By Sean Hogan, Jayson Hajdu and Mike Snee
Ontario has long been a fruitful recruiting ground for NCAA Division I men’s hockey. In 2022-23 alone, more collegiate players hail from Ontario (161) than any other province and the sheer number of commitments signifies that trend will continue. That’s hardly surprising given its status as Canada’s most populous province, but Ontario isn’t just churning out quantity; it is also well-established for producing high-end NCAA hockey players.
The top two scorers in NCAA Division I men’s hockey this season – Western Michigan’s Ryan McAllister (London) and Michigan’s Adam Fantilli (Nobleton) – come from Ontario, as do a pair of returning All-America forwards, Merrimack’s Will Calverley (Scarborough) and Connecticut’s Ryan Tverberg (Richmond Hill).
The enormous impact Ontario natives are having on college hockey is nothing new. Hockey Hall of Famers Ken Dryden (Hamilton), Rob Blake (Simcoe), Tony Esposito (Sault Ste. Marie), Joe Nieuwendyk (Oshawa) and Adam Oates (Weston) all starred collegiately. Fellow Ontarians Tony Hrkac (Thunder Bay) and George McPhee (Guelph) won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award on their way to the National Hockey League.
How Does It Happen?
Is there a common path for Ontarians to best optimize NCAA opportunities? College Hockey Inc. studied the paths of 176 players from Ontario who earned NCAA Division I commitments* from May 14, 2018, through November 15, 2021. *In the cases of players who made multiple commitments, the youngest commitment age was utilized for that player.
Noteworthy themes that emerged from the Ontario study:
- Ontarians play in a wide array of leagues at age 17, emphasizing the varied paths to the NCAA
- Only 25 percent (45 of 176) of the commitments were earned by minor hockey players
- The average age of a player from Ontario earning an NCAA commitment was 18.5
- 75 percent of players earned their commitment while playing college-eligible junior hockey
Of the 176 commitments, 45 percent spent time in the OJHL and 19 percent spent time in the CCHL.
While not many players earned their commitment while playing in the NOJHL or GOJHL, 23 percent of the players who earned an NCAA Division I commitment did play in those leagues at one point.
The Data: Hockey Before NCAA
The average commitment age of players from Ontario was 18.5 years. A vast majority of those players – 75 percent of them, to be precise – earned their commitments while playing in NCAA-eligible junior hockey in leagues such as the OJHL and CCHL.
It is important to note that one full year of this study occurred prior to a May 2019 NCAA recruiting rule change. Thus, the average commitment age is certain to rise. Additionally, players awarded a fifth year of NCAA eligibility due to the 2020-21 season being impacted by COVID-19 will also skew the average age older through at least the 2024-25 season.
As evidenced by the numbers below, Ontarians can be playing in a variety of leagues and locales and still have an opportunity to reach NCAA Division I. Of note, approximately 29 percent are not yet playing junior hockey at age 17.