A Prospect Rich Region

A Prospect Rich Region – Northern Michigan November 8, 2012 8:48 AM

Roughly two years ago I wrote a story for another publication touting how many players were moving on to Junior and College hockey from the Northern Michigan region.

Normally in Michigan all the focus of scouts is aimed toward the high end Midget AAA programs in the Detroit area. Traditionally these programs produce top level talent that moves on to junior and college hockey every year, they do a great job, and they have been doing it for decades.

When I look at Michigan and I draw a line through the State just below Cadillac, and use that line to separate Northern Michigan from Southern Michigan to examine players, the view of the State changes.

Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Saginaw, Flint, Port Huron are the larger hockey cities in the state. Literally a few million people in those cities, and the bulk of the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association membership. So when you think about the numbers naturally they will produce some good players. The average association has a membership in the vicinity of 700 players.

When you look at Northern Michigan though, the numbers almost completely flip. The average association has a membership of 100 or fewer players. Some associations have had to combine in recent years simply to keep players on the ice.

Seven times the amount of players. Thats a pretty big number.

So when when you look at the amount of players moving on to junior and college hockey from Northern Michigan, compared to those from the bottom half of the state, the numbers become much more interesting.

Having tracked players from the area for more than a decade, the numbers in my non scientific way look something like this;

For every 100 players moving through the average program in Northern Michigan, an average of 6 move on to play junior and or college hockey. Six percent!

For down state associations with an average of 700 players, they would need to produce 42 players a year to match that number! That simply is not happening.

Sure the power house programs produce higher numbers. Little Ceasars, Honey Baked, Victory Honda, Bell Tire and others will always produce a ton of players that move on. They have local players and players recruited from accross the country.

The difference is, 90% of Northern Michigan Associations DO NOT HAVE TRAVEL HOCKEY! There is only one AAA program this year, no private schools that can recruit state wide, and none of the traditional prep school power houses are in Northern Michigan.

Almost every player in Northern Michigan comes up through a house program or a limited AA program. Many go on to play for their local High Schools. From High School they move on to Junior.

Something happened in 1995 in Northern Michigan, a lot of hockey players came into the world that year. Looking at the 2012-2013 rosters for High School teams in the area this season, teams are loaded with talent. Many teams will graduate between 6 and 12 players at the end of this school year. The amazing thing is that nearly 25% of these players will at least be asked to continue playing in some form or another. It is, in my opinion the best birth year Northern Michigan has ever had for hockey talent.

I can easily pick 9 out of 20 players aging out from area, either High School or Midget, that could move on to Junior next season if they want. Those numbers would remain consistant through many programs if I were to name them moving up through the UP.

So why does the area produce these numbers that few in the country could match outside of Alaska?

There are a number of simple answers.

Team sizes in the region are typically smaller which results in more ice time every year that you play, allowing for more development. Because team sizes are smaller, players receive more individual attention. Because hockey is less expensive in general terms in Northern Michigan, parents are able to spend more money on summer skills camps and more individual attention.

I am in no way trying to suggest that Northern Michigan programs are better than those in Southern Michigan. What I am suggesting is that through smaller, more focussed groups, the individual attention that players receive has been a great benefit to those players in the Northern part of the State.

Fortunately, I am not the only person seeing this. Making my rounds scouting this season, I have seen more junior and college scouts in some of the smallest arenas throughout the area than I have ever seen before. These scouts are not only looking at the 1995 birth year players, but are getting familiar with the 1996 and 1997 age groups as well.

Talking to one NAHL scout the other day I was told; “We found out about these players last year when they came to our open camps and we saw them at some spring and summer showcases. Before that we only scouted down state. I just hope the other teams in our league dont spend time up here so we can pick some of these kids up that other teams arent aware of.”

I always like to tell players that its better to be a big fish in a small pond. In this case, the ponds of Northern Michigan are stocked with some pretty big fish this season.

By Joseph Kolodziej

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