The Boston Globe recently described the 18 year old freshman college hockey player as “not far removed from tyrannosaurus rex”. While not quite true, there has been a significant trend which has increased the average age of NCAA college hockey players. The top prospects still get the shot of playing at 18, but the majority of players take a longer road to college hockey. Blame the quality of Junior hockey, whose players are so attractive to college coaches. Canadian players after a year or two in Juniors without reaching "Major Junior" (which is considered professional and voids NCAA Eligibility), often come south for a chance to play in the US at 19 or 20. Given the geography of some top college hockey programs, some of these schools may be closer to home than their junior club. Coaches who want to keep up the competition at the highest levels also must look to Canada, and US Juniors for talent, or send their best prospects there to mature. The war for talent drives up the average age.
Good Junior players are attracted to the NCAA. US College education carries a high value, and hockey players gather the highest average scholarships at over $21,000 per year. US Junior hockey has gotten better, adding a Tier 1 league in 2002, and making NCAA placement a major goal. In years past, Canadian Juniors were criticized for poor planning for the future of their players and many clubs got serious about the education of their players, preparing them for college both on and off the ice.
Junior clubs play almost double the number of games vs. a college schedule, with more travel. The experience puts players in much better condition to compete at the college game. 18 year old high school players are generally not as physically mature, strong or experienced as 23 and 24 year olds, and do not generally compete as well with them.
75% of NCAA Division I players and 60% of Division III players have some experience in Junior Hockey. While not a pre-requisite, US or Canadian Junior experience shows college level coaches that players can compete at a higher level than is available at most high school and prep programs. Coaches sometimes accept high school players with a delay. Recruited players wait to start their college career by spending another season or two at Juniors before joining the college squad. So you may hear that a high school senior committed to a school 2 years out.
Even Prep schools offer “post graduate programs”, which keeps players in school, preparing for college and playing hockey after they have earned a high school diploma. All of this, plus the desire to compete, pushes the average freshman age up; it's now around 19.9 and it is not uncommon to find no teenagers on a D-I roster. Overall the NCAA game has gotten more competitive, and the NHL now sends top draft picks to colleges and looks seriously at more college players than they have in the past.
Coaches want stronger, wiser, and better hockey players; that's why your freshman are getting older.
Get Access to the Directory: SIGN UP
Copyright 2008 All rights reserved . College Hockey Directory