Pay-to-play teams can become a key component of hockey's developmental system but today we will visit the darker side of the system...the parking lot.
As this COVID-19 event continues to take bites out of the game, and junior hockey, deciding where to play will have a lasting impact on the balance of the player's career.
Many junior operators treat their programs like a bank treats certificate of deposits and feel that they are the one stop shop for all a prospects' developmental needs. For a lot of operators, it's purely about the money. These are the same guys that try to tell prospects that their program is just as good as any North American Hockey League and the United States Hockey League team when it comes to development and exposure.
These pay-to-play coaches are locked into doing whatever possible to retain the customer because it's tied directly to their paycheck. Parents need to get a clear understanding of each team's history of player advancement to higher levels of junior. A lot of players simply accept their individual skill-set and placement with a team he will be with for the remainder of his junior career. That's too bad because we've seen a number of prospects emerge from Tier III to become productive players in the USHL and NAHL and onto college hockey from there.
Many operators simply love the concept of the five-year player and brag about getting these kids into National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III or American Collegiate Hockey Association affiliated schools. Let's face it, the bulk of the players are content with playing at this level of college hockey and there is certainly a place for it.
The programs that I have a serious problem with are the ones that recognize a serious talent yet does everything possible to limit that player's opportunity to move onto a higher level of play. These coaches get possessive and talk about the player as if the prospect was the personal property of the team. "I'll never allow a player go to the NAHL because I don't believe in their system," more than one east coast junior coach has been heard saying. Players that hear baloney like that from a coach should consider the statement the perfect reason to seek another opportunity.
One of these coaches even had the nerve to tell a to-be second year player that he would not be welcome back if he got caught attending an NAHL camp. That same coach was seen at one of the local camps and heard saying that he was there to make sure none of "his" players were being poached by the NAHL team.
Is this what the developmental system has become? Please tell me that egos and greed are not impeding the natural flow of talent to the higher levels of play. Please tell me that players from higher levels are moving down because they have to, not because they were enticed to with the promise of zero cost and a Division I scholarship. Kids, this is 2018. If any Tier III team is promising a college scholarship as an incentive to drop down from the USHL, NAHL, or even free play leagues in Canada, than you could likely accomplish the same goal yourself. If the Tier III coach is dropping specific names of colleges, players need to do themselves a favor and contact the college team directly. Here's a newsflash...junior coaches have been known to embellish the truth on occasion.
Prospects are better off getting out of junior hockey's parking lots and into college if opportunities at higher levels of play are non-existent. Go ahead and get into NAHL open camps and if it does not work out, talk with that coach and ask for their honest opinion. Does the coach think that going back to Tier III is a better option than moving onto a college that best fits the post-hockey occupational goals? With few exceptions, I feel that a prospect can ask any NAHL coach, that has seen the prospect play, and get an honest accurate assessment of the potential.
Boys, the bottom line is simple... get out of the parking lots and on with your lives.