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2024 Development Camp Women's Hockey

Why U18 National Teams Shouldn’t Only Have Offensive Defenders on their Roster

Last week, I re-watched the Canada vs Czechia IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship semi-final game. Czechia won the game 4-2 after losing to Canada in the Group A game 8-1. I noticed that two of the Czechia goals were a direct result of major mistakes by the Canadian defenders. I then saw that the shots on goal were heavily in favor of the Canadians when the score was 3-2 at about 43-11 (ended up being 47-12 for Canada).

This got me thinking, how could Canada lose a game that they so clearly dominated in terms of offensive opportunities?

Two thoughts came to mind:

  1. Czechia did an amazing job learning from their group game with Canada and played a defensive structure which minimized Canada’s high risk chances. Czechia then capitalized on the few opportunities they had to score.
  2. Similar to my observations about the USA Hockey U18 selection process, Canada probably puts a bigger emphasis on fielding a team with offensive D than well-balanced defenders. As a result, a couple of defensive mistakes cost them the game.

This is just my hypothesis, I could be completely wrong.  And let me be clear, any player that makes the Canada or U.S. U18 teams are exceptional players.  They can all skate well, pass well and shoot well.  There is no doubt each of them deserved to be on the team. But maybe, they are too similar in their skill set?

When it comes to roster construction, sometimes you need to include one or two 200-foot players to complement the more offensive players.  Specifically, there are usually tradeoffs between a great puck handling D with a hard shot vs. someone who is technically better at 2-on-1s, clearing players in front of the net, playing the penalty kill or defending 1-on-1 zone entries.   An analogy would be having 7 Erik Karlssons playing defense for a single team – at some point in important games against good teams there will be times you need the D to keep the puck out of your own net.  Once again, this is not to say that those highly skilled U18 players aren’t good defenders, but when they go up against the top 2 or 3 forwards on a national team, they will also need to be technically strong on defense.

Let’s look at some data to support why I can understand how a coaching staff would  put together a roster with so much offensive power at the U18 level.

2023 IIHF U18 World Champsionship Shot Totals

Canada outshot their opponent by a 6:1 ratio throughout the tournament. They also had over 40 shots per game.  I would suspect they felt the team could outscore all opponents as long they didn’t have any major defensive hiccups. 

Of course, you are probably asking – weren’t they planning to play the U.S.?  Like all Canadian teams, they probably expected and planned to play the U.S.  at some point – likely in the gold medal game (given the new format of A/B group play this year, they wouldn’t play each other in group games).  So Canada would still need to be prepared to play a high-powered offensive USA Hockey team.

Then I looked at the shot total for the 2023 Under-18 Series which took place in Lake Place between the Canada and USA.  Team Canada swept all 3 games against the U.S. team by a combined score of 15-3.  Here were the shot totals:

uSA Canada u18 Summer Series SHot Totals

A couple of possible reasons for Canada to justify having highly offensive defenders… Either the felt they could still outscore Team USA and defend well enough to beat them.  Or, maybe their D were never tested enough in the USA-Canada Series to expose some of the technical weaknesses against world-class scorers.

So what?

During my experience attending and analyzing multiple USA Hockey camps/events, I have felt that the players being selected have had their offensive abilities overly weighted in the evaluation process.  Now, I am fully onboard with most of the high-end, offensive D being the ones being picked. However, including one or two defenders who can also keep the puck out of your own net at critical points of an important game can be the difference between winning and losing in the medal rounds.  Having a little more balance on the blue line could be the difference between winning and losing in big games.

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2023 2024 College Hockey Recruiting Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

Insights and Implications on Recruiting from a Deep Dive of DI Women’s Hockey Rosters

During November and December, I spent a lot of time reviewing the current rosters of all the NCAA DI women’s hockey teams for goalies, forwards and defense. In addition, I re-booted the Champs App process for tracking commits to those schools.  While analyzing all of this data, I had several different observations about the recruiting process that I thought were worth sharing.

1. What are the Pros and Cons to Large Roster Sizes?

One of the key insights was the big standard deviation in roster sizes. There are 9 teams with 28 or more players listed. Based on my conversations with multiple coaches, this likely is due to the 5th year Covid  eligibility for many players.  And there are 6 teams with 23 or less players on their roster. Keep in mind that teams can only dress 20 or 21 (incl. 3 goalies) players for a game. This raises certain points…

  • From a coach’s perspective this gives them more players to choose from and thus the ability to field the best team available for any given game
  • My hypothesis, for which an analysis is coming soon, is that age & experience is highly correlated to success (in addition to talent, of course).  By being able to play the most experienced and talented players from a large roster likely shows up in the standings.
  • This also means coaches having to conduct multiple tough conversations each week to explain why a player will be healthy scratched
  • With only a maximum of 16 scholarships available to schools, many student-athletes are paying their own way to be on the team (and probably not getting much ice time, since schools tend to give the biggest scholarships to the best players). This is where the academics of a school become more important than your place on the roster. 
  • Given the above, I wasn’t too surprised to see several highly-touted first-year recruits at top programs that have been scratched for multiple games so far this season

2. Several 2022-23 Top 15 Teams are no Longer Top 15 Teams

  • Northeastern had been in the Top 15 since 2015, but did not break into the Top 15 ranking until this week. This is almost entirely due to them having lost their top players who contributed over 50% of their goal production from last season. Note: Northeastern still has 29 players on their roster
  • There are a couple of other schools who also have dropped out of the rankings this season. As an incoming recruit, you might need to adjust your expectations if you committed to a team that you expect to be competing for the Frozen Four every year, but now that school may not even make the NCAA playoffs.

3. Small Roster Analysis

  • It seemed odd that Penn State only has 21 players on their roster this season. So I took a deeper look.  Last year they had 23 student-athletes.  5 seniors graduated and 2 highly-talented juniors transferred (one to Ohio State and the other to Minnesota Duluth).  There are 2 first-year players and 3 seniors/grad students who transferred into PSU (from Colgate, New Hampshire and Long Island).  I can’t confirm, but I also think one player deferred to start in 2024 vs 2023.  I suspect the Penn State coaching staff didn’t expect two of their top players to transfer out of the school and that is why the roster is so small. This example shows the fluidity of which coaching staffs must manage their rosters going into the last year of 5th year Covid players and the transfer portal. It also shows that there could be late openings at the odd school come springtime.
  • Ohio State only has 6 D (but 24 rostered players).  Similar to Penn State, I took a deeper look into the OSU roster when I saw only 6 defenders listed. If there is an injury or two to Ohio State blue line this season they will be in trouble. They would likely have to move someone back from forward to play defense.   Last season there were 9 blueliners. 3 players graduated (including Patty Kazmaier winner Sophie Jacques), and 2 underclass players transferred to other schools (Colgate and Maine).  Coming in, two grad students transferred to the Buckeyes – Olympian Cayla Barnes (Boston College) and Stephanie Markowski (Clarkson) , both grad students. There are no freshman defenders in the 2023-24 class.  Once again I suspect the OSU coaching staff did not expect to lose 2 players to the transfer portal. What is interesting is that Sydney Morrow who did not get much ice time in the Frozen Four for the Buckeyes last season, is well over a point-per-game player at Colgate this season.  Based on our commit analysis, OSU is back to being focused on recruiting the top incoming players, with 13 commits in total for 2024 and 2025.

4. NEWHA Schools are the Last to Fill up Rosters

The New England Women’s Hockey Association (NEWHA) conference includes St Anselm, Long Island, Assumption, Stonehill, Post, Sacred Heart and St Michaels. It is pretty clear that the timeline for most of these schools to complete their rosters is later than most other conferences.  I know of at least two schools that were still trying to fill their 2024 rosters before the end of December 2023.  Only a few spots from NEWHA schools have been announced for 2025, while most of the top schools from other conferences are already filled.

5. Only U18 Players Need Apply

It was interesting to discover, but not a complete surprise, that multiple ranked schools only have commits that were U18 Girls National Camp players (Canada, USA or international) or better. I will go into more detail on the data and the implications on recruiting in an upcoming post.

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2024 2025 College Hockey Recruiting Girls Hockey Women's College Hockey

Q4 2023 DI Women’s College Hockey Commitment Rate Update

This is an update to our quarterly posts which track the number of publicly announced commitments in DI women’s college hockey.

We’ve Changed our Commit Tracking Methodology

For this update, we have significantly changed our data collection methodology on tracking women’s college hockey commits.  In previous quarterly updates, we primarily relied on data from the Women’s College Commitments (WCC) tracking page. Using their data we were able to track announcements on a monthly bases and show trends month-over-month and year-over-year:

Q3 2023 DI Women’s College Hockey Commitment Rate Update

However, we always knew that their data only represented a percentage of all commits for a given year (and relied on the data to be “consistently incomplete” year over year).   For example, for the 2023-24 NCAA DI women’s college hockey season, there are 284 first-year players.  While WCC only recorded 185 of those commits – so, only about 65% of all commits.  While it is almost impossible to track every commit, since many players don’t make public announcements & it is much harder to track European commits, we have endeavored to be more holistic in data collection.

Our new method includes not just WCC, but also information from Elite Prospects, social media posts by players and teams, youth team website rosters and any other public information we can find.  As a result, we have redesigned how we present the data and will only present the data from a quarterly perspective going forward.

As a result, we believe we are closer to tracking ~90% of all commits which is much higher than our previous tracking of ~65%.

Q4 Commitment Details

We recently published the status of women’s college hockey DI commits by position and discussed our analysis on “where and why” about the numbers:

Forward Recruits: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Analyzing the Defensive Lineups: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Navigating the Tight Goalie Market: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Below is how the overall data is trending for commits & by position. As discussed in the previous posts, the incoming class of 2024 is almost full, but there seems to be many spots still open (especially at NEWHA schools) for 2025.

However, it appears that the total size of the incoming 2024 class will be smaller than previous years – mostly due to 5th year Covid eligibility for many student-athletes reducing the number of available spots. For 2025, it is a little too early to tell, but it looks like it will be a regular sized class with over 280 commits – especially with the addition of new DI women’s hockey team, the Delware Blue Hens.

By-Position Year-Over-Year Commit Rate Comparison

Here is the same data as above, but broken out by position in comparison to previous years.

Comparing Q4 to Q3 2023 Total Commits for the Class of 2025

While not apples-to-apples, below is a table comparing the number of commits for the Class of 2025 from Q3 2023 to Q4 2023. As you can see about 125 commits have been announced during the last 3 months.

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2024 College Hockey Recruiting Girls Hockey Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

Analyzing the Defensive Lineups: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Updated Dec. 21, 2023

This is the third of 3 posts about where things stand for each position – Goalies, Forwards and Defense – for the incoming classes of 2024 and 2025.

Read Part I of this series here: Navigating the Tight Goalie Market: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Read Part II of this series here: Forward Recruits: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Women’s DI College Hockey Total Defensive Players & Commits by Year

as of December, 2023

With 44 DI women’s ice hockey teams now in the NCAA, having 88 first-year D is pretty much exactly what you would expect if each team carries an average of 8 defenders on their roster. While there are some puts and takes (e.g. Assumption adding 7 freshmen D and 35 5th year/grad students) the 2023-24 season seemed to be an above-average recruiting class on defense. With the large number of current players with a 5th year of eligibility still available to them, it is likely that the incoming 2024 class will be small than this year’s group of D recruits.

Our current analysis shows that the Class of 2024 already has at least 74 commits – and we are likely missing a few European players from our list. Therefore, there are likely a small handful of spots still open or become available because of the transfer portal, but pretty much it seems the recruiting door for 2024 defenders has pretty much closed.

For the Class of 2025, only ~50 spots have been filled. With Delaware announcing their new DI team starting in the 2025-26 season there should be several spots available for that team. In addition, there are certainly some openings on several other teams and certainly most of the NEWHA schools – with only 4 roster spots publicly announced across those 8 teams.

Women’s DI College Hockey Defense and Commits by School & Year

as of December, 2023

A few quick thoughts:

  • Ohio State and Bemidji State only have 6 defenders listed on their roster. Would be interesting to see how they would handle not having 1 or 2 of them for a period of time (injury, playing on national teams). Clearly a F would need to move back to help out, but that would still likely have the team at a disadvantage.
  • 11 teams have 9 or more D on their rosters. For players being recruited to schools with such large rosters, they need to seriously consider the implications of being healthy scratched if they aren’t clearly in the top 6.
  • The next post will analyze the overall rosters of DI teams – including showing how many players each school has. There is a pretty big range in roster sizes (from 20 – 33 players).
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College Hockey Recruiting Girls Hockey Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

Forward Recruits: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Updated Dec. 19, 2023

This is the second of 3 posts about where things stand for each position – Goalies, Forwards and Defense – for the incoming classes of 2024 and 2025.

Read Part I of this series here: Navigating the Tight Goalie Market: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Read Part III of this series here: Analyzing the Defensive Lineups: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Women’s DI College Hockey Total Forward Players & Commits by Year

as of December, 2023

At first glance things seemed to have returned to normal for forwards with respect to the DI women’s college hockey recruiting class of 2023. There are 157 first-year players across all the Division I rosters this season. However, 18 of those spots are freshmen players at either Assumption or Robert Morris (“new” programs for both these schools), so the number is a little inflated compared to the 152 sophomore players playing DI hockey.

For the incoming Class of 2024, it seems almost all schools have finalized their rosters by now. Most schools have been announcing on social media their inbound players after the signing day earlier this month. Other than a few spots at NEWHA schools and maybe the odd player at other schools filling in a final roster spot, there are likely only a handful of opportunities remaining for forwards. Our 2024 F analysis now has 166 players, but there are likely some European and other commits who haven’t been publicly announced.

In addition, without knowing the plans for individual players, it is unclear how many of the 105 Seniors (granted an extra year of eligibility due to Covid) will decide to return for a 5th year either at their current school or find another school for their grad year. If all of them continue to play for the 2024-25 season then there may not be any spots open to 2024 high school graduates.

As for the incoming Class of 2025, there are certainly many spots still open. While most of the Top 10 schools have snagged the best players in the country, there are openings at many other programs. Until recently, many of the NEWHA schools have been focused on filling their 2024 rosters, so they will likely only shift their attention over the next month or two for their 2025 forwards.

Women’s DI College Hockey Forwards and Commits by School & Year

as of December, 2023

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

Navigating the Tight Goalie Market: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Updated Dec. 14, 2023

This is the first of 3 posts about where things stand for each position – Goalies, Forwards and Defense – for the incoming classes of 2024 and 2025.

Read Part II of this series here: Forward Recruits: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

Read Part III of this series here: Analyzing the Defensive Lineups: The Current State of Division I Women’s College Hockey Recruiting for the Class of 2024 & 2025

The last couple of years have been tough for high level goalies looking for a spot to play Division I women’s college hockey.  With the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility for current seniors and grad students, it was anticipated that there were less openings available for the upcoming classes. In a typical year there should be 33 freshman goalies (3 goalies per team x 44 teams  ÷ 4 years of eligibility).   However, with the two new teams that started in 2023 (Assumptions and Robert Morris) and 10 teams carrying 4 goalies, it was surprising to see that there were 39 first-year goalies on DI teams this year – significantly more than in previous years.

Women’s DI College Hockey Total Goalie Player & Commits by Year

as of December, 2023

This is in addition to the transfer portal, which was very active for goaltenders this past off-season with 22 goalies looking for new teams.  Of note, only 7 of them found new DI teams, made up mostly of experienced goaltenders with only 1 or 2 years of eligibility left.

(December Update) From my analysis it looks like there probably are no more spots left for the class of 2024.  Any schools which appear to still have openings are likely intentionally waiting to see who becomes available via the transfer portal – there are already Covid 5th year players in the portal for next season.

As for the incoming class of 2025, it appears as there still me be many spots open – possibly as many as 10-15 slots still available. However, there may be schools that have already filled spots with commits that haven’t been publicly announced or tracked.  In addition, with 2023 having an above average number of first year goalies (8 teams having 2 freshmen) and 10 teams carrying 4 goalies, the outgoing college class of 2024 goalies may not all be replaced.  But on the positive side, there has only been one 2025 goalie publicly announced commit amongst all 8 of the NEWHA teams – so there are likely still some openings on several of those teams.

Women’s DI College Hockey Goalies and Commits by School & Year

as of December, 2023

One last thought to keep in mind.  Some schools might be happy to carry 4 goalies – this helps with practices and in case of injury to a goalie or two. I have had several coaches tell me that recently they have had serious injuries to at least one goalie, so having depth can be very helpful. Therefore, if you want agree to be a 4th goalie you may be able to be rostered and practice on a team but you probably won’t be guaranteed playing time – almost surely will not see any scholarship money unless you move up in the depth chart.  If the school is more important to you than playing time, this could be an option.

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College Hockey Recruiting Girl's Showcase Girls Hockey hockey USA Hockey Nationals Women's College Hockey

Recruiting Insights from the 2023 Tradition NIT Girls Hockey Tournament: Coaches, Coaches, Coaches!

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.

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College Hockey Recruiting Girl's Showcase Player Development Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

How to Navigate a Path to Playing Women’s College Hockey

This summer, a podcast listener emailed me a simple question. If I was to do it all over again, what path would I recommend a young girl follow if she wanted to play college hockey?  Obviously, there is no simple answer or a single path for someone to follow to play high level female hockey.  But I thought I would articulate three simple principles I’d recommend and include references to more detailed topics I have covered in the past.

Note: This post focuses primarily on the DI college recruiting process. If a player’s goal is to play other levels of college / university hockey like DIII, CIS or ACHA (club) hockey, you can probably slightly dial down the timing and frequency of the some of the recommendations below.

1. Just Get Good

This is by far the most important principle in this list. At whatever age a player shows a passion for hockey, this is the area to focus on most.  I have written several posts on what it takes to become a really good hockey player and this should be the highest priority. In my opinion, this probably should not change until a player stops playing competitive hockey.  There are over 2000 girls in each birth year playing a high level of hockey in the U.S. and Canada, but only ~250 spots open on DI rosters every year, the math gets quite easy. A player needs to be in the top 10-15% in order to get an offer from one of those 44 teams.

2. Make Sure You Are Seen

Assuming you are a “good” hockey player.  I would recommend that starting at about 14 or 15 years old you play for a team that attends the major girls hockey events  that DI college coaches scout. By playing on such a team, there is the obvious benefit of playing with other good players, receiving good coaching and being pushed by your peers.  But more importantly, in my experience, knowing that college coaches will be watching you play against top teams and players will help them calibrate you to your peers.

Not everyone agrees with this. Many coaches will say, if you are good enough, schools will find you. This is great in theory, but it is not always true. I know of several really good female hockey players who either played boys hockey, lived in non-traditional markets or played on weak AAA teams who were not regularly seen. The reality is, if you don’t play at high profile tournaments (e.g. USA or Canadian national playoffs & other top in-season tournaments ) or are not selected to attend the U18 national camps you won’t get noticed as easily.  So if you aren’t one of the top 30 players in the country, put yourself in the best position to be seen as much as possible.

There is also definitely a bias to regional players for almost all schools. And it is self-reinforcing. This is why you see so many Minnesota players play for Minnesota colleges. And why so many prep players play on the east coast.  While there are exceptions, being able to watch local players, having existing relationships with their coaches, players wanting to stay close to home etc. are all factors in their recruiting process.  Each of these things make it “easier” for college coaches to find talent that is probably just as good as the harder to find alternatives – and why coaches tend to find fish where they’ve fished in the past. So if you aren’t on a team that is regularly seen by DI schools, the mountain is a little steeper to climb, but not impossible. 

Which is why I would recommend for players who aren’t slam-dunk going to play in a Top 10 school, make sure you get seen in the year or two prior to your junior year of high school.

3. Strategically Pick 3-5 Spring/Summer Hockey Events to Attend

Ideally, the older you get, the more you would know how good a player your are relative to your peers.  This should then factor into which events to pick after the winter season ends.  With a little research you can figure out which ones might fit you level of play. Almost all the showcase organizers are very responsive to answering questions and can give you a feel if your daughter would be a good fit for a specific event. 

I would recommend only attending a handful of off-season events (e.g. one per month from April-August).   Such as:

  • USA Hockey or Hockey Canada national camps  (if you are good/lucky enough to be selected)
  • Showcases (Premier Ice Prospects, RUSH, NGHL etc.)
  • College Camps ( Colgate,  and any other school-specific camp that you might be interested in)
  • Popular tournaments (e.g. Beantown Classic, Showcase Hockey, Rose Series etc.)

Check out our full year list of girls hockey events.

 I think it is hard to justify going to more than 5 events unless they are almost all local (e.g. in the Boston area).  The “spray and pray” strategy usually ends up wasting a lot of money.  We have talked ad nauseum on the podcast that you don’t need to go to every event. It is both expensive and unnecessary.  But having a plan based on a players interest and level of play can deliver a reasonable return on your time and financial investment.

If you are 12 and under, in my opinion, you should be picking events for fun (e.g. a hockey trip to Europe) and maybe a little development. But not for recruiting purposes. You will have plenty of time when you are older to attend events that really matter to college coaches.

Summary

I have intentionally tried to simplify my recommendations on how to navigate the world of girl’s hockey and women’s college recruiting.  Player development is most critical. After that, just make sure they are playing at a high level while getting enough visibility.  If you follow these principles, everything else should take care of itself.

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2023 Development Camp Girls Hockey Player Development Women's Hockey

The USA Hockey 2023 Girls 16/17 Camp Feedback Process – Part II

My Recommendations

Read Part I Here

Feedback is a gift.
Giving feedback is hard.

Having led performance feedback to dozens (if not hundreds) of people I’ve managed in business, I recognize it is one of the most challenging interactions to conduct in my career.  At the same time, I was taught how to take it seriously and learned many of the best practices to ensure a positive outcome from the process for both parties.  

It is pretty clear from the parent meeting at the 16/17 Girls camp (and the letter that accompanied the feedback/rating letter) that USA Hockey  wants to make no doubt that they are providing a variety of different levels of feedback for each player at the national camps. The details of this feedback were clearly explained in Part I on this topic.

And it is important to recognize that they really do care about giving feedback – because they have dedicated time and resources to the process.  I also wanted to also acknowledge that is takes a non-trivial amount of effort to provide detailed feedback to about 400 players across 4 major camps each summer.

At the same time, I’ve spent a ton of time thinking about this topic trying to figure out why almost everyone I have spoken with is disappointed with the USA Hockey Girls National Camp selection and feedback process. And here is what I came up with…

At the end of the day, the current process does not solve the unmet need of the players – which is to have actionable direction on their highest priority development areas. This is because the robustness of the feedback is not commensurate with the level of commitment and investment the players put into making, preparing and attending the camp.

And my reason for this is the following:

The feedback is too generic. For almost all the players, it’s just too simplistic/superficial without personalized examples and not actionable enough.

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Standardize a More Robust Process – The coaches should go through a training session on how the process works and what the expectations are from the coach on the process, content & delivery. All players should receive player-specific information using a common format, but with player-specific examples in the review. While the coaches should have flexibility to adapt the process to their style, each performance review (in addition to the attribute ratings mentioned in Part I) would require the feedback to include each of the following….
  2. Include Player-Specific Key Statistics (e.g. pass completion rates or turnover rates). Nothing is more powerful than data. Being able to show a player how they compared on key attributes compared to their peers makes things much clearer. This became quite evident to me in my analysis of the 16/17 Camp forwards and defenders.
  3. Support with Player-Specific Video Clips  –  showing a player exactly what they do well and how/when they make mistakes provides “hard-to-argue” credibility to the stats and the coach’s feedback. This would likely use a video analytics system like Instat/Hudl so each player’s shifts could be coded.
  4. Prioritize Key Areas to Focus OnDarryl Belfry consistently talks about High Frequency – Low Success Rate Situations.  Video and statistical analysis will surface these situations. Then a coach should be using them to focus on a limited number of these game patterns to prioritize (3-5) situations/skills for a player to work on.

These four recommendations would require a significantly greater amount of time and resources than the current effort being done at the USA Hockey girls camps. There may not be time to aggregate everything during that week.  But the feedback session does not need to occur at the camp. It can be done a week or two after the camp via a video-call.  What matters most is that the players are getting their needs met as to where to focus and improve as a player.  Ideally, there would be someone in leadership who was solely responsible for player development and not directly associated with the selections for the U18 camp or team. I know it can be done, because I have seen first-hand more robust feedback processes on the boys side at both the USA Hockey and junior hockey levels.

Final Thoughts

The best organizations focus relentlessly on their customers. One of the biggest ways to ensure these organizations are meeting the needs of their customers is to ask them for feedback. Specifically their overall satisfaction with a question like “Would you recommend [product/service] to a friend or colleague?” followed by “Why?”. In my few years interacting with USA Hockey both as a coach and a parent, I have never been asked for my feedback on the programs I’ve been been engaged with. In essence, USA Hockey has a monopoly on the national team programs so it is understandable that they may not need to be as customer-centric as an Amazon or an Apple. But, if leadership for USA Hockey female national camps wants to continuously improve their program, just like their players do, it would be great if they solicited their own feedback on areas they can improve as an organization. Who knows…maybe getting the gift of feedback on themselves may translate to improved performance on the ice?

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2023 Coaching Girls Hockey Player Development Women's Hockey

The USA Hockey 2023 Girls 16/17 Camp Feedback Process – Part I

I have a lot of passion about feedback when it comes to hockey player development, because I think it is probably the most important factor to improve player performance.  Darryl Belfry, who is regarded as one of the best player development coaches in the world, uses actual game analysis as the primary way to provide feedback on improvement areas for players.

As the governing body of hockey in the U.S., USA Hockey understands the importance of player feedback. At the USA Hockey 16/17 Girls Camp which took place in Oxford, OH this past June, feedback was highlighted in the parent meeting as a key component of the camp.  In Part I of this post about the USA Hockey Girls Camp feedback, I wanted to focus on understanding the three levels of feedback  utilized during and after the camp.  Part II of this topic will discuss my thoughts on how effective the feedback process has been.

1. On-Ice Feedback  – During Practice and Games

Just like with their regular teams, coaches were quite consistent in talking to players individually and in groups during practices to share their thoughts on specific, tactical ways to improve a drill or situation.  Same for a player coming to the bench during one of the games after a shift – coaches would lean over to players and give advice on what adjustments could be made to improve a player effectives.  These situations are quite comfortable for all the coaches at an event like this since most were DI coaches or previous DI players.  As I mentioned in my previous post about player feedback, in-game comments are the easiest for a coach to communicate.

2. One-on-One Feedback with one of the Team Coaches

All teams had two head coaches.  On about the fourth day of week-long camp, each player had a 10-15 minute conversation with one of their coaches.  It is my understanding that most players were asked to do a self-review in anticipation of the meeting.  From talking to several parents, the coach-player conversation was then highly dependent on the coach. Some coaches were well-prepared and had video clips to show players as a way to communicate their feedback, some coaches had simple basic priorities for players to focus on while others relied on the player’s self-evaluation as the primary source of the feedback conversation.  Given the variance in feedback methods, I suspect the feedback meeting process was not highly structured by the camp organizers.

3. Letter Grade and Player Development Performance Criteria

About four weeks after the end of the 16/17 Girls Camp, my daughter received by snail mail a form letter which included an evaluation which is supposed to serve as a benchmark for a player’s performance at the camp.  This entails a letter grade and a rubric on the “Player Development Performance Criteria”.  Here are the details.

At the top of the player evaluation sheet, the players was provided a rating of A, B or C with the following explanation

“A” grade = Excellent – ranks in the top 1/3 of players at camp

“B” grade = Good – ranks in the middle 1/3 of players at camp

“C” grade = Below average – ranks in the bottom 1/3 of players at camp.

The Player Development Performance Criteria had 5 possible selections (from best to worst):

  • Excellent
  • Very Good
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

Each skater then had attributes selected within two categories.  General and position-specific attributes with a selection in one of those five boxes (“X” for each attribute).  Here are those attributes:

General:

  • Makes Possession Plays (i.e. keep team on offense; limited turnovers)
  • Angling: pressure to take away time/space; dictate play with body/stick
  • Stick Positioning
  • Deception
  • Quick Transitions
  • Off-Puck Habits & Puck Support
  • Scoring Ability
  • Physicality
  • Athleticism
  • 200-Ft Player
  • Skating Ability (north/south; agility; speed)

Defenders:

  • DZone Execution First
  • Puck Retrievals
  • Good First Pass or Exit
  • Win Race Back to D-Side of Play/Net
  • Wine Board Battles
  • Deter Offensive Opportunities
  • Scan to Make Exit Play; Fast Transition to Breakout
  • Work Well with D-Partner
  • Gap Control: (North/South & East/West)

Forwards:

  • Puck Retrievals & Ability to Stay Off the Wall
  • Ability to Leave Perimeter and Gain Inside Ice
  • Owning Space with Puck
  • Scanning/Awareness of Teammates & Opponents
  • Use Teammates to Make Plays
  • Zone Entry: Ability to create depth/layers/lanes
  • Create & Maintain Offense

I don’t know the process that was used to aggregate the evaluators feedback, but am assuming they collected a populated rubric from all the evaluators for a position and then aggregated the data to take an average of the selections.  (I hope they used some online tool to aggregate this all, because there are lots of ways to simplify collecting this information).  Then I suppose this compiled data was used as the rating for each player’s Development Performance Criteria. I would then assume the average across all Development Performance Criteria was calculated and the each player was force ranked into one of the three tiers to give the letter rating of A,B or B based on which third they ranked.

Other than the rating and the rubric box selection – no other personalized information was included in the feedback. No short paragraph summary (like you would see in a student report card) from the coach or evaluators to provide additional context was provided.  

It is important to note that the ratings are based on the criteria described above.  If different criteria were used (which will be discussed in the next post), then a player’s rating might be different if those criteria were closer or further away from the capabilities of a player.

In Part II on this topic I will share my perspective on the good, the bad and the ugly of this feedback process.

Read Part II Here