By Jamie MacDonald, Special to USA Hockey
What is a recruiter or coach looking for that might help make the college hockey dream come true? This simple answer is … it’s not that simple.
“It’s different all the time,” says Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky. “It’s different depending on the position or the role. But I’ll promise you one thing: Whatever team is looking at you, for whatever position or whatever role, everybody wants really good people and good character, and they want a really good student. So, regardless of who’s watching you, that’s something that everybody wants.”
If a college or university is going to open its doors to a young player, that college or university is going to want to feel good about the pact. And if a coach is going to invite that young player to make a home within his or her program, the coach wants to feel good about the future, too.
Highlight Your Strengths
Identify your strengths and showcase them.
“Either they’re really smart, or really fast, or really tough, or they shoot it really hard, or they’re really competitive,” says Gadowsky, who notes that mere well-roundedness isn’t likely to turn heads. “It’s very important to always identify what skills you need to become better at and work on them. But I always think that if there’s something you do extremely well, whether it’s a shot, or your skating, or your competitiveness, that’s what’s going to get you noticed. So, just to be well-rounded, I don’t think that’s enough in most cases. I think every scout likes to see someone jump out at them in one form or another.”
But that doesn’t mean young players should be content relying on one or two tools. As in life, teenagers are not yet fully formed as hockey players, either. Teenagers should keep working on all areas of their game. Any development will serve a player well, whether it’s strengthening strengths or strengthening weaknesses.
“I don’t think it’s fair to yourself if, at 14 or 16, you say, ‘This is who I am,’” Gadowsky says. “There are a lot of things that can stick out – the way someone thinks the game, the way someone thinks offense, the way someone thinks defense, your shot, your stickhandling, your vision, your speed. I think there are a lot of things that can catch the eye of a recruiter. But it always pays to get on someone’s radar because you do something special.”
Having served as an NCAA Division I head coach since 1999, including five seasons at Alaska Fairbanks and seven at Princeton before taking over the Nittany Lions program, Gadowsky has coached hundreds and seen thousands of teenage players with their eyes fixed on college hockey.
And no matter the long odds facing the hopeful, Gadowsky cautions against hanging up the skates too early. Beyond the fact that hockey can provide a lifetime of social and physical activity, no matter the level a player reaches, there is also the matter of late-bloomer success stories.
“Everybody seems to be in such a rush, and they seem to think, ‘If I’m not at this level at 14 or 15 or 16, then it’s the end-all be all,’” Gadowsky says. “And the stories I love are the guys that were never on the radar at those ages. Then they keep at it, they develop, and they work at it. And, later, they become prospects. It seems there’s a mindset now that, if you’re not playing at the highest level when you’re 12 years old, that you should pick another sport. And that’s completely false.”
Character Is Key
Cracking a college hockey roster is tough. Really tough. As such, it helps to find more ways for players to keep themselves in the conversation rather than behaving in ways that might take them out of it.
“As I mentioned, no matter what role or position you’re looking at, everybody wants great character people, and they want good students,” Gadowsky says. “Sometimes, in getting a chance to interact with a player, you see what type of character he has and how hungry he is, and that might make you more interested or less interested.”
From a practical standpoint, if a player is being recruited, that program might be looking for any number of skill sets.
“The assistant coaches that are so good at this, they’re looking at it with an open mind,” says Gadowsky. “Some people, if you don’t get around the rink well, they will discount you. Some, if you don’t think well, they will discount you. Some, if you can’t shoot the puck, they will discount you. Some will discount you if you’re not a certain size. There are different things for different recruiters, but I think the good ones have a open mind and really focus on what the players do well, not on what they can’t do.”