Confessions Of A Junior Hockey Coach – Choosing The League To Play In

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It is the question many players are asking themselves now; “What league should I play in?”.

Players to have options is good.  Understanding those options is not always a simple thing to do.  You hear from coaches, friends and other players all the time.  Do not listen to any of them.

Leagues are leagues.  There are good teams and bad teams in every league.  Top teams in lower level leagues are usually able to be competitive in the next level up league.  Bottom level teams in a higher level league are usually only competitive teams in the next level down.

I will use the NA3HL and NAHL as an example.  The North Iowa Bulls would have been competitive in much of the NAHL.  The Odessa Jackalopes would have been competitive in the NA3HL.  The “league” made no difference in how good a team was or will be.

There were three or four NAHL teams that could have competed in the USHL.  There were a few USHL teams that were every bit as good as their Canadian Major Junior counterparts.

There are Canadian Junior B teams that would dominate some American Tier III teams.  There are some American Tier III teams that could compete in some Canadian Junior A leagues, and some that could dominate Canadian Junior B teams.

If you are a young player with more than this season left to play junior, then the answer is simple.  Play at the highest level possible that will allow you to be a dominating player.  Do not play in what you think is the highest level league you can play in.  Play in the highest level league that you will be a dominating player in.  If you are a third line player in one league, but a second line player in another, it is always better to play on the second line.

The league “name” or the leagues set of “initials” has no bearing on anything that a player should be using to make his decision.

Major Junior or the USHL, that is a decision with consequences.  If you’re in that position you likely have a long-term plan.

Tier II whether in United States with the NAHL or Canada with any number of leagues is still Tier II.  If you are in a Tier II position, go to the league that allows you the most playing time and opportunity to dominate.  That is the only criteria you really need.

If you are a Tier III player looking at going back to Tier III or trying out for Tier II.  Go to the level where you can dominate.  It is a simple decision.  Anyone can answer the decision; “Is it better to be first line power play or third line energy player?”.

If you are third line player in one league, and it may be a higher level league, what good does it do for you if you could have been top player at next league down?  Which player gets more attention from scouts?  The dominating player gets the attention no matter what level he is at.

If you are older player with not much time left, or maybe this is your last year, the answer is a little more complicated, but starts with the same principle.  Go where you will be a dominating player.

After that basic principle is met, then you must find a team where you will be seen as a leader.  Put yourself in a position to help the younger players, and the coaching staff.

There is a reason the top-level leagues only allow for a certain amount of “over age” players each season.  It is a simple way of keeping new talent coming into the league each year.  It is also a way for teams to send some older players down a level.

So many players trying to fit square peg into round hole.

Too often players and parents want to “keep up with the Jones”.  Just because someone you played with at some point is in one league does not mean you deserve to be in that league.  I am sure there is someone from Seth Jones Bantam team saying they should have been drafted this year as well.  I am sure there is someone from Nathan MacKinnon’s Bantam team telling coaches that he played with MacKinnon and hopping that the coach will use it as a guide to bring the player in.

That’s not how it works.  No coaches care who you played with.  No coaches care where those players are compared to where you are.

Find the level and the team that is right for you.  The name of the league means nothing.  The only thing that matters is putting yourself in a position to get quality ice time that will allow you to dominate.  Have a backup plan at the next level down.  Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  The player that is prepared is the player who will achieve success.

If you fail to prepare now, you may be left scrambling in just a few weeks.