The Facts About Making It In Hockey

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The Facts About Making It In Pro Hockey

In 1999 Jim Parcels, a former staff member of the Peterborough Petes and the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey Leauge (“OHL”) wrote an eye opening article called the Straight Facts About Making It In Pro Hockey. The facts are almost depressing, and certainly kids with the dream of ever “making it” should be dissuaded from reading it.

As part of his study, Parcels looked at over 300 minor hockey teams and associations across southern Ontario and communities throughout Canada. He interviewed parents to get a full understanding of their expectations for what they thought they and their kids would get out of the whole experience.

After two years as a trainer for the Petes, Parcels started in marketing for the Guelph Storm. For over five years he witnessed approximately 250 players who played or tried out with the two major junior teams. Some players moved onto pro and collegiate careers while others moved into the mainstream workforce.

Parcel’s wrote:

“Five years later I got thinking; How many of those players received some sort of financial return or end result on their investment of 15-20 years into the game of minor and junior hockey?”

He found some sobering facts that all parents and coaches alike should be aware of. He concluded that the pot of hockey gold that most parents think their kid is destined for, no matter how good they are, likely isn’t there.

The Parcel’s Study

Without the details, his Study found that:

1. There were approximate 30,000 minor hockey players born in 1975 in southern Ontario. A ‘75 birth year meant that they were eligible for the 1991 OHL Draft

2. Of the 30,000 players 232 were OHL draftees and only 105 ever played one game in the OHL. Only 90 finished 3 or more years of eligibility.

3. 41 played NCAA DI hockey on either full or partial scholarship

4. The number of Ontario players on full scholarship in the U.S. dropped 63% in the ten years prior to 1999! Most were on partial scholarships paying between over $25,000 US to attend school.

5. Very few NCAA players actually graduated, although the graduation rates today may be better. College Hockey Inc. (an entity set up by the NCAA to promote college hockey) claims that the graduation rate is now 84%

6. Of the 90 players who finished their OHL careers and the 23 who played in the NCAA, only 48 were drafted to the NHL while four signed NHL free agent deals. This was the best NHL draft result for any birth year in Ontario!

7. Only 35 players signed contracts with NHL teams. Of those 35, only 26 have seen action to date in an NHL game.

8. Only 16 played for more than 4 years in the NHL.

9. Of those 30,000 players there were approximately 80 “1975″ players active in Canadian University (CIAU) programs. Many of those players (about 75%) were former Major Junior players (OHL, WHL, QMJHL).

10. The graduation rate from those programs by former major junior players from CIAU schools is approximately 50-60%.

However, one of the key pieces of information that Parcels didn’t address was just how much money players who made the NHL, AHL or another minor league were making. What was the pot of gold that so many parents envisioned for their kids?

In the East Coast Hockey League (where most players end up who want to continue a career but didn’t “make it”) a collective bargaining agreement was signed between the Professional Hockey Players Association and the League which sets the salary cap on a per week and not per year or season basis. The weekly team salary cap during the 2009-2010 season was $11,800.00. The weekly minimum a player on any team could receive was $360 U.S. Keeping in mind however that cheques were only signed during the season. Players are on their own during the summers.

To put those numbers in context, $360 a week is just slightly over what a person making minimum wage would earn in a 40 hour week.

So the minimum a team could pay a player for a season of hockey in the ECHL was just over $8,000 U.S. (slightly over 23 weeks of hockey). That said, most players receive free housing and a per diem of $35 a day for road games to cover food. When all is said and done, life in the ECHL is hardly glorious, and certainly a far cry from what some see has the pot of hockey gold. Its perhaps for this reason you know the league is full of passionate hockey players with the audacity to pursue a dream.

Life is certainly somewhat easier in the American Hockey League where entry level contracts are are capped at under $70,000 per season (the maximum is $62,500, $65,000, or 67,500 depending on when the player was drafted). Entry level players can make a half decent living and not worry about affording gas for their drive home from Texas at the end of the season.

The pot of hockey gold is only had by those players who can slide their way into the NHL, where the minimum salary for the 2009-2010 season was $500,000 U.S.

Undoubtedly, hockey has become more competitive in recent years with more European players starting to join not only the NHL but also the CHL and NCAA.

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