It’s that time of year again. Travel team tryouts and the recruitment process in an area of the country that is saturated with a wealth of hockey options. I’d argue that no place has more opportunities to pursue as many different avenues of winter hockey than the state of Michigan, between Tier-II and Tier-III junior teams, AAA and AA programs and more than 130 high schools. In order to make the best decisions for you in your final years of youth hockey, it’s crucial to fully understand all of the avenues available to high school-aged kids.
I wanted to address some of the most common misconceptions we’ve all heard in the high school circles as coaches, players and parents, and hopefully shed some light on the truth about this route and how beneficial it has proven to be for many, many players from different walks of life.
My fear, however, is that the people who need to read this and stand to benefit most from this path are ones that won’t give it a second glance because of the many preconceived notions out there about the high school game. I’m certain at least one, if not all of these thoughts and opinions below have been shared by every young hockey player in the state, all I ask is for a chance to change your mind.
“I’m Too Good To Play High School”
I heard it from friends when I played, I heard it from prospective players when I coached, I hear it in rinks when I watch games. Everyone in Michigan high school hockey has heard the excuse from travel players who somehow feel they’re above this level of the game.
Now, if you can play in the USHL or NAHL at 16- and 17-years-old... Fine, you’re right. You are too good to be playing here and by all means, take your game to the next level! I would never suggest a kid capable of playing Tier-I junior hockey hold himself back so he can play for Chelsea High.
But you should know, that applies to literally 16 kids in the entire state. I’ll explain…
Of the 467 hockey players to compete in the USHL during the 2018-19 season, only 16 of them came from the eight Michigan-based U-16 AAA organizations. And of those 16, only 10 were born in the state of Michigan; so Little Caesars(4), Honeybaked(2), Fox Motors(2), Belle Tire(1) and Compuware(1) combined to produce 10 Tier-I junior players from last season to this season. Victory Honda and Meijer came up empty and the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies promoted three players to the USHL from Georgia, Pennsylvania and Russia.
So, you’re “too good” to play? Let’s think about that for a minute. First, that’s a very poisonous mindset to have, thinking anything is beneath you. It’s a microcosm… That mentality can be a slippery slope and seep into other aspects of hockey and life. Are you “too good” to work out? Is that homework assignment “beneath you”? Are you “Too qualified” for a job?
Second, if you’re “too good”... Come prove it. If you think you’d put up 100 points in a season, average a hat trick a game, go a month without giving up a goal? Good! Come do it! It works out REALLY well for the players that do. Ask 2017 Mr. Hockey recipient Jake Crespi how it worked out for him, going from the T1EHL to Brighton and dominating as a senior. You can find him in the WCHA next Fall at Michigan Tech.
If you’re that confident high school hockey is so bad and you’re so good, come prove it. Be a big fish in a little pond. Odds are, if you are that good, and you do put up those numbers, you’ll end up right where you want to be!
“There’s Not Enough Games”
You’re right. November through March, high school hockey can only offer a maximum of 31 games, assuming you make a run to the state final. But most all of the programs I’ve been around are still on the ice six days a week in-season. Plus, there are SO many opportunities available outside of the regular season, you can play as many games as you want. What’s enough? What would meet your “game quota” for a calendar year? Do you have a number in mind?
In 2017, I tracked the number of games Jake Beaune and Julian Decina played between January 1st and December 31st. Take a look...
18 regular-season and playoff games with Livonia Stevenson to finish junior year
6 games with Team Michigan’s Junior Team
20 games with Spring/Summer Teams
5 games with Team Metro at State Games of America
15 regular-season and playoff games in the MDHL Fall league
10 regular-season games in the Cranbrook Fall league
15 tournament/showcase games with MDHL
9 regular-season games with Livonia Stevenson to begin senior year
That’s 98 high-level-to-elite high school hockey games games in a 365-day span. Roughly one game every three days for an entire year. I’m not sure it’s healthy or logistically possible to play much more than that.
Beaune and Decina are just two examples from an uber-active Stevenson program, but with Spring and Fall options available to high school players around the state such as the MDHL, TPH, Elite Brigade and Copper Country, there’s plenty of programming for the hungriest of hockey players to get their fill.
“High School Doesn’t Provide Enough Exposure”
I don’t know how many times it needs to be said before a person finally believes it, but it is 100 percent true… IF YOU ARE THAT GOOD, THEY WILL FIND YOU!
Is it easier for a scout to find you if you’re competing at the top North American showcases? Yep. That’s why Team Michigan takes 40 of the best high school players in the state to the CCM NIT every April and why the MDHL and TPH send multiple teams to Blaine, Minnesota, for the NAPHL Showcase, among others. But make no mistake about it, if you display next-level potential, word will spread and evaluators will make a point to come see you, especially in high school hockey.
Regional scouts circle dates on their calendars every year for the MIHL Showcase and Public School Showcase in February and the KLAA/MIHL Showcase in December. Regular-season matchups between Top-10 teams draw plenty of attention from junior, NCAA and even NHL scouts — go ahead and laugh, I’m not kidding! I wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
“The Team At My High School Sucks”
Short Answer: Be the change. Build the foundation and win your school’s first conference championship or regional title and you’ll be immortalized forever in the halls of your high school.
Long Answer: If you’re on an island, high school coaches and the community want nothing more than to help you. I’m calling it a “Musketeer mentality” where it’s all for one and one for all.
I can’t speak from the AAA world, so I don’t know if an OJG coach would help a Fox Motors player get an NAHL tender or if a VH coach would utilize his contacts to get a Caesars kid on a Draft list. But I do know high school coaches with resources available to them will do anything they can to help a kid move on, regardless of school affiliation.
Quinn Preston (Trenton, 2015) was drafted by the NAHL’s Topeka Roadrunners after his senior year, thanks in part to coaches from a rival program that fought tooth-and-nail, lobbying for a junior team to take a chance on him. Fast forward four years later, and Preston is now a freshman for the Ohio State Buckeyes. How does his path change if opposing coaches aren’t in his corner? That’s the beauty of the high school space when it comes to player advancement because we all benefit from kids moving on.
Trenton is certainly not “an island” and has a long, long history of success and player advancement. The point is that no matter where you play, even if its a rival school, coaches with connections are willing to fight and work with you as a high school hockey player. I don’t know that to be true in the AAA world.
“I Wanna Play Juniors And Get To College”
That’s great! So did the 45 high school alumni that were on Division-I teams this season. And the 66 that played Division-III hockey. And 67 that played Tier-I, Tier-II and Junior-A hockey. That’s 178 former Michigan high school hockey players who were on NCAA and high-level junior rosters this year alone. Those are just the ones that I can confirm, are there others? More than likely.
From the Big Ten to Hockey East, USHL to AJHL, there isn’t a junior league or level of college hockey left untouched by Michigan high school alumni today.
“Only Kids From The Top Programs Ever Move On, I Can’t Get Noticed At A Small School”
So you don’t go to the CC’s or Orchard Lake’s or Cranbrook’s of the high school hockey world? So what? Of the 178 alumni I just mentioned, they’ve come from more than 40 different programs around the state. Yes, Catholic Central and Brother Rice along with other private schools and top programs like Brighton and Stevenson are at the top of that list. So are schools like Manistee, South Lyon Unified, Romeo, Pinckney, Big Rapids, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Rochester United, Forest Hills Central and Forest Hills Northern-Eastern, among many, many others.
Look, there are a ton of avenues out there for you as a player and every one of them have pros and cons. Frustration sets in as a coach when you see countless players not even consider the high school route because of misguided information.
Hockey is a lot about education and truly being informed of the options, possibilities, benefits and consequences of whichever route you choose to traverse. Hopefully, just a few of the examples I discussed have put some of those preconceived notions to bed. If you’re still not convince and you’ve got more time, I can share stories about Connor Smith (Pinckney, 2016) or Jordan Venegoni (Livonia Churchill, 2018) or Anthony Scarsella (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 2014) or Adam Pitters (Grosse Pointe South, 2017) or Tyler Irvine (Livonia Stevenson, 2014) or Nick Blankenburg and Logan Jenuwine (Romeo, 2016) or Marshall Bowery and Max Harper (Rochester United, 2015) or John Lethemon (Farmington, 2014) or….
Feel free to connect with me on Twitter and discuss 280 characters at a time!