re too young to stop playing competitive hockey.” – Ryan Anderson, Junior Gold A coach for St. Louis Park
“People don’t always realize this, but Junior Gold is a wonderful place for a 10th or 11th grader to be on Friday night compared to some of the other choices that we have in all of our communities. People can make bad choices, and this is a great place to be with great people.” – Greg Gibson, long time Wayzata Jr. Gold A team manager and former WYHA president
What is a common misperception you hear about Junior Gold? Why is it inaccurate?
“The biggest misperception I hear is that the hockey isn’t that good or that it’s no better than a Rec League. I would never compare Jr. Gold to other high school levels, but our A league has many players with Varsity/JV experience, and it is very good hockey.” – Anderson
“Junior Gold hockey is not as good as high school or other hockey options. Having spent some time in “both lanes,” both as a Minnesota High School Hockey coach as well in the JG coaching ranks, Junior Gold Hockey is competitive, character developing and very rewarding for the players and their families. The chance to continue playing the game you love is tremendous.” – McCarthy
“Hockey goes on past Bantams. It doesn’t end. It’s all about playing with your friends, having an option and having a great time. It’s about staying in the game.” - Slaird
What do you hear from former players are their favorite parts or highlights of playing junior gold?
“Most times players’ stories revolve around the experiences that surround the actual games. The players talk about playing in a tournament and the billiard tournament between games, the Saturday morning breakfasts and the characters on their team. As a post season-exercise last year, we had the players answer a questionnaire. One question asked, “what was your favorite memory from this past season?” On a team that went to the State Championship, had two successful tournaments, winning one, overwhelmingly, the answer that was most often given focused on two of their teammates scoring their only goal of the season. A testament to the team experience.” –McCarthy
“Playing with their friends in a very competitive league without the pressure to win at all costs. Playing to have fun, like when they were younger.” – Anderson
“It’s the largest attended hockey event at Plymouth Ice Center all year. The crowds rival the Edina-Wayzata high school games that are played there. And they’re not just parents or family members in the stands. You get the fellow students coming out, and the games are very well attended with lots of energy. Some teams have brought pep bands and cheering sections and things like that over the years. It isn’t just a quiet event where mom and dad and grandpa and grandma are there. It’s exciting and has become a true event.” – Gibson, regarding the Minnesota Hockey Jr. Gold State Tournament
Why are you passionate about being involved with Junior Gold hockey?
“I coach Junior Gold for kids who want to keep playing, to stay in the game and stay with their friends in something that they have been a part of for most of their childhood. It’s more about life lessons and raising them as kids in their high school years, often at an age when they communicate less with their parents. It’s about giving back to hockey as a non-parent coach to thank all the non-parent coaches I had throughout my playing years, and I have been lucky enough to have had many of my former players come back to be assistants with me over the years." – Jason Barry, Junior Gold B coach for Minnetonka
“Opportunity, reward and outcome. Providing opportunity to kids who may not have an outlet for their hockey passion. The rewards of playing a team sport with a common focus and desired outcome. Watching kids get a little better each time they are at the rink or with their teammates and continue to learn how to balance sports and the rest of their busy lives. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to be along for the ride and see great kids playing a great game with support from parents, schools, coaches and volunteers who care about kids.” – McCarthy