This past weekend I was in Minnesota for the fabulous 2023 Tradition NIT Girls Hockey Tournament organized by Winny Brodt Brown. In total, there were 93 teams participating for the 16U and 19U age groups. Almost every top US club team was in attendance plus many of the top western Canadian girl’s teams.
Over the course of the 3-day event, I had multiple conversations with several DI & DIII coaches and I thought I would share my observations as they relate to the recruiting process:
1. Competition Matters for Getting Seen
As heard many times on the Champs App podcast, coaches want to see players playing at the highest level, against top players to properly evaluate them. With as many as 8 games going on simultaneously across the two rink locations, coaches can’t watch every game. Many times I would see a coach watch 2 overlapping games by switching back and forth during ice cuts. Thus coaches need to be selective in which games they scout. Coaches were mostly watching games with the largest number of talented players. Thus, it appeared as though games with the highest ranking teams got the highest DI coach attendance. However, it did seem that DIII and ACHA coaches were more flexible in watching lower ranked teams. But if you want to play DI hockey, my sense is that you want to put yourself in the best position to be seen. This would imply playing on a team that plays against the other top teams in the country. The reality is that if your team is ranked in 30’s and below on MyHockeyRankings, then you probably won’t get noticed as much, even if you are a DI caliber player.
2. Connections Help
I saw this firsthand this weekend. If you can get a positive reference to a college coach through an advisor, current or former coach, friend or some other trusted hockey-related relationship, it can make a difference in getting scouted. It won’t get you an offer, but it can certainly get a coach from a specific school to come watch you play and start the process.
3. Lines Not Dots
I had a great conversation with a coach from a Top 5 DI school and asked why they scouted at so many events. In reality, given their school’s reputation, they could just focus on the handful of top players at the US or Canadian national camps and simply cherry pick those players. But the coach revealed to me that they watch the elite-of-the-elite players over the course of several years and track their development and progression over an extended period of time. This way they can see what the player’s trajectory looks like and if it continues to trend in a positive direction. The coach and I discussed a specific player and how the coaches have been monitoring how the hockey IQ of that player has been improving over the previous 2 years. Thus coaches at high-end teams look for the trendlines of players – not just the individual play at a single event.
4. Experience Matters in Evaluating Players
It was fun talking to several coaches and hearing their “off-the-record” thoughts about certain players. The folks I talked to ranged from longtime head coaches to junior assistant coaches to a former DI coach. What I gleaned across all the convos was the more experience you had coaching, the less amount of time it took to get a pretty accurate assessment of a player. I was surprised how accurately the seasoned coaches figured out a player’s strengths and weaknesses. While for some of the junior coaches it sounded like they needed to watch more games to get a good sense for a player.
5. Lots of Coaches
For this year, the NCAA approved DI teams to have three assistant coaches (instead of just two). As a result, almost every (non-NEWHA) DI team had a least one coach present for the entire weekend while their school played regular season conference games “back home” on Friday and Saturday. Several coaches clearly also got on planes or in a car right after their games were done on Saturday and headed to Blaine, MN. On Sunday morning, 7 of the 8 head coaches from the WCHA teams were in attendance, with all eight schools having multiple assistant coaches there as well.
The following is a post I wrote almost four years ago about MyHockeyRankings on an old blog I used to publish. Most of it is still highly relevant after all this time. I have added some additional new thoughts at the end of the post.
I spend a lot of time on the MyHockeyRankings (MHR) website. I don’t use the site because I care about the rankings of my kids’ teams, but I do see the rankings, so I am aware of what they are. However, there are many more valuable reasons to use the site that I find really insightful that I wanted to share. I will also put together my thoughts on what the watchouts and drawbacks are for MyHockeyRanks in a separate post.
To start, let’s remind you of why MyHockeyRankings was created and how it is intended to be used. As stated explicitly on their About Us page, the site was set-up to help with scheduling competitive games between clubs. Using a pretty simple algorithm based on goal differential, a rating is created for each team. The difference in ratings between two teams is their expected goal differential (EGD) between the two teams if they were to play each other (subtracting the lower rating from the higher rating). This methodology is used to normalize quality of opponent and calibrate one team versus another. I won’t go into the statistical analysis of the legitimacy of EGD, but the goal differential is only an expected value, and thus there will be a lot of variation in actual game scores. If the EGD is small, then if the two teams would play each other, then it likely would be a competitive game. If the goal differential is large (for me 4 or 5 goals is a significantly large gap) then it likely would not be a competitive game and it may not make sense for the two teams to play in the first place. This is especially helpful if there is a large tournament and the organizers are trying to group teams into competitive divisions or for leagues to draw the line between A, BB and B levels. There is a lot more detail to how and why, but that is the gist of the ratings. Well, now that each team has a rating, it is only natural to rank them. This is where much of the controversy starts with the MHR site, but we’ll discuss the use of rankings separately.
Schedule, Scores and LiveBarn
I track about 10 different teams at various clubs, levels and age groups and I find it much easier to see the schedule and scores in one single location thanks to MyHockeyRankings than going to each individual team’s website or leagues site to find the schedule and/or score. If I want to dive into a particular game then I might go elsewhere, but being able to see which of those teams has/had games in a particular weekend is very helpful. As a bonus, having the LiveBarn icon next to a game (especially if one of the teams is playing at an away tournament) it lets me know that I could watch the game if I wanted to. This feature was remarkably helpful for watching games for a prep school team that we are considering for my daughter. Without the MyHockeyRankings/LiveBarn partnership, I might never have been able to see several of the school’s games.
2. Scouting and Researching
When heading to a tournament it is highly likely that most of the teams we will play we won’t have ever seen or played before. We have used the MHR ratings to help decide which goalie to start in which games. If on the first day of a tourney we have two games and one team is clearly rated higher than the other on MyHockeyRanking, then the coach usually has some insightful information on who to start in each game. For a playoff game one coach asked me to download the most recent games of the team they will be playing, thanks to MHR I was able to see exactly when and where to find the game on LiveBarn. Finally, as mentioned above, being able to find games from potential prep schools for my daughter and watch their play has allowed me to research potential future schools/teams for her to play on based on the quality of their teams, including the LiveBarn video identification.
3. AA vs. AAA?
I care about my kids’ hockey development not the number of letters they have for their level of play. Since there really is no standard of what is AA vs AAA (which is a topic for another post), MyHockeyRankings also helps to compare AA vs AAA teams in an apples-to-apples manner. For example, I have one of my kids playing on a AA team this season that is rated slightly higher than the AAA team in our area. This is not a surprise, and while having a higher rating doesn’t really matter, there is a big difference between the two teams. The AAA struggles to compete and loses most of their games and their players are usually chasing the puck. Instead, nearly all the AA games my kids team plays are competitive and the players are developing a lot more both on defense and offense, especially when the games are close. While MHR didn’t really play a role in the decision on which team my child would play on, the ratings have provided validation that they are playing at the right level for their development even though it has one less ‘A’.
4. Scheduling Games
As mentioned at the start, this is the original intent of the MyHockeyRankings. Last season our team played about 30 games. Which is fine, but a few more would have been nice.
Since there weren’t any local teams that were available in the Spring, we looked to find a few teams that were 5 hours away for weekend exhibition games against 3 or 4 teams. Well, of course I used MHR to find the teams which would be most comparable to our team to reach out to (even though they were a level lower by letter). Once again, this is exactly the intended use of MHR, to help schedule and ensure competitive games.
5. Triangulation Between Levels
My daughter plays on a youth (boys) team and at some point she will switch to playing with the girls. One of the challenges is for me to compare her current level of play with the boys to the girls of her age. However, thanks to MyHockeyRanking and using their methodology, I can triangulate her team’s ratings to other girls teams. Since the local girls team plays enough games in the boys division, I can determine their equivalent boys rating and see the difference to my daughter’s team. It provides an additional piece of data to inform our decision on the where and when she should play in the future. I have used the same methodology to compare between levels between teams from Squirt to Peewee, from Peewee to Bantam and Bantam to Midget. For example, how does a Peewee AA team compare to a Bantam B team? Thanks to MHR I am able to figure out the answer to this question.
6. How are you trending? Last 10 Game Ratings
Figuring out if your team is trending up or down during the season is a pretty important insight. Almost all teams improve throughout the year, but how is your team improving relative to others. Thanks to MHR you can see if the last 10 games are accretive or dilutive to your rating. Also, with the help of a basic spreadsheet you take any time period and figure it out for yourself. As a data geek, I like the ability to analyze this kind of stuff.
Finally, as I admitted at the start, I am aware of the rankings for my kids’ teams. The ranking usually doesn’t vary too much from the start of the season to the end of the season, so once it has been established, not much point paying too close attention to it. But knowing where the team ranks on a national and state/regional level is good to know as a parent. It basically helps me set realistic expectations for where my kids are in their development and what goals to help them set for the coming year.
These are the benefits I have found from using MyHockeyRankings and when used properly it has provided helpful insights for several important decisions for my kids’ hockey development. However, while I have used site for ‘good’, it is pretty easy to use the site in the wrong way. My next post will discuss the watch-outs and using the site in a manner that goes against its original intent.
2023 Update #1: Another strength of MHR has been having USA Hockey use the rankings for at-large invitations to National playoffs. This way the best teams will still participate even if they didn’t win their district championship.
2023 Update #2: I have also used the Women’s College Hockey ratings as part of the college recruiting process. It’s been helpful to see how each of the conferences really compare to each other in terms of level of play. As an example, it shows how competitive the WCHA conference is, and that finishing 6th in that conference would be first or second in a different conference. You could be playing for a Top 10 team in the country and still not make the NCAA tournament. The NCAA might want to change it’s pairwise calculation (which I don’t really understand) and just use MHR for their at-large tournament selections.
A couple of weeks ago I attended my first USA Hockey National Championship. I was in both Dallas for the Girls Tier I round robin games and New Jersey for several Youth 15O games. Here are a few things I learned while I was there – mostly from my time in Dallas.
1. Accurate Seedings
For Girls Tier 1, 23 of the 24 Top 8 seeds qualified for the quarterfinals from 14U, 16U and 19U. Which shows how accurate and reliable the rankings that are used to decide the both the at-large invitations and seedings are. However, once in the playoff round, the lower ranked teams had a reasonable chance to win, with many of the higher seeds losing to lower seeds. On the Youth side, only 24 of the 32 teams made it to the quarters.
2. Scouts Everywhere
In both locations, I saw coaches scouting players at every round robin game. On the youth side, there were junior and college coaches in every corner and in the stands. For the girls,nearly every DI college and many DIII coaches were along the glass and in specially designated areas to watch all the 16U games and many 14U and 19U games.
While Nationals, clearly isn’t the only opportunity to be seen, it certainly helps. It is a big deal. So I now understand why making Nationals from highly-competitive districts is so important to winning their district if they won’t be one of the 3 at-large invitation teams.
I also saw several DIII coaches talking to eligible players who hadn’t committed yet after games.
3. Many Scouts Left After the Preliminary Divisional Games
I flew back to New Jersey from Dallas at the end of the round-robin play, and saw many coaches checking out of our hotel or pulling their carry-on bags on that Saturday. Clearly they were heading home after 3 days of non-stop games. Based on my previous conversations with coaches, if they are efficient in their scouting, they will have seen enough of all the players they were watching.
4. Networking Galore
I happened to be staying in a hotel where many other NCAA coaches were staying. I was able to view first-hand lots of talks happening between team coaches and college coaches in both the arena and the hotel lobby/bars. Once again, reinforcing the importance of being at Nationals for the recruiting process. I know of at least one eligible player who was contacted after Nationals based on their appearance at Nationals.
5. USA Hockey Scouts in Attendance
It was nice to see at least two USA Hockey representatives watching games and players. I am assuming it was in anticipation of the upcoming USA Hockey District camps taking in place in May and June to select player for the 15’s, 16/17s and 18’s Camps. This gives USA Hockey a bigger body of work to judge players rather and greater level of consistency across districts rather than just relying on the coaches who may only attend one or two District camps.