Canadian Junior Hockey used to be the NCAA’s top recruiting grounds. Canadian players in the 1970’s dominated rosters and accounted for fifty percent of all NCAA hockey players. Why now, fifty years later, with massive NCAA expansion and increased opportunities, is the Canadian player number only at twenty eight percent?
The reasons, are not only simple, but they are obvious. Canada has no one to blame but themselves.
These are the top five reasons Canada no longer dominates NCAA hockey;
5. Out of sixty four NCAA programs, only thirteen have Canadian head coaches. Those Canadian head coaches from years past used to recruit a lot more from Canadian junior programs. The reduction of Canadian coaches means an increase in American coaches who played and coached their way up the junior programs in the United States, and they recruit from those programs now.
4. Canadian junior hockey leagues are not specifically designed to develop players for NCAA hockey. United States junior hockey programs exist solely for the development of NCAA and ACHA hockey programs. The Canadian junior leagues want to try to be everything to everyone, and it simply cannot be done. You cannot try to develop Major Junior players along with NCAA players, the goals and requirements are completely different from one another.
3. NCAA scouting for players is so much more intense in the United States than it is in Canada for many reasons. A primary reason is the cost to go to Canada and scout. It is much less expensive for an NCAA program to drive an hour to watch American junior leagues than it is to fly to a remote location, rent a car, get a hotel, and pay for meals in Canada. University scouting budgets have not grown with the pace of inflation, and traveling to Canada is simply no longer a priority due to expense. With reduced Canadian coaches, those coaches are not influencing how those scouting dollars are spent any more.
2. The United States has surpassed Canada when it comes to developing players for NCAA programs. The change began in the 1990’s with enhanced coach training, and then elevated with the implementation of the American Development Model in 2010. The entire focus, without putting it in writing, was the development of American players for NCAA hockey, and through that to the NHL. Canada has not responded, and some believe a “dual path” is possible when it clearly is not. Its been tried and it has failed.
1. When the United States switched to the Tier System, and left the Junior A, Junior B and Junior C letters in the past, Canada did not know what to do or how to respond. The Canadian junior hockey system still does not know how to respond. The Tier System is a business model first and a talent level second.
Tier I which is the USHL, is completely free to play. All players get everything to compete for free, including room an board, all equipment and educational counselors. Tier II which is the NAHL and NCDC do not charge players to play either, supply euipment and players only pay for billet and some insurance. Tier III represented by the USPHL, EHL and NA3HL are pay to play leagues, and players must cover their own expenses.
Junior A leagues in Canada, somehow thought that they would be able to begin charging player tuition and still be seen as legitimate NCAA development leagues. It started with small fee’s at first, a thousand dollars here maybe three thousand there. And now, Canadian Junior A teams charge upward of eight to ten thousand dollars, some of these fee’s being more expensive than Tier III teams in the United States.
How would top NCAA prospects think that any team charing that much money is still a legitimate NCAA development league compared to the Tier II leagues in the United States? How would NCAA D-3 prospects think that paying the same amount or more in Canada is going to bring them increased opportunity to play D-3 in the United States over teams actually located in the United States?
The EHL alone puts more players into D-3 hockey than all of Canada Junior A combined. The USPHL puts more players into D-3 than all Junior A combined. And these leagues teams offer a lot more scouting in almost every instance. There is no way to overcome geography.
When Canadians go from fifty percent to less than twenty eight percent of players, while NCAA hockey has grown three hundred percent in the same time frame, it is time to start looking internally. It is time to start looking forward because the past is long gone.
It is important to note that while twenty eight percent is still a good number, Canadian junior hockey is not responsible for that twenty eight percent. A very large portion of those Canadian players commiting to NCAA programs are doing so through junior hockey in the United States.
Canadian junior hockey needs new ideas. New revenu sources. New financial models for operation. New determinations for primary goals for teams and leagues.
Canadian junior hockey needs to decide what it is. If you want to adopt the Tier System, do so, but do so earnestly, and dont try to compare Junior A pay to play to Tier II free to play. There is no comparison. Dont compare free to play Junior A to the USHL. Again, there is just no comparison.
Players always find their own talent level, and thus financial level. All players want to play for free. If not for free, then just for billet. And if not either of those there is the pay to play model. Players can move between these models at different stages of their development. It happens all the time in the United States.
Canadian players and parents also need to wake up to todays hockey business reality. Free to play is only for Elite level players. No player deserves free to play, they need to earn it. Just because youre tired of paying for AAA or Prep School doesnt mean you have earned free to play. Everyone gets tired of paying. Thats life.
Canadian Junior A hockey is still good hockey. It is simply not the dominating development model any more and it is too far behind to catch the United States programs. Every year, they fall further behind. While it sure can be used as a young player to get the attention of Tier II programs in the United States, and the USHL, if you are not one of the top fifty to eighty Junior A players in Canada, it is going to be extremely difficult to get to an NCAA D-1 program.
Canadian Junior A has to ask itself what it wants to be. Once that question is answered, these programs can begin to move forward in new ways.