With the State Champions crowned and spring in the air, the CCM High Performance (“HP”) programs are heating up with tryouts taking place across the state of Minnesota.
Over 3,000 players participate in the CCM HP programs each year with the goal of testing and proving their skills against the top players in the state at their age group.
To share more about these programs and how they operate behind the scenes, we sat down with CCM High Performance Director Mike MacMillan who has been involved in the programs in various roles since 1995.
Minnesota Hockey: There has been a lot of growth in the HP programs (formerly the “Advanced Programs”) since you first got involved. What are some of the developments that you have been the proudest of?
Mike MacMillan: We’ve grown the opportunities for all Minnesota hockey players to be recognized and we’re giving opportunities to players who under the old system, 20+ years ago, just didn’t have them. We just didn’t include them. Now, we touch every corner of the state from 14 to 18, and that’s pretty special.
I think what we’re doing with the 18-year-olds that age out of 17s but are still playing high school is a special event. Many other parts of the country don’t even touch that group, but we do. The Great 8 and hosting the NIT tournament, those are things that really in our eyes get those players exposed, developed and seen through their path of development, which in our state runs through their senior year.
Just because you don’t make it at 14 or 15 doesn’t mean you’re not going to be seen moving forward. We try to tie a bow onto that for the athlete. We have tried to build it with the player in mind.
MH: One area that is new this year are some enhancements for goalie evaluations and development. Could you share what some of those changes will be?
MM: Yeah, at the 14-17 levels, we’re implementing an evaluation piece for our goaltenders that will progress into the overall evaluation.
We have always had staff that were specifically involved for the evaluation of our goalies. Now, what’s taking place is we have added more evaluators that will be looking at them in a separate tryout as part of the festival or pre-festival.
We’re going to bring the evaluation teams onto the ice and see goalies in different settings other than just a game. In some games during the festivals, kids don’t get very many shots so they may not be evaluated in a similar fashion in a game itself because of the number of shots they get. Now, they will get a different look in front of the evaluation team.
Rather than just a couple of people evaluating goalies, we will now get more information before they make that selection to move a player onto the next phase.
MH: What kind of a role does HP play in a player’s development pathway and does that role change at different ages?
MM: It does change. For the 14-year-olds, it’s a little bigger pool of athletes than the 15s. Those two groups are bigger pools of athletes than the 16’s and 17’s.
At the 14 and 15 level, we also build in a longer training phase, which includes 30+ athletes and then gets down to 20 athletes for the festival. It’s an opportunity to expose them to really good development in that period of time prior to them trying out at the 15-17 levels for national camps, when identification and exposure are emphasized a little more.
MH: You mentioned exposure and we know that’s an important part for players and parents. How does HP help them be seen by scouts and college coaches?
MM: The exposure piece from 15 and up is really important. All of our programs are highly scouted by every league in the country, by college hockey and by the NHL. In the spring of the year, our players know that’s an opportunity to be seen, and it’s an important piece.
It says we’re the place to be. We’re going to look out for our athletes. You don’t have go to all of these other things. You are going to be recognized, looked at and promoted, right here in the state of Minnesota, which from the beginning has been part of our philosophy.
Players are also exposed to our CCM Minnesota Hockey High Performance Tier I programs that operate in the fall. They have the opportunity to be seen and be looked at for those programs as well.
MH: One of the hot topics with this type of selection process is always who and who doesn’t advance to certain teams or phases. Could you share how the players are evaluated and who performs the evaluations?
MM: We have an evaluation coordinator and a program director that oversees each age level. Then, there is a team of 8-12 evaluators, depending on the program, that evaluates the athletes during the festivals. As an example, they watch the 15s during the play in games and during the spring festival. At the 16s and 17s, that evaluation is happening at the spring festival and Final 54. It’s the same team of evaluators at both of those events. The evaluation teams for the 15s carries on into the summer festival too.
In addition to that, there are evaluations that are taking place in the practices and during tryouts with their district or section teams. Those teams provide input on their players that go to the evaluation team that is watching at the festivals. The kids get a pretty good look by a lot of different people.
What we look for in evaluators is a cross-section of people with experience evaluating talent. It’s a mixed group. For example, we have scouts, people from the Elite League, high school coaches, coaches that have worked at national development camps, and staff from USA Hockey that come in. It’s a broad range of individuals that are involved in the process. We have key people in charge of each age division, and those age divisions have different evaluation teams than they would have had the year before so there’s a fresh look of eyes from 15s to 16s to 17s.
That’s a really important piece because kids change from year to year. It’s important that they get a different look.
MH: Occasionally, there are instances where kids don’t attend a phase (ex: tryouts) but still advance to the next phase of the program. Could you explain how that works and why it’s in place?
MM: A unique part of HP is that it’s part of the USA Hockey player development process. It’s not a standalone program. These kids are being exposed to a lot of different people, but at the USA Hockey level, they’re trying to get the best athletes possible on the World teams that go to the Five Nations and the Ivan Hlinka tournaments. We’re at the front end of that process.
We also don’t want kids excluded because their team is still playing. Their in-season team(s) are the most important part of the development process. We want to make sure we’re evaluating properly and not having them left out.
If they’ve been to a 15 or 16 national camp, those kids, if they play someplace else, we will look at them in consideration to be placed on a team for their section. If they’ve been on a USA team, meaning they’ve been on the U17 Five Nations, U18 team, those kids could be passed on all the way to the national camp. That is done by USA Hockey. We work with USA Hockey on those kids.
If there are kids at national tournaments, that process goes through me. I work with people that I trust who go out and watch the players and give feedback on if players should move forward. We base it on people that are part of our evaluation team or are experts in the evaluation of players so they get a fair look. We try to coordinate our dates so it isn’t a conflict, but sometimes, it is a conflict and we don’t want the player penalized for that.