Tryouts for two of high school hockey’s premier fall programs took place this month, with Michigan Hockey Advancement’s (MHA) Top 80 and the Michigan Developmental Hockey League (MDHL). I was fortunate enough to sit in on portions of both evaluation processes, thanks to Rick Gadwa with TPH and Bill Burns of the MDHL, and was blown away by the growth that high school hockey collectively continues to show year in and year out.
With just a 25-game regular season and strict limitations on player-coach contact under MHSAA rules, it is important for high school hockey to thoroughly explore, promote and encourage participation from all players at events like these. From the MDHL and MHA, to Copper Country and Elite Brigade, these entities continue to reach as many schools and players from across the state as possible. These “out-of-season” offerings are huge opportunities for growth and exposure that will help better the game and improve the overall product November through March.
Whatever your reason was [for trying out], remember it. Getting cut doesn’t mean you were wrong but how you respond to it could be.
Nearly 200 players from 48 different schools lobbied for spots in the hotly contested Top 80 Showcase coming up on August 23rd and more than 300 players representing 81 schools across the state looked to earn a place in the MDHL regular season, that kicked off this past weekend. There’s some crossover of players trying out for both outlets, but coupling those numbers with the ones that Elite Brigade and Copper Country will draw as well, I think it’s safe to assume in excess of 500 Michigan High School Hockey players are looking to further their skills and take their game to the next level outside of the regular season.
That is awesome.
It should be considered a tremendous accomplishment and huge opportunity to develop for the 80 players selected to be in MHA’s Showcase and programming as well as the 130ish players chosen to compete in an über-competitive MDHL.
But I’ve got an important message for the players that don’t make it and the coaches whose kids don’t make the cut… Remember why you tried out in the first place.
Did you think you were one of the best players in the state? Did you wanna see how you stacked up against top talent? Do you want to get noticed by scouts or think these programs will help promote you to college hockey and beyond? Did you want your players to experience high-level hockey and get them out of their comfort zones? Did you think you’ve got a lot of talent and ‘this is the year’ your team makes a run?
Whatever your reason was, remember it. Getting cut doesn’t mean you were wrong but how you respond to it could be.
After being cut from a team, the easy response is to play the politics card and say things like, “they only take kids from certain areas of the state” or getting caught up in the comparison game with “they took that kid over me?”
The truth is, a lot of good can actually come from getting cut.
*GASP* “But this was my only chance and I’m gonna miss out on X, Y, Z, and I play for a small school and I’ll never get exposure now, I’m never wasting my time and money to come to this tryout ever again!”
Look, getting cut from anything is a tough pill to swallow but playing the blame game, making excuses and getting bitter about the process doesn’t do anyone any good. If you’re a player who wants to compete at a higher level like junior, you’re gonna have to endure A LOT more evaluations than this one. If you’re a coach trying to build a program and develop young players, you could have a dozen kids get cut before one finally cracks through.
No singular tryout defines you as a player. If you’re serious about climbing the hockey ladder and playing junior/college or a school in general looking to grow and move up the ranks, it’s all about building your hockey resume. Yes, a good regular season is important but being in the mix at major events like Team Michigan tryouts and fall programming like these past weeks, it all goes towards your resume.
You might’ve gotten cut from Team Michigan in March. You might’ve gotten cut again from the Top 80 last week. You might even get cut again before you graduate high school. But the little things will start to add up. First, you’ll get more comfortable with being evaluated, playing in a fast-paced environment with unfamiliar teammates and learning how you can stand out as an individual. Then, there’s little victories along the way like being invited to the All-Star Game on Sunday or qualifying as one of the 16-20 goalies invited to weekend tryouts.
Evaluators will recognize your name, your school, your playing style. You might not have been right the right fit at your first tryout but scouts will remember you at the next tryout because of the first one.
Let me provide some real-life examples to explain.
Big Rapids had four guys at the MDHL tryouts last weekend. Multiple players showed out and grabbed my attention, including Blake Neibarger, who’s a good-sized defenseman that moves well, held good positioning and was a physical presence. Neibarger, along with his three teammates, did not get an initial invite to play in the 2019 MDHL season.
(I’ll preface the next paragraph as strictly hypothetical. I do not know the coach or players personally and these are in no way a direct reflection on them in any way. Only generalized questions that many draw from such evaluations.)
So is there a bias against Big Rapids? No. Are they incapable of playing against the best players the state? No. Should coach Tim Blashill stop sending his kids to the MDHL tryouts because his top players didn’t make the cut? NO!!
The Cardinals are gonna be a good team this season. They’ll have some really talented players that are going to help them win a lot of games, including Neibarger, Thomas Crandall, Lewis MacDonald and Cameron Massy. The school has been well-represented in past MDHL seasons by the likes of Fletcher Bolda and Drew Wotta, and I believe contributions like that have aided significantly in the progress that the program has made over the last few seasons under Coach Blashill.
Just because Big Rapids isn’t represented in this year’s MDHL, doesn’t mean the four players (and program as a whole) haven’t benefited from the exposure that the tryout has to offer. Want more? I could point to examples of players I saw the past two weeks from Clarkston and Novi among other schools, Jackson Lumen Christi has a goalie I’m really excited about, but the point I want to drive home to everyone is simple:
Players… You want to get scouted? These types of evaluation skates are invaluable for that type of exposure, whether you make the cut or not. I’ve been a part of several evaluation processes over the years; if guys like Neibarger stood out to me, odds are they stood out to others as well. Scouting is subjective. What I like in a player, others may not and what others appreciate, I may not. They are no more right than I am wrong. No one tryout defines you, but the way you respond could.
Coaches… You want to see how your players stack up against others in the state? Come watch. Come support your guys and see how they compete. As coaches, we’ve all evaluated, assembled rosters and assessed players’ strengths and weaknesses. Whether you’ve got one player trying out or ten players, watch your kids in action and see how deep the talent pool is at tryouts. Nobody knows your players better than you do. Would you have picked them?
It’s easy to say you got screwed. It’s easy to throw your arms up in disgust and curse the evaluators. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. Instead, why not seek feedback? Both good and bad critiques. Find out what you’re doing right and where you need to improve on. Ask how you can stand out, what it will take to make the team next time around and ask yourself if you’re willing to go the extra mile.
Whether it be the MDHL, Elite Brigade, MHA or anything else, there’s a heavy influence from high school coaches that are more than willing to offer constructive criticism and advice on how to stand out amongst the crowd. Take advantage of that and connect with them, get help from people who want to help.
When the dust settles from these tryouts, use that motivation, stay hungry and come back to the next tryout more prepared than the last.
Remember your ‘why’ because you can still achieve it without making the cut.
Continue the conversation with me on Twitter, would love to hear your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback!
How does a hockey player spend his offseason?
For most players, the summer months are a mix of relaxation and hard training in preparation for the upcoming season.
“We’ve been sleeping in the woods in the rain, hiking in mountains up and down, doing some training, shooting some guns,” Bilek said.
Welcome to West Point, a training ground for future military leaders and one of the most demanding academic institutions in the country.
The 2019 NHL Draft took place over the weekend and for a second consecutive year, an MI-HS alum was selected by one of the 31 teams. With the 144th overall pick in the fifth round, the Winnipeg Jets drafted 6-foot-2 goaltender Logan Neaton (Brighton, 2017).
Neaton follows in the footsteps of Alec Regula (Cranbrook, 2018) who was chosen in last year’s draft by the Detroit Red Wings. However, Neaton’s situation is a little more unique in that he finished out his high school career as a senior with the Bulldogs which culminated with a Division-I state title in 2017. Regula, on the other hand, would forego his junior and senior seasons to play in the USHL and OHL respectively before being drafted in 2018.
Two years removed from his time at Brighton, Neaton played his first season of junior hockey in the NAHL with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs before playing the ‘18-19 season with the Prince George Spruce Kings of the BCHL. There, he posted the best goals-against average in the league at 1.92 and backstopped a playoff run that ended with a BCHL championship.
No stranger to MI-HS goaltenders, the Jets add Neaton to their organization already having Commerce native Connor Hellebuyck (Walled Lake Northern, 2011) between the pipes in Winnipeg. The 26-year-old also played out his senior season and was also a fifth-round pick by the Jets in 2012, now set to begin his fifth NHL season with the club this fall. Certainly hoping to continue that trend of commonality with Hellebuyck, Neaton will play one more season of junior hockey — his rights belong to the Madison Capitols of the USHL — before embarking on an NCAA career with UMass-Lowell.