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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Therefore, the first question I would ask is “What are your goals for attending the showcase?”. If you are just going to an event for fun, to get ice time or play with friends – then it really shouldn’t matter which showcase you attend. If you are using these events for development purposes, then as long as the player is receiving reasonable time of on ice-development with college-level coaches, then the specific event is less important. However, if you are going specifically to be seen by college coaches, how does it fit in with the women’s college hockey recruiting process that schools follow when engaging with prospective recruits?
As with many recruiting questions, the answer to which showcases to attend is…“it depends”. Specifically, as was told to me very early in this process, each player’s journey is a unique one, so it all relates to their specific situation.
Here are the three key questions I would use to develop a point-of-view…
1. Where are you in the recruiting process?
Are you before or after the rising junior (i.e. just finished sophomore year of high school) June 15th deadline when you can talk to coaches directly? If before, then your goal is really just to get on the radar of college coaches – basically get your name added to their tracking list. If after, would coaches at the event help your relationship or improve your visibility with them?
2. How good is your player?
Based on what you know and the feedback you’ve received from you player’s coaches, how does the player compare to their peers? Are they one of the best for their age in the country (e.g. attended one of the USA Hockey National Camps or play on a highly rated team)? Have they been the best player on most of the teams they’ve played on? Are they likely to have to decide between a lower ranked DI team vs a highly ranked DIII school? Or are they just an average player on an average team? Being realistic on where the player might fit into the DI/DIII range of teams would be helpful.
3. Which schools does the player have the most interested in?
Assuming those schools are a real possibility of tracking the player, then those events would be at the top of the list. If you haven’t narrowed down any schools and don’t have a preference yet, then do some research into which hockey programs and academic majors/departments overlap for the player’s interests. Also, location, school size and financial means are additional factors to consider.
Focus, focus, focus
If you are eligible (or close enough) to talk directly with coaches, then being very focused on your shortlist of targeted schools is key. I would recommend 3-5 schools on that list. The better the player, the more targeted you can be with the schools you believe you have a realistic chance of the college reciprocating the interest.
Most coaches state that they use showcases to help put players on their radar and to start tracking them. The typical evaluation by coaches takes place during the regular season with their fall/winter teams. Thus, many college coaches have told me they don’t need to see a player more than once or twice at showcases. Watching them 5 or 6 times over the spring/summer becomes redundant since the player rarely shows significant development in such a short period of time. However, not all coaches/schools attend every event – so it is tempting to go to at least 3 or 4 showcases/tournaments to cover all your bases.
Which coaches will be attending?
Given the above, which tournaments have the schools attending their events which best line-up with target teams? For example, the OHD Camp in Nashville has very different coaches from the PIP Boston Showcase. Finding the right match of events and coaches can be a little tricky.
Smaller can be better
From my experience last summer, for a player who is not allowed to officially talk to schools yet, the best showcases were the smaller ones (with 6 or less teams of players – ~100 attendees or so). This way the player can have meaningful on-ice and on-the-bench conversations with coaches and to create direct relationships with them. Some showcases have dozens of teams other just a handful.
Finally, this summer, for my daughter, we are prioritizing school-specific camps and the USA Hockey selects camp process over showcases and tournaments. Her unique journey has her focusing on her development this summer as she prepares to attend a hockey academy this fall. Since she will be “seen” quite a bit next year during the “regular season”, she can narrow her target this spring/summer on a small number of schools.
One last thought…you will almost always see DIII coaches at most of these events. Usually from schools that are a reasonable distance from the event site (due to travel costs). Once again, depending on your situation, location matters for DIII recruiting at showcases.
Jersey is a 2006 Goalie who plays for the U16 Girls AAA Alaska All-Stars. She is a hard working hybrid goalie with very good athleticism. Jersey plays angles well and never gives up on a play. She has great vision and quick hands. Create your own free, beautiful hockey player profile here.
Note: I wrote the first draft of this post before the NCAA announced they would expand the number of teams for the Women’s Ice hockey tournament from eight to eleven in either 2022 or 2023. While I applaud the NCAA for the decision and understand why they would increase the % of teams that qualify to match the men’s side at 27% of teams qualify, my thoughts below still stand. I also want to emphasize that I realize it is operationally complicated and expensive to have more teams qualify, but that should not stop the initiative to find creative ways to make this a win-win for the NCAA and women’s ice hockey.
Last weekend I was asked by one of the DI women’s college hockey teams to share the Close the Gap graphic on our social media accounts. However, when it comes to this kind of stuff, I like to be educated on the topic. I had just skimmed through the Kaplan Hecker & Fink report the night before and rather than just re-post what everyone else has done, I thought I would share my 2 cents on the topic. These opinions are based on what I’ve learned over the last year about women’s college hockey, but also my 20+ years working with startups and high growth products.
Let me explain, one of things I have seen firsthand over the last year in-person and via USA Hockey and Hockey Canada data is that Women’s Hockey is a fast growing sport and is very similar to a startup. And startups should not be treated the same way from a business perspective as a highly profitable large corporation. With this as background, let me share 5 opinions on the matter. I put the simple hockey recommendation first and the business ones later, since they are a little more complicated to explain.
1. Why not 14 or 16 teams?
Let’s start with the fact that I don’t really understand how teams are selected for the women’s NCAA ice hockey playoffs. However, what I do know is that last year it didn’t seem like the actual Top 8 pairwise teams in the country were the ones who were selected for the tournament. Specifically, definitely Minnesota and probably Clarkson should have been there.
As much as 11 or 12 sounds like a good number, why couldn’t it be 14 or 16 teams tha.t qualify for the NCAA playoffs? From my analysis, there is only a small standard deviation between teams that are ranked from about 7-16. Specifically, the expected goal differential between any of those teams would likely be about 1.2. In other words, about 80% of the games between these teams would on-average be determine by only 1-goal – which should make for some pretty exciting games.
I don’t want to go through all the possible ways to make it work, but having 2-4 regional play-in games would seem to promote excitement and engagement. This would be in addition to 6-8 teams getting ‘byes’ straight to the “quarter finals”. These extra play-in games would not dilute the process and give teams a chance to feel what it’s like to be in the NCAA tournament. I don’t think Women’s College Ice Hockey should just look for parity with the Men’s programs – instead. they should do what’s right for their own sport – and 14 or 16 seems like the right number to me. (By the way, I think the same logic could easily apply to the men’s side of things as well).
2. Women’s College Hockey could be a Star
In business there is a famous slide called the BCG Matrix which describes where a business stands relative to other businesses on two dimensions: growth and relative market share. In the case of the NCAA, market share would be total college sports revenue. In business terms, football and men’s basketball are Cash Cows – generate tons of $, but are low growth sports. However, Women’s Ice Hockey while not yet a big money-maker, is high growth. They would be in the top right quadrant and currently be considered a ‘?’ as a business. In many large corporations, small businesses that are Question Marks can be underfunded and de-prioritized as the Cash Cows get all the resources and attention to keep shareholders happy (sound familiar?). However, this can be short-term thinking because the future may actually be in one of the small ideas that grow to dwarfing the incumbent businesses. All you need to do is to think of how the iPod started out as a teeny business for Apple relative to their Mac business, but then it became the dominant product leading to the iPhone and iPad. For the NCAA, the future might be in one of these women’s sports – especially women’s ice hockey. This leads into my next point…
3. Dollar Spent Per Student Athlete should be higher for Women’s Ice Hockey than Men’s Ice Hockey
This seems counter-intuitive but hear me out. Women’s College Ice Hockey should be treated like a startup. And startups over-invest during their early years to grow their products and brands until they hit scale. All you have to do is look at how Amazon lost money for years until they achieved scale in their core business. Keep reading below for the business rationale for investing in startups.
Now, this does not mean just throwing money at the sport. I think one of the best recommendations in the KHF Report is to find ways to combine both the Mens and Women’s National Championship events together. This way you can spread the fixed costs over a larger base, and even better, you can use bundling to promote both sports (e.g. sell ticket packs for both sports). Many companies and events (like the Olympics) use bundling as a way to help underfunded offerings get more distribution and customers.
4. Show me the incentive and I’ll show you the outcome
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the NCAA designed a perfect system to achieve the results they produced – which was significantly under-funding certain women’s sports relative to the higher revenue generating male equivalent sports. When you read the Phase II report, many of their recommendations focus on changing the mindset, processes and people who make the key decisions about these sports. It was quite evident that there has been no incentive for the NCAA to prioritize gender-equity allocation of resources, investments and media attention. Since there was no incentive, their only goal appears to have been “profit maximization” and that what was rewarded. However, NCAA is not just about making money, they are about promoting sports and student-athletes across all their sports – not just the ones that currently make the most money. In this case, introduce the sport to fans who already have an interest in men’s hockey.
5. Women’s Ice Hockey should have its own vision for where it wants to go by developing a “Grow the Game” Playbook
Women’s Ice Hockey shouldn’t depend on the NCAA to figure out the secret sauce for building a large, loyal fanbase. They need to take ownership for the success of their own sport themselves.
I have learned over the past year is that there is a wide range of marketing and social media savviness across the DI women’s college hockey programs. I am also assuming this translates into local marketing for their teams and building their fanbase – as seen by a wide range in attendance at regular season and playoff games (and obviously Covid has had a big impact in this stuff recently). But there should be some type of committee created (if there isn’t one already) that brings together some of the best practices from the most successful programs for selling the sport and putting on big women’s hockey events. These programs know their customers better than anyone else and should be leading the charge on what works and what doesn’t with this customer segment. With additional funding and proven, creative ideas the sport can really be taken to a new level.
In previous posts I have discussed attending showcases and camps which are scouted by college coaches. One of the key aspects of participating in these events is to recognize how they fit in to the end-to-end college recruiting process. Except for the rare exceptional player, attending any single event likely contributes only a fraction of the information involved in getting an offer from a school. As discussed many times before, each student-athletes recruiting journey is unique. However, this post serves as a general framework on defining the college athlete recruiting process. In addition, it attempts to provide context on tracking the process. Hopefully this information helps players and parents set reasonable expectations for what should happen depending on which stage of their journey they are in.
How do coaches find and track potential student-athlete recruits? Here is a non-exhaustive list of sources for schools to add names to their recruiting database.
Top program rosters (e.g. hockey academy, prep school, top AAA club)
USA Hockey national camp
College summer camps
Inbound email from player
Team website interest form
How do teams scout and collect player information? How are players evaluated and rated?
Once a player is on a team’s radar, then they are researching the player to see if they might be a fit for their program. Here are the some of their primary sources of data gathering.
Watch livestream games (e.g. LiveBarn, HockeyTV)
Watch games in-person
Coach references (current, past, opposing team)
College summer camps
Public available data (social media, Elite Prospects, team/league websites, MyHockeyRankings)
How do teams rank players and narrow their list for potential offers?
Assuming a players skill level meets a certain standard to be considered for a potential offer from the research phase, then additional information is also collected to be used in the decision-making process.
Past interactions (camps, showcases etc.)
Phone/Zoom/In-person conversations (interviews)
Prior to starting Champs App, my last company focused on the employee recruiting process. In particular, the interviewing stage for large companies. What is remarkably similar between job recruiting and college athlete recruiting is that that “hiring” organization wants to have as many “qualified” potential candidates in their recruiting pipeline before they make an offer. This gives them the school/company best opportunity to make an offer to the “best fit” candidate while realizing that the candidate, or student-athlete in this case, also has options and may choose to go somewhere else. Striking the balance between keeping potential recruits interested without any promise of an offer is a challenge that depends on creating a trusting relationship between both parties.
How do prospective student-athletes and school align their respective needs/interests with positional openings?
Number of openings; openings by position
Financial aid / scholarships (if available)
Expectations (role, depth chart)
When it comes to the Offer stage of the college recruiting process, there are still many questions I have about how a final decision is made. In upcoming podcasts with college coaches, I will be asking the following questions.
Do you make offers to players, with an assumption that not all of them will accepts (i.e. expect a yield rate)? Or do you only make offers with a specific opening in mind, then go down the list when a player does not accept an offer?
What attributes are negotiable in an offer from a school?
Are conditional offers made which are dependent on academic requirements?
When I get the answers to these questions I will write up my findings in a follow-up post.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what to write for this post. I wanted to specifically discuss what happened at the USA Hockey 15’s camp in St. Cloud. However, I have come to realize that it would be incomplete without providing additional context about the entire women’s college recruiting process. As a result, for this post I am mostly just going to stick to the facts and data I collected. Separately, I will soon publish a detailed post about what I have figured out so far about the end-to-end recruiting process to give the perspective needed for any individual event.
What became obvious quite quickly, is that coaches from all over the country were flocking to St Cloud to see the top 216 15-year old female players. Kristin Wright stated at the opening parents meeting that 90% of schools would be at the Development Camp at some point during the week. Based on all the logos I saw that number must have been pretty close.
Here are the schools I saw first-hand, but I am sure this is not a complete list:
At a basic level coaches had two objectives for attending the event:
Watching players already on their list and track their performance/development
Identify new players to add to their follow list
Since I was sitting in the stands with most of the coaches I had a few observations. Some coaches were very social and others kept to themselves. Some showed up just the first couple of days, others just for the last 2 or 3 days. Unlike 16/17s camp which took place a couple of weeks earlier, coaches can’t talk to the 15’s parents – so there was almost engagement between coaches and parents. Schools that I did not see their logos seemed to have on-ice coaches represented at either the 16/17s camp or the U18 camp. Many coaches had printed rosters or iPads to identify players and take notes. But quite a few did not appear to have a method to take notes or remember players. Each school seem to have a different scouting strategy/plan. Some schools had multiple coaches, while other only had one representative. As well, some scouts only watched games, while other watched all the public practices and scrimmages.
A couple of schools really stood out to me during the week
The first was Boston University head coach Brian Durocher who spent the first three days watching almost every practice and game. He would just stand on his own down along the glass quietly taking notes on a little piece of paper. And when there was a break on one rink he go watch players on the other rink. He was very unassuming, but clearly using his many years of experience to evaluate players and take copious notes.
The other school that impressed, was the team of Ohio State coaches (at least four in total both on-ice and off-ice) who were making sure they watched all the girls on both rinks throughout the week. They typically sat in a group around head coach Nadine Muzerall and watched a lot of hockey together. As a Michigan grad it isn’t easy for me to say nice things about OSU, but clearly they have prioritized scouting and their recruiting process as a key to their success.
In my next post I will discuss what I have learned about different stages of the women’s college recruiting process. This will help answer many of the questions I have received about how much should a player be seen in the spring and summer at showcases and events compared to their regular season team.
At the start of camp, Kristen Wright helped provide perspective on how to think about the bigger picture for what the week was about. The 15’s Camp is really just the first step in a USA Hockey player’s journey at the national level. For many it can be a multi-year process including their college years as the they try to be included in the conversation to make the National Women’s Team.
Realistically, in the short term, for most girls, the ultimate goal of attending any of the girls camps (15,16/18 or U18), is to be invited to the Women’s National Festival which includes players from all age groups (National Team, U23 and U18) being considered for a national roster.
However, for the week of camp, unless something truly exceptional occurred, this Covid year, there would be no decision on advancing or further outcome beyond the camp for any of the players in attendance. Everyone would just head back home richer from the experience and will go though a similar process next year to make the 2022 16/17s camp or if they we one of the top players, potentially go directly to the U18’s camp.
Given the above, what did I think were the objectives for the camp from a USA Hockey perspective?
Learn about the USA Hockey national program for girls/women and understand what it takes to compete and potentially make a national team (U18, U23, Women’s National Team)
Get seen & scouted by USA Hockey Coaches (to help get on the radar for the U18 Camp for 2022)
Get feedback on strengths and development opportunities
Get a benchmark of how good a player is relative to their peer group
1. Learn about the USA Hockey National Program
During the parent meeting, Kristen Wright shared the three core values of the USA Hockey program:
And from what I could sense as an outside observer, all the activities for the week centered around these principles. In addition, the theme of the week focused more on helping players be the best they can be rather than solely focus on what it would take to make any of the different age-specific national teams. Given the size of the camp, on balance, that seemed like a more realistic focus. Better to focus on the values that players would need to consistently demonstrate to make a team rather than hockey-specific attributes that may not resonate at this time for most of the girls.
2. Get seen & scouted by USA Hockey Coaches
As mentioned in my previous post, the on-ice coach to player ratio was about 1:3 with somewhere in the range of 70-100 USA Hockey representatives participating in the camp. I am assuming that USA Hockey leadership had some type of scouting information collection capability from both on-ice and off-ice observers at both games and practices. In addition, team coaches, team leaders and interns all got to observe their players both at the rink and outside of the rink during the week of camp. Given all these points of data, I would expect that there is some type of player tracking tool with a summary of the information that was collected on each player. There must be some type of report card (beyond the testing results) that was being kept on each player. Ideally, this database would be used to benchmark players if they return to another USA Hockey camp.
As Kristen Wright alluded to the parents on the first afternoon, roughly speaking players are group into A’s (Top 25 or Top 50), B’s (the next ~100) and C’s (the lowest ~75 players). However, the messaging was clear, it really shouldn’t matter right now for players to hear what level they were evaluated. The girls were there to learn about what it took to make it to the next level in USA Hockey and they need to take those learnings and go back and work hard and get better for next year. This year’s evaluations would primarily be used as a way to track development and improvement in a year from now.
3. Get feedback on strengths and development opportunities
Each player received some type of feedback from one of their coaches during the week. Depending on the team and coach, the feedback session occurred during the second half of camp and was a 1-on-1 meeting with one of the two team coaches. Since I was not a player, I could only gather information indirect accounts from players or parents, so my sample size may not be big enough. Evaluation was almost entirely qualitative than quantitative. However, the one consistent theme I heard was that the feedback session wasn’t that great. Comments ranged from advice being too generic (e.g. “go back home work hard, get better and come back and show us what you can do next year”) to not offering any real thoughtful insights to putting the onus on the player to self-evaluate and then mostly agreeing with the player’s evaluation. The consistent theme that I heard was that not enough effort was put into preparing for the feedback session.
In my opinion, this was an area that is an area that the camp could have had a bigger impact.
My personal thoughts are there should be some type of formal feedback process. Ideally with a standardize report card by position (goalie, defense, winger, center). Each player should have received written, detailed feedback on their strengths and key development opportunities (e.g. 3 for each) to help take their game to the next level (which would be personalized to the appropriate for that individual player). I realize this is a tremendous amount of work, requires a lot of coordination between all the coaches and has some pretty significant risks if not properly implemented. And I agree 100% with Kristen Wright the goal is build and maintain player confidence is key. However, given how much players and parents are invested (in every sense of the word) in their hockey development, having some type of tangible, standardized evaluation would be invaluable for these players. To be clear, I thought the week was exceptionally well-run and a great experience for all involved, but this was my one disappointment as a parent.
Since we didn’t get that feedback, I ended up doing it myself using footage from the games available via HockeyTV. I’ve started break down the video and comparing them to the top players from the U18 camp who made the National Festival. Most parents probably won’t do this level of video analysis, so there will be a gap in direction for many of the players. It’s disappointing that not all the girls will get a deep dive on their performance.
4. Get a benchmark of how good a player is relative to their peer group
My impression was that while the standard deviation at the 15’s Camp was much smaller than at Pacific District camp (where the gap from top to bottom was pretty significant) you could still see big differences from the elite players to some of the marginal players. Depending on the cohesiveness of the team, it was apparent where some players focused more on showcasing their individual talents rather than trusting their teammates and playing as a team. It was great to see multiple passes between teammates being well-executed to create scoring chances. However, in many games missed passes and turnover-after-turnover was occurring on a frequent basis, especially for the first couple of games.
One thing that really stood out to me quite frequently after I saw a player make a great play and I would then look-up where they were from, was how often they were a Minnesota High School player from a school I had never heard of. It was the first time I saw first-hand the high level of players produced by Minnesota hockey on the girls side of things.
In terms of benchmarking, if a player was observant of their teammates, they could pretty easily see which ones were more effective than others (and why). And they could also see the ones who either struggled on the skills side of things (e.g. skating, passing, positional play) or playing a team game. This was on the skater side of things. Since I am no expert on goalies, I am not sure how puck-stoppers would self-evaluate relative to their peers, but hopefully they could see the wide range of styles and abilities that different goalies demonstrated during the goalie-specific sessions.
These were my observations from the USA Hockey U15s girls camp and how I thought it met the objectives for the week from a USA Hockey perspective. While I wished there was a little more direction on the path to USA Hockey success, I fully understand why this is still the top of player funnel from a national team point-of-view.
In the final post about the 15s Girls camp, I will discuss the camp from a college recruiting perspective.