Minnesota has been a hotbed for college hockey talent for decades. So when players get to the age of 14-15 and start playing in front of more and more scouts, some players and parents start to get worried when they don’t hear from college coaches. Are they not interested in me or my kid? For many top players, that isn’t the case at all.
The reality is many times a lack of communication by college coaches with the top 14-15 years olds has nothing to do with interest. They are simply following the NCAA’s recruiting rules, which don’t allow coaches to contact players until January 1st of their sophomore year in high school. Even then, coaches aren’t allowed to meet players in person until June 15th following their sophomore year.
How is it possible then for kids to verbally commit while they are still in eighth or ninth grade?
“At any time, any age and in any way, players can initiate contact with coaches,” said Mike Snee, Executive Director of College Hockey, Inc. “Coaches though cannot return a call or reply to an email until that January 1st date. So the player needs to be sure he gets the coach on the phone when he calls.”
“You see the trend in college with the kids getting younger and younger and younger,” said Jason Herter, Assistant Coach at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “That’s just everyone fighting for their piece of the pie among the top players.”
Over the past few years, one of the major drivers of the pursuit of younger players is the presence of major junior hockey (Canadian Hockey League or CHL). In Minnesota, players can be drafted into the CHL's Western Hockey League (WHL) at the age of 14, which puts college coaches in tough position.
“At 14-15, [when] they get drafted in the WHL, we’re not allowed to talk to them unless they initiate it,” said Herter. “A [WHL] scout, who is doing his job, can sit there and call this kid every day.”
Further complicating the situation, the NCAA classifies the WHL as a professional league so players don’t have the option of going from a major junior team to a college hockey program. Any player that participates in a single WHL game, even if it is an exhibition game, loses their amateur status.
“These kids end up having to decide, ‘Okay, do I want to play in the WHL,’” said Herter. “If they do, they are giving up their chance to play in the NCAA.”
In a state where players look forward to college hockey and fans take pride in the number of college players we produce (leading the nation in Division I Men’s and Women’s players), missing out on the chance to play in the NCAA to play handful of games in the WHL can be devastating.
The good news is there is no rush in making that decision. The quality of high school hockey in Minnesota, combined with the development and exposure opportunities provided through the Reebok High Performance programs and Elite League, gives players here a luxury that they don’t have in other areas: time.
Players can stay home and focus on family, friends, school and of course hockey without jeopardizing their opportunity to play in any league. Then, in the later years of high school, they have the chance to see all of their options and make a decision at that point.
“To us, it’s not about telling players or families what the best decision is for them,” said Snee. “We just want them to have all of the information so they can make an informed decision. Once they have the information, we are confident they will see the benefits of college hockey and how it provides an ideal environment to reach your full hockey potential as well as become prepared for success off of the ice too.”