The Tier 3 or pay to play level in junior hockey has in many instances become an absolute disaster. Not because the level isn’t good, but because some owners and coaches within it are not in it for the right reasons.
Over the last thirty years or so, I have watched a lot of owners and coaches come and go. Some of them were really great people who really made positive impacts on players and families lives. Some of them have been around a long time and are still doing great things.
That said, I have seen a lot of owners and coaches come and go, who obviously did not care at all about players or families. These guys talked a good talk though.
Lots of times, especially during the summer I get emails from players and parents asking me how they know the difference between a good Tier 3 opportunity and a bad one. Unfortunately, in nearly every instance, these players and parents will never know the difference until after they sign the Tier 3 contract.
Here are a few examples of how you know you have been taken for a ride;
You’re a goalie and there are three or four other goalies on the team. Every one of them paying to be there. Four or five goalies on a team means one thing and on thing only. Some of you are nothing more than extra income.
The coach, owner or general manager made a great sales pitch to you over the summer. Talking about winning, playing for championships, getting you a “call up”, and working toward NCAA opportunities. You are now losing every game by four or five goals per night because that same sales pitch was made to every player that could afford to pay and no thought was given to the collective disaster it would cause on every players resume.
You as a player or parent did not follow sound advice because you know that your 16 year old should be playing junior and not AAA hockey. And now your son is lost. He is not playing, or not dominating, and playing against players who are more physically mature than him. You thought you would break the mold just like hundreds of thousands of other players and parents who thought they know what they were doing.
You get lucky and you make a Tier II team just at the end of summer. When you tell the Tier 3 team that you made it, and you thank them for the opportunity, but you would like your deposit refunded, they either dont respond, tell you that they will only refund the portion that comes after their “recruiting costs”, or that under USA Hockey new rules, it will be issued in the spring.
These examples are not to say that there aren’t some great operators out there. There are some great programs and great people running them. Its these operators and organizaitons that move players on and up, and their track record shows they do.
Just as much as you need to look for good organizations, you need to make sure you are not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
If you are 16, 17 or 18, you should not be playing Tier 3 hockey. You should be playing AAA hockey. If you are not able to make a AAA team then you should be playing AA. Physically and mentally, in almost every instance, you are not ready for junior hockey. And if you were you would be at Tier 2, the USHL or Major Junior.
If you are 16, 17 or 18, and you are not playing, then you need to find someplace you will play. The story that you will become a dominating player sitting in the stands but practicing with older, bigger, faster, stronger players is an absolute lie.
If you are 19, but a third or fourth line role player behind younger players you need to take a long look in the mirror and do a deep self evaluation. Maybe your team is really good, and thats where you fit in. But is that going to get you moved up?
If you are 20 and you dont see all the “scouts” in the stands that you thought were promised to you, it is time to ask some questions. Were scouts promised in writing in the contract? How far away are the closest NCAA or Tier 2 programs? Where is the alumni list of all the players who moved up?
If you find yourself in one of these situations, you are just as responsible as the team is if you do not recognize it and make an exit plan.
Its October. If you find yourself in a situation where you dont know what to do now, its not too late. A month from now though, and it will be.
Joseph Kolodziej – Adviser