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

How Does the Number of 2023 Women’s College Hockey Commits Compare to Previous Years?

One of the questions I’ve been discussing with some hockey parents has been how have the new recruiting rules and Covid impacted the timing of college commitments for female hockey players. So I decided to analyze the commitment dates by DI college start year for those student-athletes starting in 2021 vs. 2022 and 2023.  As you can see, the rate of 2023 Women’s College Hockey commits is significantly behind previous years.

As of September 30, 2021, what the data shows is that for 2023 grads, the % of commitments expected for 2023 grads is significantly below where 2021 and 2022 grads were. To be clear, 23 months before a player would start at a DI program, only ~26% (57) of the expected available spots have been filled compared to the equivalent time period for 2021 (64% / 132) and 2022 (49% / 105) players.

Goalies

The number is even more dramatic for goalies which have only seen a single 2023 commit (Holy Cross) occur since coaches were allowed to talk to potential recruits this summer. Only 4 goalies in total have committed for 2023 compared to 16 for 2022 and 22 netminders for 2021.

Top 10 Schools are Moving Slowly

For the Top 10 Schools, more than half of the 2023 commits were made before the recruiting rules changed in 2019, and only half have had a 2023 commit announced this year.

Interpreting the Data

My hypotheses for the significantly lower 2023 commitment rate are:

  1. Many girls still haven’t had an on-campus visit yet. Many have likely been waiting until after the summer to visit DI teams when teams are back practicing and playing.
  2. There is still some ambiguity for 2023 recruiting needs due to the extra year of eligibility for all NCAA players. This can be from transfers or 5th year players.
  3. Covid has restricted or impeded on-campus visits for many prospective student-athletes     

Data assumptions:

  • Data commitment dates – source: collegecommitments.com
  • Transfers between DI programs are not included in the number of commits
  • Total number of commits for 2021 was 215
  • Please keep in mind there were no adjustments in the number of schools each year (e.g. RMU, St Michaels, Stonehill)
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College Hockey Recruiting Girls Hockey Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

Defining the College Athlete Recruiting Process

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.

Awareness

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 Nationals
  • USA Hockey national camp
  • In-season tournaments
  • Spring/summer showcases
  • College summer camps
  • Inbound email from player
  • Team website interest form
  • Coach referral

Research

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)

Consideration

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)
  • Virtual visits
  • Unofficial visits
  • Official visits

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.

Offer

How do prospective student-athletes and school align their respective needs/interests with positional openings?

  • Number of openings;  openings by position
  • Offer creation/discussion/negotiation:
    • Start year
    • Financial aid / scholarships (if available)
    • Expectations (role, depth chart)
  • Academic considerations

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.

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College Hockey Recruiting Development Camp Girls Hockey Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

What I learned attending the USA Hockey 15s Girls Development Camp

Part III – College Recruiting

This is the third and final post focusing on the college recruiting process based my experience as a parent at the USA Hockey Girls Camp that took place in St Cloud Minnesota from July 10-15, 2021.

You can read the previous posts about the Schedule & Operational Details and USA Hockey Player Development

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:

• Bemidji State
Boston College
• Boston University
• Brown
• Clarkson
• Cornell
• Franklin Pierce
• Harvard
Holy Cross
Lindenwood
• Mercyhurst
• Minnesota
• Minnesota State
Northeastern
• Ohio State
Princeton
• Providence
Quinnipiac
• Rice
RPI
• Sacred heart
St Cloud
St Lawrence
• St Thomas
• Vermont
• Union
Wisconsin

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

Brian Durocher Boston University

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.

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Coaching Development Camp Girl's Showcase Girls Hockey Women's Hockey

What I learned attending the USA Hockey 15s Girls Development Camp

Part II

USA Hockey Player Development

This post is the second in a series about the USA Hockey Girls 15’s Camp I attended from July 10-15, 2021.

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.

USA-Hockey

Given the above, what did I think were the objectives for the camp from a USA Hockey perspective?

  1. 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)
  2. Get seen & scouted by USA Hockey Coaches (to help get on the radar for the U18 Camp for 2022)
  3. Get feedback on strengths and development opportunities
  4. 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:

  • Relentless
  • Pride
  • Together

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.

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

What I learned attending the 2021 USA Hockey 15’s Girl’s Development Camp

Part I

This is the first in a three-part series on my experience as a parent at the 2021 USA Hockey 15’s Girls Select hockey camp. In this series, I will first cover the schedule and operational details about the event. In part two, I will discuss the USA Hockey player development perspective and finally, in part three, I will discuss how the camp related to the college recruiting process.

Please keep in mind that this these posts are about my experience at the event and the information I collected. I wasn’t a participant and did not track every activity my daughter or the other girls had scheduled during the week. This is just my perspective as a parent who talked to a handful players and several parents during and after the week and what I took away from the experience – your mileage may vary.

On the first day of the camp, I really appreciated Kristen Wright, the USA Hockey Female ADM Manager, answering a bunch of my questions and providing additional perspective on the camp and helping me understand the “how” and “why” on a bunch of topics related to the Player Development Camp process. I really hope to get Kristen on the Champs App Podcast after all the USA Hockey camps are done. 

When?

The USA Hockey Girls 15’s Camp was held from July 10-15, 2021 

Where?

The camp took place at the St. Cloud University campus with the hockey events taking place primarily at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The facility has two Olympic sized rinks. Rink 2 is a practice rink with limited stands for parents and scouts and no above-ice seating or views. Rink 1 is the main rink for the varsity hockey teams and is where a full sized arena with seating of ~6000 seats and a few club boxes at one of the rink behind the net (where many USA Hockey organizers/coaches observed practices and games).

While many coaches and scouts easily moved back and forth between the two rinks, it was clearly easier to watch players anywhere on the ice on Rink 1 compared to Rink 2. In addition, for a handful or observers (USA Hockey representatives or scouts), Rink 1 was the primary rink from which they watched players. For example, from what I saw (and I didn’t watch every game or practice), Katie Lachapelle, the USA Hockey U18 coach, seemed to only watch activity on Rink 1 (note: she may have had a screen to watch a Rink 2 feed). Thus, it seemed that there might have been a slight advantage to having more ice time on Rink 1 vs Rink 2 throughout the week, especially for games.

Who?

There were approximately 216 2006 birth-year girls in attendance at the camp. You can find a complete list of the players here. The girls were selected from the 12 USA Hockey district camps with the number of players directly in proportion to the percentage of registered females for this age group for each district. Therefore, if a district had ~10% of the female 2006 players registered in all of USA Hockey, there should have been 21 or 22 players from that district.

Players were split up into 12 teams designated by color and divided into three division of four teams each. Each team had a Head Coach, typically from a DI school or Prep School, an Intern Coach and a Team Leader. Players did all their activities with their team and typically shared events with another team from their division.

In addition, there was anywhere between 70 and 100 USA Hockey representatives on and off the ice throughout the week. During many of the on-ice practices it was typical to see a 3:1 player-to-coach ratio with 3-5 coaches running each station – this was awesome for the players. Also, there were many (a little hard for me to estimate) USA Hockey representatives in the stands or along the glass watching practices and games – many with computers or notebooks – likely scouting and evaluating players.

What?

Testing:

Upon arrival at the camp players there was some on-ice and off-ice testing. About a week prior to the start of the camp, players were sent a list of 8 metrics that each player would be tested on. They included off-ice strength (push-ups and pull-ups, vertical jump) and on-ice speed (20 yards sprint, blue line-to-blue line). While the attributes being measured were pretty similar to those in the past, there were a couple of changes to previous years. As discussed on the Champs App Podcast, at this age these measurements aren’t of significant importance, it is really to track improvement over the coming years. However, it probably makes sense next time to publish what will be tested when the original invitation to players were sent out (about a month beforehand) to allow the girls time to properly train for the testing.

During the week there was a lot of on-ice and off-ice activities for each team. Here is a list of some of those activities and what was published with regards to the daily schedule:

Off-ice:

The schedule included a wide range of activities including”

  • Team building
  • Nutrition
  • Stickhandling and shooting
  • Mental skills
  • Feedback session

On-Ice:

The on-ice program included 3 practices (60 or 90 minutes),  3 games (2 x 25 minutes stop-time periods), and two 1-period (25 minute) playoff games on the final day. In addition, Goalies had an addition two practice times with coaches.

Practices:

For the most-part practices were really well-done. Every practice was run like a typical USA Hockey practice with a variety of stations and small areas games. During regular practices there were typically 12 or 13 coaches on the ice which was awesome to see. It is my understanding that for the two goalie sessions it was even better – with more coaches than goalies on the ice. Even better was how awesome it was that ~90% of the on-ice coaches were female.

Games:

Games were just okay, there were moments of beauty surrounded by long periods of sloppy play (especially the first day of games). Given these were the top 2006 players in the country, the lack of team practice time was pretty noticeable – even for an amateur like myself. Most teams improved their chemistry as the games went on and players learned to trust their teammates instead trying to do everything themselves. And while I don’t want to complain about the refs, it was clear there was a bias to minimize the number of whistles for icings/offsides and calling infractions unless they were pretty blatant. It was definitely not the same standard as the USA Hockey National playoffs. There was a two-game singe-period playoff on the final day based on the round-robin standings. With the finals on Rink 1 for each division while the consolation game was played concurrently on Rink 2.

Why?

On the first day Kristen Wright held a session for the parents to explain the objectives of the camp. While I am sure I am not capturing all the goals of the week, from what I saw here is what USA Hockey’s intent was:

  • Introduce the girls to USA Hockey national team program and educate the players on the values and skills required to play at the highest level with USA Hockey
  • Give USA Hockey scouts a first look at the 2006 birth year and begin benchmarking their level to track their progress as they continue to develop
  • Allow players to see, compete and benchmark themselves with their peer group and begin to form relationships from players from across the country
  • As explained to me by Kristen Wright, due to Covid and a compact summer schedule, unlike previous years, none of the 15’s camp participants would have the opportunity to be invited to the U18 camp (which was different from the 16/17’s camp from a couple of weeks earlier which sent 13 players to the U18 camp). So the camp would be the final USA Hockey event for the participants before the start of the fall season.

All the games were broadcast live on HockeyTV and available on demand. While the camera angles were challenging…very high on Rink 1 and for Rink 2 the only reasonable position for a live feed that follows the play with a cameraman being in one of the corners – it was certainly better than no feed at all – especially for parents and family who could not attend in person – but was hard on the eyes.

 One final note…surprisingly, the cost per player was less than $200 for the camp – the only major cost was the transportation to get to Minnesota. So, from an out-of-pocket perspective, this camp was great value for the buck – even though this was secondary to all the other benefits from the week.

In the next post I will go into detail on my thought how the camp relates to the USA Hockey National Player Development program from a player perspective.

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College Hockey Recruiting Development Camp Girl's Showcase Parents Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey

What I learned attending my first DI Girls College Hockey Showcase

This past weekend my 2006 daughter and I attended our first showcase with Division I coaches participating and scouting at the event.  The 585 PIP Showcase – Roc City Style took place in Rochester, New York at the Bill Gray Iceplex from June 18-20, 2021. Here is what I learned…

Who participated in the 585 PIP College Hockey Showcase?

In attendance were 180 players with birth years 2004, 2005 and 2006. Their break down by birth year and high school graduation year were as follows:

Included in these players, were many girls invited to the different 2021 USA Hockey Camps next month in Minnesota. Of particular interest to us, were the three players at the 585 Showcase who were the only 2006’s invited directly to the U18 Camp – thus, at least by USA Hockey’s assessment, considered the top three 15’s in the country.

From the recruiting side, there were 28 DI and 6 DIII schools represented (note: 13 schools were previous guests on the Champs App Podcast):

Boston CollegeMercyhurstQuinnipiacYale
BrownMerrimackRITConnecticut College
Boston UniversityMinnesotaRPIElmira College
ClarksonMinnesota DuluthSt. LawrenceNazareth
ColgateNortheasternSyracusePlattsburgh
CornellOhio StateUConnSUNY Oswego
HarvardPenn StateUnionUniversity of Buffalo
Holy CrossPrincetonVermont 
LindenwoodProvidenceWisconsin 

20 of the DI coaches participated in on-ice events which for each player included a skills sessions, a practice and 4 games.

Starting the women’s college hockey recruiting process

Unlike the first showcase in Rochester that we attended last October, 2020 during Covid, our goals for this past weekend were very different. Back then, since my daughter hadn’t played with girls before, we were just trying to calibrate how good a hockey player she was compared to other female players.

This 585 event was the first step in the long journey of my daughter’s recruiting process with the intent of being seen by some of the schools she currently has an interest in. Something which makes her situation unique, is that she has only played on boys tier hockey teams and will once again play boys tier 1 hockey next season. While this is great from a hockey development perspective, this puts her at a disadvantage because she does not get seen at in-season girls tournaments or the USA Hockey Girls National playoffs. This is why spring/summer girls showcases are so important for her specific college recruiting journey.

What were our goals for attending a girls college hockey showcase?

One of the challenges I struggled with leading up to the weekend, was defining the objectives for the showcase and how would we measure success?  Unlike the USA Hockey district camp we attended last month, where it was clear that the goal for my daughter was to be invited to the 15’s national camp and thus easily measurable (even though it took almost a month to learn the results). For Rochester, this is what we came up with:

  • Initiate scouting coverage by a handful of schools that my daughter has an interest in
  • Ideally, create the beginnings of a relationship with those schools via the on-ice coaching opportunities
  • Get on the radar of other schools. This is a long process and who knows where the best fit(s) may be for my daughter when she gets closer to being able to talk directly with colleges.
  • See what makes the Top 3 2006’s special

Being Proactive – Planning for a Girls College Showcase Weekend

To help with the first goal for the showcase, during the week prior to the event, my daughter sent a handful of emails to coaches who would be in attendance. She let them know why she was interested in their school and invited them to watch her during the weekend. Per NCAA recruiting rules, since my daughter cannot be contacted prior to June 15th, 2022 (at the end of her sophomore year), coaches could not email her back.

As a parent, it is unclear to me how college coaches scout at these events

My first takeaway from the showcase is that I really don’t understand how coaches scout at large showcases and tournaments – from my uninitiated perspective, there are just too many players and games to watch. During my podcast interviews, coaches have told me that while showcases are good to get to know players, they really prefer watching them play real games with their regular season teams. I did see most coaches carrying around the color-coded player lists for each team, many taking notes while coaching from behind the bench and when scouting games.  However, given there were 180 players, I have many questions on how they decide which games to watch, which players to focus on and what they are evaluating. In my upcoming podcasts, I will be sure to dive deep on how coaches collect their information at these types of events with so much going on.

Showcase teams with more “top-program” players had more coaches watching them

Another takeaway from the weekend, is that luck played a role in which team you were on – which then translated into how likely you were to be seen by as many coaches as possible. It is unclear how teams were formed for the event, but it was obvious that some teams had many more players from well-known teams (e.g. Shattuck-St Mary’s, Little Caesars, BK Selects, East Coast Wizards, Chicago Mission) than others. The more “brand-name-team” players on a team’s roster, the more coaches were likely to watch that team play and how often. Some games had what appeared to be a couple of dozen coaches watching from above or along the glass, while for other games I could count the number of non-bench coaches scouting the action on one hand.

For example, there was a game with 20+ players on the ice from those “top programs” playing each other with a full-house of DI coaches, while simultaneously, on a separate rink, there weren’t many coaches watching a game with only 3 “top-program” players.

It’s hard to immediately measure the success for a summer showcase weekend

One of the challenges of the weekend was quantifying some key metrics. Based on discussions with my daughter and from what I was able to observe from the stands, at least half of the six coaches she emailed had watched her play in a game – plus she was able to talk with another targeted coach during one of the skills sessions. In addition, she had direct interactions/conversations with about 8 additional DI coaches during the on-ice practices and games. Of course, it is impossible to know which coaches and how many actually scouted her from off-ice positions, this is something we may only discover sometime in the future. So in the end, measuring success of the weekend is a little opaque and one can only hope that sometime after June 15, 2022 we can see the benefits.

USA Hockey’s Top 2006 Players for 2021

It was great to watch the three 2006’s who were invited directly to the USA Hockey U18 Girls Camp play.  All three were big, strong players and very noticeable when they were on the ice. One of them scored a wonderful goal by powering their way to the net and popping the puck top-shelf over the goalie’s shoulder. It was the prettiest play I saw all weekend.

First Steps in a Long Journey

Overall, for a first DI showcase event, it seemed to be a pretty good start. Clearly, several schools now know who my daughter is and the process has begun. We have three more opportunities for her to be scouted this summer (2021 USA National Development Camp, 2021 NAHA College Showcase and the PIP 702 Vegas) before she returns to her boys team in the fall.

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What I learned attending my first USA Hockey Girls District Camp

This past weekend I attended my first USA Hockey Girls District Camp in Las Vegas for the Pacific District with my daughter (2006 birth year). As someone who is new to this whole process, I wanted to share what I learned attending my first USA Hockey Girls District Camp. There were many things I didn’t know or understand until we went through the experience and I had conversations with the organizers & coaches in attendance. Since the Pacific District Camp was one of the first ones to be held in 2021, hopefully there are other players and parents who can take some of this information to help them with their own preparation.

Which players were invited?

Like all USA Hockey girls district camps, there were two age groups. One for 15 year-olds (2006 birth year) and one for 16- and 17 year-olds (2005, 2004 birth years). The players were selected by their state affiliates (e.g. California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska) with the numbers of players from each affiliate somewhat in proportion to the # of USA Hockey registration participation level. So, if a state had twice as many female players for an age group, they would be allocated twice as many sports at the district camp.

At each level players were placed on to one of 4 teams comprising of up to 9 Forward, 6 D and 2 Goalies.

What did the players do?

Over the course of the weekend there were 3 on-ice practices, 3 games and 2 off-ice zoom sessions. For goalies there was an additional goalie-specific on-ice sessions at the start of the weekend.

On-Ice practices were run by DIII coaches with assistance from affiliate coaches.  These practices were straight out of the USA Hockey ADM practice philosophy which included a 4-station rotation, half ice small area drills & games and of course some cross-ice games with different types of variations of 3-on-3. From my observation, while there was the occasional tip from a coach here and there, there was not a lot of heavy technical feedback, instead the tone was quite positive and focused on giving the girls a lot of reps.

For games, each team played the other 3 teams once.  Games consisted of three 22-minute periods of running time, with a break at the 11-minute mark for the 2 goalies on each team to switch and ensure equal playing time. For most games, the scores were not posted on the scoreboard and all penalties were enforced as penalty shots with players chasing down the shooter from behind.

The Zoom calls mainly focused on education players on the college recruiting process and the do’s & don’ts when communicating with college coaches. Many of the same topics that we have covered in the Champs App Podcast were covered in these calls.

PLAYER EVALUATION

Kathy McGarrigle

Before arriving at the PDC, there was not a lot of information shared about the evaluation process, however I did speak in-depth with Kathy McGarrigle, the Pacific District Girls Hockey Director, who was responsible for organizing the entire weekend (she is also the Founder, Program Director and Head Coach for the Anaheim Lady Ducks). She graciously answered all my questions.

Kathy explained to me that, historically, the Pacific District joined forces with the Rocky Mountain District to have a Multi-District Camp, but with the expected growth in girl’s hockey in Nevada and Washington thanks to the Golden Knights and Kraken, the Pacific District is focusing on having their own camp for the coming years.

Who:

Kathy McGarrigle made it clear to me that all of the evaluators were from outside of the Pacific district to ensure complete objectivity and that process was not political. No one affiliated with a club or program is involved in the decision making.  The evaluators consisted of DIII team coaches who were behind the bench and on the ice during games and practices, but several off-ice evaluators who stood in their own blocked-off section away from spectators. Beyond the evaluators for the Pacific District Camp, there were additional USA Hockey evaluators scouting the event for the national camps in July. They were there to see if any 15/16 year-old players were strong enough to be chosen directly for the U18 National camp as well as capture additional information on top players being considered for all the national camps.   

There were no DI coaches in attendance likely due to the recruiting blackout period which does not get lifted until June 1st combined with those coaches being more focused on the national camp players (who are most likely to be DI prospects).

What: 

While no specific or official guidelines were provided as to what was being evaluated, Kathy mentioned to me all the basics in terms of hockey skills like skating and passing, team play, character and effort. In addition, she emphasized that scoring the most goals didn’t guarantee anything, they were looking at the complete player over the entirety of the weekend.

When: 

Evaluators watched all games and practices for the specific age groups they were assigned to (either 2006 or 2004/05). The third and final games were where all the evaluators were together watching the players at the same time.  Kathy explained to me that at the end of each day the evaluators convened to discuss the top players and systemically put together a dynamic rank of players which does not get finalized until after the final games on Sunday.

Why:

For the players in attendance at the camp, the ultimate goal is to be selected for one of the three National Player Development Camps taking place this July in Minnesota (15s, 16s/17s and 18U).  Once again, the number of spots allotted to the Pacific District is based on the percent of registrants in USA Hockey, of which the Pacific District represents ~6% of the player population.  Since the 15s National camp has about 216 players in attendance, then the Pacific District should get ~13 spots (plus or minus) for that age group. For the 16s/17s, those numbers there are the same number of spots, but for both birth years since that camp is combined, thus the number of spots is allocated by birth year in proportion in registration percentage.

Kathy informed me that the final list of invites to the national camp would likely not be released until June 9th, 2021 since the Pacific Camp was one of the first in the country to be completed. As the players who will be invited to the U18 Camp are decided, there is a cascading effect on who will get invited to the 16s/17s camp and is dependent on other districts completing their camps. Thus, the delay of nearly a month until we will are informed on the Pacific selections.

My thoughts:

Overall, the weekend was a great opportunity for the girls to compete with the top players on the west coast and see how they compare. In reality, there was a big standard deviation in talent, but this is something I expected since the Pacific teams tend not to be as strong for girls hockey as other areas of the country. So, hopefully it was a good learning opportunity to benchmark and self-reflect on which part of their game each player needs to work on.

Unfortunately, due to the Covid protocols and the short weekend, no formal feedback was provided to the girls (only ad hoc on-ice or behind-the-bench guidance). As Kathy suggested to me during the weekend, if a player wanted feedback, they should proactively query their coach. That would be my recommendation to players who have upcoming camps in other districts, to ask their coach for their advice on their specific development needs towards the end of the camp.

P.S. A memorable part of the weekend was when a parent from Alaska recognized my Champs hat and asked “Are you the Champs App Podcast guy?” and thanked me for the podcasts.

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What are the pros and cons of girls playing boys hockey?

As part of Jocelyn and Monique Lamoureux’s book release, they did a ton of promotion including several podcasts. On one them they Jocelyn Lamoureux mentioned her masters thesis “Should Girls Play Hockey With Boys? Perspectives From The USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team“. For the past several years I have heard many points of view on girls playing boys hockey with some consistent recommendations (mostly “play with the boys as long as you can”). But this was the first time I heard of actual research on the subject. By soliciting data directly from US National Team players, Lamoureux was able to codify the tradeoffs and benefits from choosing to play with boys for a significant portion of their time in youth hockey.

Lamoureux’s conclusion was pretty unanimous: “Out of 15 players, 15 of them recommended that girl’s play with boys, but one player said yes and no depending on what the goals were of the individual playing.”  This doesn’t mean that playing girls-only hockey won’t get you to the national team, it just discusses how playing with the boys helped those that did play with boys. What the research doesn’t cover is if the path to the U.S. National Team is possible from only playing with girls. Thus, if a female player wants to make the national team, they would likely need to ensure that they are still developing the same sets of skills that Lamoureux’s research concluded was key to player success achieved through playing boys hockey.

Based on the research, some additional information I have collected from podcast interviews and my parental experience, here are some thoughts on the key factors for girls playing boys hockey:

Skill Development:  

By playing with boys, girls are likely to develop better key priority hockey skills via several contributing factors:

  • Ice time
  • Level of competition
    • There is some research which shows that during practice boys compete harder and for a longer period of time
    • Playing boys hockey provides more options for a female player to find a team whose skill level is at the right level for the player
  • Coaching
    • In my conversations with former female players, coaches and club directors, the consensus is that “on average” top boys club teams tend to have better coaching in minor hockey. While this is certainly changing and improving on a region-by-region basis, girls coaching is not yet at parity with the boys especially at the early age groups.
girls playing boys hockey

Safety of the Player:

USA Hockey recommends that girls should stop playing with boys when, due to size or speed, the player would be at risk of injury due to full-contact checking.  Not all girls are big enough or have the confidence to play with boys once the boys have hit puberty.  Each player must decide for themselves how long they are comfortable playing with boys from a safety perspective.

Social Development and Team Culture:

From my experience, there is no doubt that the social dynamics for a girl playing with boys is very different than on an all-girls team.  However, the culture on each boy’s team is different and the experience can be both positive and negative from a social development perspective. It really depends on the leadership of the coaching staff and the personalities of the players in the locker room. 

During my conversation with female college coaches who played with boys growing up, they consistently said that the boys on their team treated them pretty well. However, verbal taunts and occasionally “getting run at” by players on the other team was pretty common. So, a female player should be prepared and comfortable with those risks.

College Recruiting:

As noted in a previous post, it is rare for a female player to play college hockey while only playing on boys club or high school teams (other than at national development camps).  So clearly from a recruiting perspective, there is a significant benefit to being scouted by college teams. Coaches rarely attend boys events to watch a single female player.  The advice I have heard from several college coaches is a hybrid, where a female player can play on a boys team as their primary winter season team and either play girls during spring/summer tournaments or, if permitted, double roster on a girls team during the regular season (e.g. play girls AAA and boys high school).

Playing with boys helps, but it is a personal decision

In conclusion, playing on a boy’s team during key developmental minor hockey years appears to provide all the right ingredients for girls to reach their full potential as a hockey player. Depending on where you live, playing with boys could help develop their skills and knowledge of the game more than just playing on the local girl’s team. However, this does not in any way discount that girls can likely achieve the same level of development and success by finding substitute methods of achieving these same skills and knowledge by growing up playing with girls only.

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Girls Hockey Minor Hockey Women's College Hockey Women's Hockey Youth Hockey

Comparing U.S. and Canadian Female Hockey Participation

I was doing some research over the holidays to understand the state of women’s hockey in North America and found a few interesting insights between the U.S. and Canadian female hockey participation and coaching at the university level.  Here they are:

Overall Female Participation

1. Total hockey participation is about 8% more in Canada over the U.S., but female participation in Canada is 21% more than in the U.S.

Male to Female Participation

2. The ratio of Male to Female hockey players in the U.S. is ~6:1. In other words, female hockey players only make up 15% of all players in the U.S. While in Canada the ratio is ~5:1 while female players represent 17% of all players in Canada.

Under 18 Girls in Canada vs U.S.A.

3. While female hockey players in both the U.S. and Canada grew by a little more than 2% in 2019-20 (compared to male player which had declines in both countries), there are still about 25% more female players under 18 in Canada compared to the U.S.

Female U.S. Division I Women’s Hockey Coaches

4. Only 33% of U.S. Division I women’s hockey coaches are female, while 67% of their assistant/associate coaches are female

Female Canadian U Sports Women’s Hockey Coaches

5. 46% of U Sports Head Coaches in Canada are women while 54% of their Assistant/Associates Coaches are female.

Here is my interpretation of the data:

  1. The U.S. still has some work to do to catch up to Canada on female participation in the sport. “Girls Give Hockey a Try” is a phenomenal start, but I think there is even more that can be done.
  2. I suspect it will take a major change in one of the countries development programs before one will be the dominant hockey power. Due to density issues in the States with less players distributed in more metropolitan areas than Canada, it would take a significant commitment/investment to build a sizeable lead over Canada.
  3. I was expecting to see more female head coaches in both Canada and the U.S.. However, given the male to female ratio of participation in both countries, the male coaching advantage in women’s college hockey is not a complete surprise. I would suspect that these numbers will flip to favor female head coaches over the coming years as they are given more opportunity and the recent generation of women players move into and up the coaching ranks.

Sources: USA Hockey 2019-20 Registration Report, Hockey Canada 2019-20 Annual Report and Champs App analysis.

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Coaching Minor Hockey Parents Youth Hockey

How I Applied Lessons from Belfry Hockey

Darryl Belfry Hockey Book

I loved Darryl Belfry’s book Belfry Hockey, but I don’t believe I was Darryl Belfry’s target audience, because I am neither a hockey coach nor a skills instructor.  As I mentioned in my first post, I’m just a hockey dad. I do not profess to be a hockey expert, but I do have a deep passion for helping my two kids who currently play 14U AA youth hockey. Thus, as a parent, what did I hope to learn from Darryl Belfry’s book Belfry Hockey? And how could I help apply these lessons?

My goals when reading Belfry Hockey:

  1. An understanding of which skills are important for my kids to develop (i.e. “Skills That Separate”)
  2. See which skills aren’t getting developed with their current coaches
  3. Figure out my options on how they can fill in the skills gap

One of Darryl’s key training objectives is to help a player learn a skill they can use “tomorrow”. Therefore, given Covid’s impact on our season, I took on the challenge of applying these insights immediately with my kids. Here are the takeaways from Belfry Hockey that I have recently tried to implement with my kids.

Teaching my son the concept of Platform Skills vs. Placeholder Skills

Is the skill you’re using a placeholder skill or a platform skill? There’s a big difference between the two.

Page 122 – Chapter 11: Skill Continuum

My son is both a late birthday and not an early-developer like several of his teammates. Therefore, there are times when he has seen less ice time due to his physical development. At the same time, Belfry perfectly describes some of the placeholder skills that my kids have seen from teammates in peewee and bantam hockey who would be considered the top players on their teams getting those additional minutes.  

Examples of placeholder skills:

  1. Slap shots off the rush
  2. Using straight-line speed to rush by defensemen along the boards
  3. Banging in rebounds in front of the net

Explaining to a 13-year old that he is building better skills so that two or three years from now he will have more translatable skills to the next level is not simple to understand. But having a framework of “platform vs. placeholder skills” is a simple concept to continually reference until his physical development catches up to his peers.

Tracking High-Frequency Events and Success Rates Using Video

When you’re working with video, you have to be very careful that every player in a game is a like a fingerprint. What we want to see is the detail inside of each fingerprint

Page 162 – Chapter 13 – Video-to-Game Transfer

I record almost every game that my kids play. I use two GoPros to video the game from behind the nets and some rinks also have LiveBarn to provide a third angle. As a result, I have a pretty good asset to begin my analysis with. I used to just look at the quality of each shift individually, but thanks to Darryl Belfry I track the game in a whole new way.

Since reading the book, I have created a spreadsheet to do the following:

  1. Track event frequency and success rates
  2. Edit clips together from 3-4 games by event/game situation so my player can see all the same event-types in a single video (typically 60 – 90 seconds of clips).

Here is a partial summary of an “instance list” from a recent weekend of games for my daughter (who plays defense):

Transfer Tracking: Problem Solving Frequency and Success Rates

Our standard is we want to try and get as many high-frequency elements as possible to be an 8 out of 10 success rate

Page 155 – Chapter 10: Triple Helix: Awareness

Using the metrics from the games, my daughter and I were able to watch each clip and the specific situational context for success & failure. As a result, we were able to see certain patterns emerge that could immediately be worked on, here are a couple of examples:

  1. Trouble when playing the off wing

One pattern we identified right away was that she wasn’t recognizing the handedness of the puck carrier which caused her to attack from a poor angle.  This insight was helped by remembering an article about the 88 Summit with Patrick Kane from a couple of years ago.

2. Linear entry vs. change in angle when carrying the puck in across the blue line.

We are now working on way to cross the blue line to get into the “hot zone” with time and space.

Creating Multiple Options for Specific Situations

We want to make sure as part of the Category 1 skills that once the player has established body position and encounters contact, he’s able to use the contact as an asset – an accelerant or an ability to create separation

Page 145 – Chapter 11: Skill Continuum

With my son, one area we have spent a lot of time working on is in the corner or along the wall in the offensive zone.  We have been focused on adding multiple options for him to have in his toolkit for these situations, specifically:

a. The Kane Push:

b. Reverse Hits

c. Skating through the hands:

d. Using the trap door:

e. The Chuck:

We shall see if he is able to apply any of these new skills into a game situation, but at least I know he has them as potential tools in his toolkit.

As I used to write in my Grade 5 book reviews, I really liked Belfry Hockey and I recommend it to all my hockey friends and coaches. I plan to write one more post about Belfry Hockey so that a few more concepts are brought to life via visuals and video that are a little hard to digest from just reading the book.