The Road To The Top Runs Through Junior Hockey

Any hockey veteran worth his or her salt will tell you there are no shortcuts on the road to the top. That doesn't mean there isn't more than one route to get there.

For those players with the dream of one day playing college hockey, and who knows, even in the NHL, the most likely path runs through the expansive world of Junior hockey.

As Oswego State Men's Hockey Coach Ed Gosek points out, almost every Div. I or Div. III player comes from the Junior ranks. 

"It allows a player to develop and mature both physically and emotionally, learn life skills, time management, self -discipline and being out on your own," says the 16-year veteran bench boss. 

For all the benefits of Junior hockey, it's important to note that one size does not fit all, and there are as many options as there are teams scattered from Seattle to South Florida. Most promise excellent coaching and high-level competition, and ultimately the chance of a college scholarship. That sounds good on paper, but is that how things really play out?

Mark Gilman, who owns and operates a Junior team in the Detroit area, has his own thoughts about which direction to take. It all starts with asking the right questions to make sure you find the right fit for you.

"How many players have you moved up to college or higher levels of Junior hockey?"

Gilman says regarding the most important question to ask when searching out a Junior team. If a team representative can't or won't tout their success of helping players further their hockey careers, it may be time to look elsewhere. 

There are Junior programs for every level of player, from Tier III development leagues all the way up to the Tier I (the United States Hockey League) and Tier II (the North American Hockey League) ranks. The higher the level, the better the shot of advancing their careers.

The lower tier Junior programs charge tuition, which covers travel, lodging, food, uniforms, coaching, ice time and training facilities. Gilman explains that lower tier levels of Juniors can be pretty expensive, ranging from $6,000 to $10,000 a season depending on travel schedule, level of coaching and facilities. 

"This is a worthwhile investment IF a team can successfully showcase your player to scouts offering a higher level of hockey. If not, they're just looking to pay bills," he says.

There are other factors to consider, especially if possibly sending your child out of town to play for a team. What is the quality of the facilities? How about access to local schooling, so kids still continue their education?

As with most things in hockey, if you're fortunate enough to think about playing at the next level, do your homework. After all, it's all about helping our kids grow to the greatest version of themselves, whether as a hockey player or something else.

Because, as we all know, you don't mistakenly become great.




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