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How to Pick a Hockey Academy

As the new hockey season begins, many girls and their parents will begin the process of looking at hockey academies for next fall. We went through this process last year with the schools most folks would consider the top three girls hockey academies in the U.S.  Here are some of the key learnings from our experience and how our daughter made her decision on which one was right for her.

This post is less about the specific hockey academy my daughter chose to attend this year, and more about the various factors that went into her decision that anyone considering going to a female hockey academy should consider.

In addition, this isn’t meant as a critique of any program – each program has their pros and cons – which is why none of the programs are specifically mentioned. And while there were significant differences in the “candidate experience” for how my daughter was treated by each school during the process, that topic won’t be covered here.

Context: Factors schools look at to be interested in your player

Just like in the work world, recruiting is a two-way street. One of the first items to consider is how good is your player? Being a very good player is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for admission and selection. In addition schools also look at the following:

  • Grades and academic recommendations
  • Year/grade of entry into the program
  • Personality fit with the program
  • Long term player goals

The  application process and essay questions helps schools with assessing many of these factors.

Each player’s journey is unique

Each application is unique because there are a number of attributes that are distinct for the school and the student-athlete.  As an example, my daughter was already a sophomore when applying to these schools, and therefore the number of openings for a player who would only attend 2 (or possibly 3) years at the school did indeed impact her consideration. Specifically, the number of spots open for her position (defense) and her age varied by program, since the school needs to have the right balance of ages across both the 16U and 19Uteams. They can’t have 10 D with the same graduation year.

Priorities for Parents & Players:

Here are the 8 factors that we considered for evaluating the three hockey academies (in priority order):

  1. Coaching
  2. Academics
  3. Team Culture
  4. Hockey Facilities
  5. Boarding facilities
  6. Location (distance from home and amenities)
  7. Cost
  8. Recruiting visibility

All the school players get great exposure to college coaches.  And while many players play college hockey, not all of them play DI – so it is no guarantee that getting into a hockey academy will mean a  DI scholarship or playing in the Ivy League.

Breaking Down the Eight Factors in Evaluating Hockey Academies

1. Coaching

The most important factor was clearly player development. Where did we think our daughter would be the best she could be? And since coaches and skill development are critical to her success, over the two or three years should would be attending, we did back-channel references on all the coaches she would likely be interacting with from current parents and alumni players from each program.

A few questions that you should ask the coaches:

 a) Will there be a coach who knows how to coach my player’s specific position? This is even more important for goaltenders.

 b) What is the coach’s philosophy about ice time during the season and playoffs? How do you trade off winning vs development?

c)  If the player is not on the top line, will they still develop by getting game ice time and receiving productive feedback  from the coaching staff (not just being criticized for errors)? 

There were indeed significant differences for these answers across programs.

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2. Academics

Getting a solid education while playing hockey is obviously quite important. And while all the hockey academies send players to top schools, it seemed that some were better than others at actually preparing students for the next level in their education. I have no doubt most girls will rise to the occasion when they get to college, but we definitely saw big variation in our perception on how well our daughter would be prepared for university level courses.

Note: If academics were the #1 priority for a player, they should probably consider a New England prep school.

3. Team Culture

At most of the hockey academies, players come from all over the country and were typically the best players on their team prior to arrival. As a result, their attitude towards their teammates and the camaraderie seemed to differ across schools. Some were more humble and accessible, while at others, a sense of superiority, entitlement and cliques were more obvious. If you are going to spend 24 hours a day with your teammates, you will want to make sure you really like spending time with them.

4. Hockey Facilities

Candidly, some of the hockey and training infrastructure available at one of the schools is significantly better than the others.  Having 24 hour access to ice time is definitely an advantage for some academies. As well, off-ice training facilities and rehab resources can make a difference. The key is knowing what some of the trade-offs are between programs and which are “must-haves” vs. “nice-to-haves”. It is similar to women’s college teams, some have pro-level facilities, while other top name programs aren’t as lavish, but still consistently are Top 10 teams on the ice.

5. Boarding Facilities

Factors like room size, number of roommates, access to kitchens and food can make a difference to the player.  Four people to room is different than two to a room. Meals are obviously a big deal and getting the high quality meals at the right time of day is very important.  Other small amenities can matter too, for example, my daughter likes to bake – so that was one of the factors that was a positive for her in her choice.

6. Location

Depending on where you live and how independent your player is, location can matter.  Distance from home and the amenities surrounding the school may impact your experience.  For us, we would be travelling from the west coast, so it was less important from a parent point of view since all of them were far from home.

7. Cost

Obviously this varies by school and your specific needs.  This would include tuition, boarding, hockey and travel costs. Not just the player costs, but also the cost for the parents to travel to games and to the school.  There are differences between schools, but you would need to assess the difference in value to you individually for your specific situation.

8. Recruiting Visibility

While this is very important, the reality is that all the U.S. hockey academies are highly scouted and have the top coaches watching many of their games in-person and online. If your player is good enough for their school, they will get seen.  Even more importantly, your player’s coaches will have existing relationships with almost all DI and top DIII schools.  This is a major asset the academies provide and will certainly give your player access that many other club programs probably don’t have. 

Summary

As mentioned above, every player’s path is different, but these were the key themes and factors that drove our daughters decision. If you had a different experience, additional thoughts or questions. Feel free to reach out on social media or here to share your experience.

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Champs Coach of the day Girls Hockey Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

Today’s Coach of The Day: Matt Desrosiers

Matt Desrosiers

Today’s  Champs Coach of the Day is Matt Desrosiers. Matt is the Head Coach of the Clarkson Women’s Ice Hockey team and two-time national champion. The Golden Knights were recently ranked at #10 in the pre-season polls.

Create a player profile and connect with Matt on Champs App. https://profile.champs.app/h/matt-desrosiers

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Champs Coach of the day Girls Hockey Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

Today’s Coach of The Day: Allison Coomey

Allison Coomey

Today’s  Champs Coach of the Day is Allison Coomey. Allison is the Associate Head Coach of the Penn State Women’s Ice Hockey team. The Nittany Lions were just ranked #14 in the pre-season polls.

Create a player profile and connect with Allison on Champs App. https://profile.champs.app/h/allison-coomey  

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Champs Coach of the day Girls Hockey Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

Today’s Coach of The Day: Jim Plumer

Jim Plumer

Today’s Coach of the Day is Vermont Head Coach Jim Plumer. This week, the UVM Women’s Hockey Team was ranked #13 in the USCHO women’s ice hockey preseason poll. Check out Jim Plumer’s Champs App profile.

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College Hockey Recruiting Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

Q3 2022 DI Women’s College Hockey Commitment Rate Update

This is an update to a previous post from April, 2022 on “Q1 2022 Women’s College Hockey Commitment Rate Update”.

2022 Commits

There were four 2022 announced commitments since April (Syracuse, St. Michaels 2 and RPI). This shows there still may the odd opening at a school even just a few months before the start of the fall semester. Since the 2022 school year has started, this will be our last analysis of the 2022 commits.

2023 Commits

2023 commits are still tracking at about 23% less than the last two years (40 commitments). Due to 5th year eligibility and grad transfers this seems about right and should be similar for incoming 2024 and possibly 2025s. However, with Assumption and Robert Morris starting to play in 2023 those schools may help bridge the gap in total commits. Both Assumption and Robert Morris have already started announcing their first few freshman commits (two each) – with RMU already having some players on campus and/or 2022 commits who are now starting in 2024.

2024 Commits

The first coming have been coming in since July with 15 public announcements that have been tracked. Most of them are for top hockey or Ivy league schools. This is the first class of players that could not commit until June 15th of their junior year because of the new NCAA recruiting rules. As a result, the current total number of commits 24 months before their start year is significantly below levels from previous years. It will be interesting to see the pace at which the gap closes this fall as potential recruits visit campus and meet the staff and players.

Goalies

Four of the 15 2024 commits are goalies (Clarkson 2, Cornell, Brown). For 2023, St. Anselm, Lindenwood and Assumption have added goalies since our last analysis.

Data assumptions:

  1. Data commitment dates – source: collegecommitments.com and Champs App analysis
  2. Transfers between DI programs are not included in the number of commits
  3. Total number of publicly announced commitments for 2021 was 215 and for 2022 it was 210
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Coaching College Hockey Recruiting Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

Champs App Coaches Directory

Alyssa Gagliardi – Director of Women’s Student-Athlete Advancement – Carolina Jr Hurricanes

Jim Plumer – Head Coach – Vermont Catamounts

Matt Desrosiers – Head Coach – Clarkson Golden Knights

Laura Bellamy – Associate Head Coach – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

John Harrington – Head Coach – Minnesota State Mavericks

David Stockdale – Head Coach – Franklin Pierce Ravens

Logan Bittle – Head Coach – Robert Morris Colonials

Tara Connolly – Assistant Coach – RPI Engineers

Chris Donovan – Head Coach – St Michael’s Purple Knights

Tara Watchorn – Head Coach – Stonehill Skyhawks

Josh Sciba – Head Coach – Union College Dutchwomen

Jim Scanlan – Head Coach – Bemidji State University Beavers

Kerstin Matthews – Associate Head Coach – Boston University Terriers

Allison Coomey – Associate Head Coach – Penn State University Nittany Lions

Gretchen Silverman – Head Coach – Post University Eagles

Bethany Brausen – Assistant Coach – St Thomas Tommies

Jenna Trubiano – Head Coach – Michigan Wolverines

Cari Coen – Assistant Coach – Bishop Kearney BK Selects Girls 19AAA

Jake Anderson – Head Coach – Bishop Kearney BK Selects Girls 16AAA

Olivia Soares -Assistant Coach – Union College Dutchwomen

Cara Morey – Head Coach – Princeton Tigers

Jackie Crum – Assistant Coach – Wisconsin Badgers

Mike Sisti – Head Coach – Mercyhurst Lakers

Katelyn Parker – Seattle Kraken Player Development Coach

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Development Camp Girls Hockey

A few notes from the 2022 USA Hockey Pacific District Camp

This past weekend I was in Las Vegas to watch my second USA Hockey Pacific Districts Camp.  The general format was pretty much the same as last year, with 3 practices and 3 games. However, there were a few subtle differences from the previous year that I wanted to share. Here are my notes:

Camp Structure

This year, my daughter was participating in the 16/17’s group (made up of 2005 and 2006 birth years).  There was also a 15’s group (2007 players) just like last year, but in addition there was a 14’s group (2008 birth year).  Each group was made up of 4 teams – typically 9 or 10 forwards, 6 D and 2 goalies.

Last year,  16 players from the 15’s groups were sent to national camp (8F, 5D, 3G); 8 players were selects for the 16/17s camp (5F, 3D, 0G) and 4 players picks to go straight to the U18s camp (2F, 2D, 0G).  There are no exact numbers provided for this year other than the guidance in the USA Hockey Guidebook.

Unlike last year, the games were two 30-minute run-time periods. Last year it was only 24 minutes per period, and it really made a difference in ice time. Last year, a player would typically only get 10 or 11 shifts per game, this year it felt like it was between 15 and 20. 

Quality of Play

In addition, I noticed a significantly higher level of play at the 16/17s level than last year at the 15’s age groups. This was likely due to a combination of factors.  Since at this age group is a combined-age tryout, only the top half of players from each age group made the camp, therefore raising the bar on the quality of player to be selected to the camp.  Also, with the players being a year or two older than the 15’s, the difference in development was pretty easy to see.  I should note that several alternates from the regional tryouts were added to rosters as some of the original selections did not come – so you could see a range in talent on just about every team. Finally, unlike what I saw with the 15’s, the shift length for players at the higher level was much more reasonable.  Rarely did I see 2 or 2.5 minute shifts. My general impression was that the overall level was pretty good with a few elite players, hockey in the Pacific District still has a long way to go to match the skill level I saw the previous weekend at a 3-on-3 Minnesota High School tournament.

Refs-In-Training

An interesting twist in this year’s event, is that in parallel to the players camp, it was also some kind of camp/evaluation for referees. Not sure if it was USA Hockey-specific or IIHF.  The good news, is that the refs took their job very seriously – and didn’t let many things go that you normally see in a summer showcase (e.g. offsides, icings etc.). Alternatively, there were several awkward moments, such as refs being out of position and running into players in the middle of plays, and being a little over-zealous with not permitting teams to make line changes before face-offs. There was one top player who got called for a penalty when the out-of-position ref caused her to lose the puck – and the player let the ref know she wasn’t pleased . I am all for better training of refs and helping them improve and certainly don’t expect perfection, but at this type of event, ref training shouldn’t be at the expense of the players who were there to try out.

Selection Process

I estimated there were between 20 and 25 coaches representing USA Hockey at the event – whether on-ice with the players or evaluating from their private viewing area. It seemed to be a similar mix to last year of DIII coaches, current NCAA players, Pacific district coaches and other USA Hockey representatives. From a parents perspective, it would be nice to know what some of the evaluation criteria are for each position. However, from all the experienced eyes on the players over the course of the four days, I am trusting that their selection process is reasonably objective and can truly figure out who the top players were to move on to the national camps.

A nice improvement from last year, was the fact that USA Hockey clearly declared the dates in which the results would be published, May 25th.  So there was no ambiguity and confusion about what the expectations are for the outcome of the selection camp. Even better, it is less than 2 weeks from the event, unlike last year when it was almost a month delay.

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Champs Coach of the day Girls Hockey Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

Today’s Coach of The Day: Alyssa Gagliardi

Alyssa Gagliardi

Our first Coach of the Day is Alyssa Gagliardi. Alyssa is the Director of Women’s Student-Athlete Advancement with the Carolina Junior Hurricanes Girls program. Previously, Alyssa was a USA National team player, a co-captain at Cornell University and she won the Isobel Cup with the Boston Pride. Check out Alyssa’s Champs App profile.

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Champ of the day Champs Girls Hockey Women's Hockey

Today’s Champ of The Day: Taryn Pratt

April 26, 2022

Taryn Pratt –
Northern Michigan K-Stars

Today’s Champ of the Day is Taryn Pratt. Check out Taryn Pratt’s Hockey Player Profile here

Taryn is a very competitive team player that plays a very physical two way game.

Taryn Pratt – Faceoff

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Champ of the day Champs Girls Hockey Women's Hockey

Today’s Champ of The Day: Anna Byczek

April 19, 2022

Anna Byczek –
Marquette Boy’s Varsity Hockey

Today’s Champ of the Day is Anna Byczek. Check out Anna Byczek’s Hockey Goalie profile here

Anna can often be heard saying, “my goal is just to continue to get better.” She has played boys hockey for years and also played intermittently with girls above her own age level, with the hope of pushing herself. Anna is extremely poised and maintains great composure on and off the ice.

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