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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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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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Parents Youth Hockey

How to Develop a Great Hockey Player: Natural Gifts, Talent and Luck

In this fifth post about how to develop a great hockey player, we discus how talent, natural gifts and luck play a key role in hockey development. While it is possible to consider these attributes out of a player’s or parent’s control, they can certainly be influenced.

Natural Gifts

Let’s be candid, being blessed with size and/or speed gives a young player an advantage. Combine that with the luck of being born in the first 3 months of the year and basically they are born on first or second base (to mix our sports metaphors). They are given a lead over their peers that combined with the other factors that contribute to being a great player can be hard to catch-up to. In addition, natural talent also helps. If you just don’t have the coordination or adeptness for the game it can be hard to come. I was at a game recently, where the natural build of one of players was just not a “hockey body”, short legs big trunk, so not matter how hard this player tried, they just couldn’t keep up with the top players on the ice and likely would never will.  However, having natural gifts, while necessary are not sufficient for greatness. 

Talent

The one attribute which you may not be born with but can develop is talent. Hard work is essential.  Getting better every day. Because even if you were born with talent you have to continue to improve, otherwise others will pass you over time. There is a long list of talented players whose NHL careers didn’t appear to achieve their full potential (names who come to mind are Rob Schremp, Josh Ho Hsiang and Nail Yakapov) despite being having tremendous natural talent. These types of players struggled to sustain lengthy careers because they were not able to fill in gaps in their game.  As you make it to each new level, players can’t just continue to rely on just their natural gifts they need a work ethic and a continuous improvement mindset.

Luck

Yes, luck plays a role in hockey. And not just puck luck. For example, I know of a youth player who didn’t make a team they tried out for and then ended up playing for a fantastic coach that changed the trajectory of the player’s hockey development.  In another instance, a player was able to get more power-play and penalty-kill time because a teammate broke their leg (well, not so lucky for the teammate). Even at the pros, whether it is a scout who just happens to be in the stands for a game, finding the right coach or team situation, luck can certainly play a role in which path a player follows and can accelerate their road to greatness.

This post is the fifth in a series on How to Develop a Great Hockey Player (Intro).

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Coaching Parents Youth Hockey

How to Develop a Great Hockey Player: Quality Coaching

In this fourth post about how to develop a great hockey player, the focus is on quality coaching.  Let me be clear that I am not talking about what makes a great coach. What I am talking about is a coach who makes a great player. These are not necessarily the same thing. For example, a coach who only plays his best players at 12 years old in order to win games and championships at the expense of all the development of half the team is not necessarily a great coach, but if your kids is the one getting lots of ice time and feedback, then that coach could indeed be accelerating the development of that individual player.  I hope to write another post about what makes a great coach at a later date.

Time & Effort: 

First and foremost a coach who cares by putting the work to help at both the team and individual level is the table stakes for developing into great player.

Technical Expertise:

Striking the balance between leaning how to play team hockey and individual skills development. Specifically, the basics like skating, shooting, puckhandling but also position-specific tools to be great at their position (both on offense and defense – unless you are a goalie). Examples would be on-ice positioning, decision making, finding time and space, creativity and using deception.

Feedback: 

A quality coach gives feedback that is actionable to the player. They personalize the communication so the individual can understand how to change their behavior in a way that is specific to them. Darryl Belfry wrote an excellent chapter on how to give feedback in his new book Belfry Hockey.

Motivation:

While the old-school hockey way has been motivation by intimidation, times have changed. And each individual player is different. But finding a coach who can get the most out of a player by figuring which buttons to push to help make them a great player is obviously a critical attribute.

Enables Grit:

I will talk about this more in my next post, but teaching a player how to be resilient during the ups and down of a season.  Helping teach a player the tools to handle failure and overcome obstacles is one of the key life lessons that hockey is supposed to teach youth athletes.

Encourages two-way communication:

Every hockey coach is different and each has their own philosophies on how they want their players to play the game. As your player moves from coach to coach they will bring their past experience and habits/methods from their past coaches with them. The ability for a great player to discuss and debate with a coach the “why” and the “how” a certain situation should be played is a critical problem solving skill great players should possess.

My favorite book on a great coach who developed great players is “Thank You Coach” by former CFL player Angus Reid who had a long football career despite being highly undersized to play the center position. The book is dedicated to a coach who taught him what he needed to be a successful player despite “having no business playing professional football for 13 years”.

This post is the fourth in a series on How to Develop a Great Hockey Player (Intro).