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Observations from the 2023 USA Hockey Pacific District Camp

Earlier this month my daughter attended the USA Hockey Pacific District Camp for the third and final time (she’s aging out of the U18 events).  Now that the results have been posted, I am posting my thoughts on this year’s event. Feel free to read my previous summaries from the 2021 camp and 2022 camp to understand the three year experience.

Overall, operationally speaking, this was clearly the best run district camp of the three she attended.

Just like previous years, there were three practice/skills sessions and three games. The practice/skills sessions were well organized and structured – and in my opinion, allowed the evaluators to see how players performed both offensively and defensively beyond just the games.

More Teams

There were some significant changes from previous years.  First, the number of teams for the 16/17 age group was increased from 4 teams to 6 teams (the 15’s age group had 4 teams similar to last year). There are arguments to be made on both sides about the pros and cons of increasing the number of players invited to attend. However, on-balance, as we try to grow the girls game on the west coast, I think it worked out just fine. The overall level of play may have been a little diluted, but the goodwill from attending the event works for me. Plus, the extra money it generated allowed more USA Hockey staff to attend from all over the country. 

More Coaches

Unlike the last couple of years where it seemed to be only 2-4 coaches watching from the stands while another 2 coached from the bench. There seemed to always be at least ~6-8 coaches scouting from the roped-off coaches section in the stand.  Another big change, as referenced above, was not only the number of participating coaches, but also the list of coaches and their role during the weekend was shared with all attendees via email.  In the past, I had to work hard to identify who all the coaches were and decipher the role they played. The day after camp ended, we were emailed the full list of coaches, where they were from and what role they played (evaluator, volunteer, USA Hockey Staff) – which was awesome.  No more guessing.

The only complaint I heard via several parents (from their daughters) was that it seemed that some of the coaches were over-coaching on the ice. There were lots of times coaches would stop drills and call everyone over or a coach would give detailed feedback to a specific player.  Feedback is good – I love player feedback – but at an event like Districts, players don’t want to get drill-related  feedback from every coach they interact with. What players really want is feedback on how to improve their overall game.

Same Number of National Camp Spots

I am not sure what players and parents expected in terms of realistically making the USA Hockey National Camps, but the odds aren’t good for most players.  Here are the numbers of National invites (based on % of registrations of girls in the Pacific District):


  1. Only 1 2008 forward was selected to go straight to the 18s Camp (last year 1F and 1 D went straight to 18s)
  2. Goalies are selected at the national level and not dependent on the proportion of district registrations

So hopefully, most players, especially those who were invited from the alternate lists (or not even originally selected) understood they were long shots to make it National Camp and were just happy to go to Las Vegas.

Goalie Development

Another positive from the event was when I talked to the goalie coaches for the district and she explained how they evaluate goalies, the process of providing goalies feedback and tracking their development from year-to-year.  I wish they would have done something similar for skaters – because in the 3 years we’ve gone, there has been no pro-active mechanism to receive feedback from the event for skaters.

A few other points:

  • Games were two 32 minute running-time halves – which was 2 minutes more than last year
  • The refs were less noticeable this year compared to last year.  Which is a good thing.
  • The jerseys were 100 times nicer than previous years (not embarrassing to have mismatched jerseys and socks like last year) – with a number scheme which made it clear who were 2006s and 2007s.
  • It would have been nice to also have the jersey #s included in the roster lists that were sent out so parents didn’t need to try to figure who the players were by themselves
  • Everyone had to travel to Vegas for the weekend, with many coming from out-of-district.  I hope parents and players felt that the total cost of the weekend was worth it. Unless you were driving from California, the weekend had to be super-expensive.
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5 Observations From Attending USA Hockey Nationals

A couple of weeks ago I attended my first USA Hockey National Championship.  I was in both Dallas for the Girls Tier I round robin games and New Jersey for several Youth 15O games. Here are a few things I learned while I was there – mostly from my time in Dallas.

1. Accurate Seedings

For Girls Tier 1, 23 of the 24 Top 8 seeds qualified for the quarterfinals from 14U, 16U and 19U.  Which shows how accurate and reliable the rankings that are used to decide the both the at-large invitations and seedings are. However, once in the playoff round, the lower ranked teams had a reasonable chance to win, with many of the higher seeds losing to lower seeds.  On the Youth side, only 24 of the 32 teams made it to the quarters.

2. Scouts Everywhere

In both locations, I saw coaches scouting players at every round robin game. On the youth side, there were junior and college coaches in every corner and in the stands.  For the girls,nearly every DI college and many DIII coaches were along the glass and in specially designated areas to watch all the 16U games and many 14U and 19U games.  

While Nationals, clearly isn’t the only opportunity to be seen, it certainly helps. It is a big deal. So I now understand why making Nationals from highly-competitive districts is so important to winning their district if they won’t be one of the 3 at-large invitation teams.

I also saw several DIII coaches talking to eligible players who hadn’t committed yet after games.

3. Many Scouts Left After the Preliminary Divisional Games

I flew back to New Jersey from Dallas at the end of the round-robin play, and saw many coaches checking out of our hotel or pulling their carry-on bags on that Saturday. Clearly they were heading home after 3 days of non-stop games.  Based on my previous conversations with coaches, if they are efficient in their scouting, they will have seen enough of all the players they were watching. 

4. Networking Galore

I happened to be staying in a hotel where many other NCAA coaches were staying.  I was able to view first-hand lots of talks happening between team coaches and college coaches in both the arena and the hotel lobby/bars.  Once again, reinforcing the importance of being at Nationals for the recruiting process.  I know of at least one eligible player who was contacted after Nationals based on their appearance at Nationals.


5. USA Hockey Scouts in Attendance

It was nice to see at least two USA Hockey representatives watching games and players.  I am assuming it was in anticipation of the upcoming USA Hockey District camps taking in place in May and June to select player for the 15’s, 16/17s and 18’s Camps.  This gives USA Hockey a bigger body of work to judge players rather and greater level of consistency across districts rather than just relying on the coaches who may only attend one or two District camps.

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Why Your Team Should Play AA Instead of AAA Youth Hockey

Do you want a chance at playing at the USA Hockey National Championships?

Did your team play AAA last year? 

If yes, what was your final ranking on MyHockeyRankings?

If your team wasn’t in the Top 50 teams for your age group, then this post is for you.

Last week, USA Hockey announced all the team that either qualified or were invited to Tier I and Tier II National Playoffs taking place at the end of the month. Many low ranked AAA teams never had a chance of going to Nationals.

This post discusses why your AAA team might be better off being designated as Tier II (AA) instead of Tier I.  And while this post primarily focuses on youth (boys) hockey in the U.S., some of the same principles can be applied to girls hockey.

Here’s why…

1. Teams ranked below the Top 50 rarely qualify for USA Hockey Nationals

lowest ranked team qualifying for 2023 USA Hockey Youth Nationals Playoffs

If you aren’t at least a Top 50 team in your age group, there is almost no chance you will win your Tier 1 District playoffs – the exception being a team from Northern Plains (Team North Dakota for 16s) and the Rocky Mountain District (for 18s).

2. Lower ranked AAA teams are rated about the same as top AA teams

Here is how the bottom half of Tier 1 team ratings compare to the top teams in both Tier 1 and Tier 2

2023 USA HOCKEY tier i vs Tier 2 ratings comparison

As you can see, after the ~50th ranked team, the AAA teams are pretty competitive with top AA teams in each age group.  There is less than a goal differential between these teams – so games between 50th ranked Tier 1 teams would be close with the Top Tier 2 teams.

3. It should be easier to qualify for USA Hockey Nationals

There are 48 spots for each Tier II age group. By classifying at the Tier II level, they would have a much better chance of qualifying for Nationals and playing competitive games in that tournament.

4. You can still play in AAA tournaments and showcases.

At the same time, they can continue to play in the same leagues and events during the regular season.

There are already tournaments specifically set-up for the bottom half of AAA teams.  Some tourneys are explicit about this by segmenting their division names (AAA and AAA elite – or Ribcor + Supertacks +  Jetspeed). Others make sure that similarly ranked lower rated teams attend the same event.

For some regular season Tier 1 leagues, they already do this implicitly. In one league, the weakest teams don’t even get to play in the leagues end-of-season playoffs, instead they are relegated to their own ‘Consolation’ division. This past season, there was a club which had all 4 of their Tier 1 teams in the consolation division due to poor regular season performance at each age group. Once again, these leagues are set-up to treat the lower ranked teams at the level they actually play – a tweener between AAA and AA.

Be Realistic

From a game and tournament perspective, weaker “AAA” teams are playing each other anyway, but not really playing for anything. It is unlikely any of them will with their districts and to be one of the 12 automatic qualifiers to Tier 1 USA Hockey Nationals, and they certainly won’t get an at-large invitation for the remaining 4 spots.

However, there are 48 spots for each Tier II age group.   By classifying at the Tier 2 level, they would have a much better chance of qualifying for Nationals and playing competitive games in that tournament. At the same time, they can continue to play in the same leagues and events during the regular season.

At the end of the day, these weak “AAA” teams will still be who they are – but now they would have a chance to play against their peers for a National Championship.   Considering that youth hockey is all about development, competing in a real playoff environment is a great development opportunity and playing competitive games.  Certainly better than what is happening today, where most of these teams are enjoying limited success – and when they do, it usually versus their true peer group.

Youth hockey is all about development. You really shouldn’t care how many letters your team has as long as players and teams are getting better every year. It’s not about being able to tell your friends that you (or your kid) plays AAA.

So, are you willing to trade playing triple-A for double-A in exchange for a legitimate chance to play for a National Championship?

Data Source:

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The Early Birth-Month Advantage in Hockey

This week, the USA Hockey NTDP released the names of the 45 2007’s invited to their evaluation camp. Over 50% of the players were born in the first 3 months of 2007.  Malcolm Gladwell talked about this hockey phenomenon in his book Outliers, where the earlier you are born in the calendar year, the more likely you are to be get selected to elite teams. This is due to the size and age advantage over players born later in the year. It is a self-reinforcing cycle from atom/squirt ages – despite hockey being a late-development sport. 15 years later, this bias still exists.

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Today’s Coach of The Day: Mike Sisti

Today’s Champs Coach of the Day is Mike Sisti, Head Coach with the Mercyhurst women’s ice hockey program. The Lakers are 6-6 so far this season and host a pair of games against Syracuse this weekend.

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Today’s Coach of The Day: Bethany Brausen

Today’s Champs Coach of the Day is Bethany Brausen – Assistant Coach with the St Thomas women’s ice hockey team. The Tommies host Ohio State for a pair of games this weekend.

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Today’s Coach of The Day: Kerstin Matthews

Today’s Champs Coach of the Day is Kerstin Matthews – Associate Head Coach with the Boston University women’s ice hockey program. The Terriers won their last game against Merrimack and plays a home-and-home with Providence this coming weekend.

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Today’s Coach of The Day: Josh Sciba

Today’s Champs Coach of the Day is Josh Sciba – Head Coach with the Union College women’s ice hockey program. The team is now 3-5 with a big win recently at Boston University.

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Hockey Player Feedback

One of my biggest frustrations over the last 18 months or so has been about providing feedback to players. Across many different playing environments I have been consistently disappointed in the lack of sophistication and priority on giving insightful, actionable feedback to players. This post discusses the good and bad of hockey coach feedback to players.

Here is what I’ve seen what most coaches are good at:

1. In-game feedback

For the most part, coaches have no problem talking to players after a shift and have a conversation about what just happened. Some coaches are more positive and constructive than others (e.g. “What did you see?” rather than “Here is what you did wrong…”).  I doubt there are many coaches who last a reasonable amount of time without providing this basic level of constructive player feedback.

2. Overall team style of play / team concepts

I won’t say systems – because some youth coaches do play systems and others have a type of hockey they want to play which focuses more on skills rather than set plays and rules.  In general, coaches know how to set theses expectations and work on the in practice. Thus it can be pretty easy to give this kind of feedback either on the bench or in the locker room.

However, here’s what coaches generally aren’t good at:

A. Having position-specific, age and level appropriate development  framework

What are the prioritized skills and attributes a player should be competent in? What are their biggest strengths that they can leverage? What areas do they need to level up so that they can minimize those attributes being exposed. For example, skating, puck handling, shot strength and accuracy.   From what I’ve seen, it is usually one-off feedback with the player having to work on it with by themselves or with their own skills development coach.

Having a coach show personalized clips to an individual player is very rare.  Many coaches do not have the time or resources to provide player-specific reviews.  However, it can be a shared responsibility between player, coach and parent to clip together game footage and to discuss together.

B. In-season feedback

Providing individual report cards or interim check-ins throughout the season on what strengths and development opportunities like skills and/or concepts for a player. For example, Darryl Belfry likes to look at players over a 3 or 4 game segment and track with video and basic stats (e.g. how many puck touches turn into a positive or negative play) and then discuss them with a player.  Some coaches give mid-year reviews for their players and in my experience it looks like a bullet list of 3 or items for the player to work on.  However, the onus is then on the player to figure out how to get better at those items on their own. 

C. Holistic, high level feedback

This is a tough one.

Being candid with a player about where they are with their game at the moment can be a very tough conversation regardless of the players abilities.  All players are an unfinished product. And in youth hockey they are still a long way from their peak potential – so providing the appropriate context and perspective is not always easy.

Why don’t all coaches provide holistic feedback? Some…

  • Just aren’t good coaches (or at least not as good as they think they are)
  • Don’t have a long-term development framework for players at each level
  • Don’t know how to provide feedback effectively
  • Don’t invest the time in the process (don’t have time)
  • It is not a priority for them
  • Don’t have an  incentive to put in the time
  • Don’t have a framework
  • Fear of parent/player reaction
  • Politics

Unfortunately, I have seen the above at almost every level, but most disappointing has been seeing it at the highest levels of hockey.  For example, in a rare instance of this being done well…one player who was in consideration for a national team, received lots of feedback and what the coaches wanted to them do this season.  However, what was more common are the many examples where other players attending national camps received little to no meaningful feedback, even when requested. It seems that unless a coach or organization has a vested, long-term interest in a player or team, they will not put in the time or effort that most players need.

As a parent or a youth player, it is important to be realistic on the types of feedback to expect from your team coach based on the level of play and the club/program you signed up for.  In most situations, you will likely have to go beyond the basic feedback practices of your coach and find ways to supplement them with other experts you trust.

(Note to my kids current coaches: I am not referring to you – this post was mostly written over the past summer and incorporates conversations I’ve had with parents from all over the country).

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Today’s Coach of The Day: Tara Connolly

Today’s Champs Coach of the Day is Tara Connolly – Assistant Coach with the RPI Engineers women’s ice hockey team. This weekend the Engineers are hosting the RIT Tigers for a pair of games.

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