How to Get Recruited to Play College Hockey – Ultimate DIY Recruiting Guide

How to Get Recruited to Play College Hockey – Ultimate DIY Recruiting Guide How to Get Recruited to Play College Hockey – Ultimate DIY Recruiting Guide

Ice hockey is an incredibly unique sport. It offers some of the most opportunities to play at a higher level. As a result, the college hockey recruiting process is incredibly important and there are a lot of crucial things to know for hockey players looking to play at the college level. This guide will tell you everything you need to know if you want to play ice hockey in college.

In This Guide

Fast Facts

Men's College Hockey Athletes
4,715
Women's College Hockey Athletes
2,944
Average Roster Size
Men's College Hockey
30.0
Average Roster Size
Women's College Hockey
25.2
Revenue
Men's College Hockey
$176.6 M
Revenue
Women's College Hockey
$72.9 M

Source: U.S. Department of Education Equality in Athletics Data Analysis

Hockey Recruiting Statistics

  • There are 45,075 boys and 12,154 girls who play high school hockey.
    • 10% of boys and 22% of girls will go on to play college hockey.
    • 2.5% of boys and 4.4% of girls will go on to play NCAA Division I hockey.

Source: ScholarshipStats.com

Hump Day Poll

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Understanding the Different Divisions for College Hockey

NCAA logo long

When starting the hockey recruiting process, athletes should keep in mind that there are different recruiting processes for different divisions. Hockey players will want to understand each division’s guidelines, rules, and deadlines before committing anywhere. For example, NCAA Division I hockey programs are typically highly competitive and often have more resources and scholarships available compared to other divisions.

NCAA Division I

Because NCAA Division I schools have to compete with the professional level and junior leagues that force athletes to lose NCAA eligibility, the Division I process is different from other sports.

  • Coaches can have digital contact with recruits beginning January 1 of their sophomore year. This date also marks when athletes can begin to schedule unofficial visits.
  • Beginning August 1 of an athlete’s junior year, they can schedule official visits to schools and meet with coaches regarding recruiting while on campus. Coaches can also start offering scholarships verbally and having off-campus contact with recruits.
  • At any point throughout this entire process, regardless of the date or year, athletes can be sent non-recruiting materials, such as educational publications from the NCAA or institutional publications that are not based on athletics. 

If Division I coaches weren’t able to contact players so early, they could risk losing recruits to professional leagues around the world or junior leagues like the Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL) or Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Entering any of these leagues causes players to immediately lose their amateur status and thus forfeit their NCAA eligibility. There are 60 NCAA Division I teams and 60 major junior teams in the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL, so the competition is quite fierce when it comes to the top recruits. Additionally, these junior leagues allow players to begin playing when they are 16, which is another reason Division I coaches are allowed such early contact with recruits.

NCAA Division II

For Division II, recruits can obtain non-recruiting materials and schedule unofficial visits at any time, provided it is not during a dead period. After June 15 of their sophomore year of high school, coaches can contact athletes digitally, schedule official visits, and have off-campus communication with athletes.

NCAA Division III

For NCAA Division III, recruits can go on as many unofficial visits as they want, receive hockey recruiting materials, and have contact with college coaches at any time. After their sophomore year, recruits and coaches can begin to have off-campus communication, and after their junior year, recruits can schedule and take up to one official visit per Division III school.

It is very important for athletes to follow these hockey recruiting rules to ensure that they are eligible to play hockey at the NCAA level. Athletes looking to play hockey in college should be just as knowledgeable of these practices as coaches. 

NAIA and JUCO

Normally, NAIA and JUCO are great options for athletes who want to compete at a smaller school or who aren't ready for the NCAA yet. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is for small schools and has fewer member institutions than the NCAA. The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA or JUCO) is for 2-year junior colleges and is a great opportunity for athletes who want to hone in on their skills or academics before heading to a four-year school.

However, because ice hockey isn't the most popular sport, JUCO and NAIA aren't really options for hockey players. NAIA doesn't offer the sport, and there are only five junior colleges that offer the sport. Instead, hockey players will usually head to juniors

What Matters to Play Hockey in College?

What Matters to Play Hockey in College?

There are multiple ways for athletes to find their way to playing hockey at the NCAA level. Specifically, athletes should look to play junior hockey (in leagues that don’t require the loss of NCAA eligibility), prep school hockey, or varsity high school hockey.

Junior Hockey

Junior hockey refers to amateur hockey leagues that are a step up from a traditional club or travel team. Teams in these leagues have athletes between the ages of 16 and 20, and there are a multitude of leagues throughout North America. Leagues are usually ranked on a tier system, with Tier 1 being the highest and Tier 3 being the lowest. In North America, Tier 1 leagues include the United States Hockey League (USHL), British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL). At the Tier 2 level, the most prominent league is the North American Hockey League (NAHL). These four leagues consistently send the most players to the NCAA Division I level, so if an athlete’s goal is to play Division I through the junior hockey route, they should look to participate and be one of the top performers in one of these leagues.

When it comes to junior hockey and NCAA Division II and III schools, many of these schools will recruit athletes from these same junior leagues who were not able to make rosters at NCAA Division I schools. With that said, these schools will also recruit players who play in other junior leagues that might not be of the same caliber as these top-level leagues. These include Tier 3 junior leagues, like the North American Tier 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) and the Eastern Hockey League (EHL).

Prep School

Athletes can also find their way to NCAA hockey rosters through prep school hockey. Prep schools are schools that are like traditional high schools, hosting ninth through 12th graders, but they are private and often have dorms on campus to house kids from across the nation. Some prep schools are noted to have very impressive hockey programs and can produce players who are talented enough to find themselves on NCAA rosters at all levels. These schools are mostly congregated in the northeastern region of the U.S., specifically New England, while a few others can be found elsewhere in the country. One thing that college coaches value about prep schools is that they create a similar environment to colleges. This means that prep schools place just as high of an expectation on academic performance as they do athletic performance, which can help prepare prospective athletes for the college environment. One drawback of prep schools, though, is that they tend to be expensive, with the average private high school tuition cost in the U.S. being $15,840 per year.

High School Varsity Hockey

Finally, NCAA hockey rosters can also include athletes who played at the high school varsity level. Much like prep school teams, the highest level high school hockey teams are found in the Northeast and Midwest, with states like Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota being some of the more competitive states. To expand on this, it is notable to mention that the skill level of high school hockey varies greatly around the country, so typically only high school players from these hub areas wind up playing NCAA hockey. According to NCAA data, less than 15% of high school hockey players end up playing at any NCAA level, with the majority of these players playing at the Division III level. With under 5% of these athletes reaching the NCAA Division I level, it is clear that high school varsity hockey is one of the more difficult routes to the NCAA.

One thing to keep in mind is that coaches are most likely going to not only look at specific stats in conjunction with the level of play where athletes competed. It is also important to note that stats vary greatly among positions and are not the telltale sign of an athlete’s ability. Hockey IQ is something that coaches value very highly, which is the ability of a player to instinctively know the right plays to make and where to be on the ice. Perhaps even more important to college coaches is an athlete’s character and the potential impact the athlete will have on a team’s culture. Todd Knott, Associate Head Coach of Men’s Hockey at Minnesota State Mankato, says, “We put a high level of value on kids being captains on their junior teams.” This goes to show that coaches of some of the premier NCAA hockey programs value much more than just on-ice skills when it comes to hockey recruiting. 

Showcases and Camps

Showcases and Camps

Prospective college hockey players will likely receive a myriad of emails growing up about camps and showcases that they should register for, but not all of these are real scouting opportunities. Many times, these are mass emails that are ways for junior teams to earn money for their upcoming season. However, some camps and showcases are worth going to. 

While it can be worthwhile for an athlete to go to a specific team’s camp if invited, this may not be the best option, as this could limit an athlete’s exposure. Showcases and tournaments, though, are usually attended by the coaches of many junior, prep school, and college coaches, meaning that playing in these will get athletes in front of the eyes of many more coaches than an individual team’s camp would. 

One prominent example of a series of camps that is worthwhile for hockey players to participate in is the BioSteel Player Development Camps. These camps are for American players from ages 15 to 17 and allow these athletes to receive top-level instruction as well as compete in front of coaches from a variety of levels. Athletes will compete at their state-level camp for their specific age group, and then the top athletes from each state will be selected to compete for their district-level team. Following the district-level camp, the top athletes from the entire country will be chosen to represent the U.S. in a variety of tournaments, all the while competing in front of a multitude of coaches, including those at the NCAA level. 

Individual team camps and higher-level showcases are typically invite-only. There are still some major showcases, however, that athletes can sign up for to compete at. One of the best examples of this is the CCM Hockey Showcase in Denver, Colorado, which is a tournament-style event for high-level youth hockey and middle-level junior hockey players. Any player can sign up for this event, and participating in it will allow athletes to gain exposure to high-level junior and NCAA coaches. While this showcase demonstrates a higher level event, there are many regional camps and showcases that can be signed up for as well and can be worth signing up for to gain exposure and gauge talent levels. 

Contacting College Hockey Coaches

Contacting College Hockey Coaches

Even though college coaches can’t contact hockey players until after January 1 of their sophomore year for Division I programs and after June 15 of their sophomore year for Division II programs, athletes can reach out to college coaches at any point to let them know about their interest in their program. Many programs have resources on their websites, such as the email addresses of coaches and hockey recruiting questionnaires that athletes can fill out to create this initial point of contact. Athletes should not get discouraged if they don’t hear back right away.

In terms of who to contact, players should email college coaches directly. Unless an athlete finds that one coach is specifically in charge of recruiting, athletes should email all listed coaches that they can so that as many eyes as possible are able to see the email. This strategy also stems from the fact that college hockey teams typically have relatively small coaching staffs, usually consisting of a head coach and two or three assistant coaches, so it is important to get at least one of them to see an email. It is also crucial for athletes to email the coaches at schools where they feel they have a legitimate shot at playing because reaching out to coaches at schools above one’s skill level will essentially guarantee that there will be no response. 

Prospective college hockey players should focus on contacting coaches during the college off-season. When the season is underway, coaches are giving all of their attention to their team and strategizing how to win games and be successful. This means that hockey recruiting is a bit lower on the totem pole of priorities, and coaches likely are not able to travel to watch the games of recruits in person. As a result, the off-season is the best time to contact coaches in terms of having a high chance of getting a response. Again, athletes must keep in mind the dates before which college coaches are prohibited from contacting recruits, and be sure to follow up with college coaches if it is past those dates and there has been no response. 

What to Include in an Email to a Coach

Email is the best way to reach out to a college hockey coach. Even if the initial email is sent before a coach can reply to the athlete, they can save the email and reply when allowed. Here are some important things to remember when sending an email to a hockey coach:

  • The first thing an athlete should remember to do is to be respectful. As previously mentioned, college hockey coaches look just as much at an athlete’s character as they do their athletic ability. 
  • Athletes should start with a bit of background information. This may include their name, age or birth year, height and weight, hometown, most recent team, and position. An athlete should also address the purpose of their email, which in nearly all cases is to show their interest in a certain program. 
  • Next, an athlete should discuss their specific skill set. This should focus on what kind of a player the athlete is and their outlook and attitude toward the game. If a player is a captain on their team, they should also mention this here. Players can also mention specific strategies they use to play to the best of their ability. 
  • The following segment should be a bit about their career history. Hockey players should go over the last couple of years and discuss what teams they have played on, leagues they have been in, camps and showcases they have been invited to and partaken in, and some notable stats from each season. The included stats should typically include goals, assists, and points. However, for some positions, other stats may be included to show the value they have provided to the team. For example, if an athlete identifies as a stay-at-home defenseman, they may only have a goal and a few assists over a season, but mentioning they played almost a third of every game and had a high plus-minus rating means a lot more to coaches in this sense. 
  • Another valuable thing to include in emails to coaches for hockey players is game film. Because coaches are not able to travel during their own seasons and watch potential recruits live, athletes must supply these coaches with this film so they can get an actual sense of how the athlete plays.
  • In the case where a college coach is able to find some off time to travel to watch recruits, athletes should include their schedules for the upcoming season or the remainder of the season in their emails. If there is a way for people to watch an athlete’s games online, they should also include how to do so in case coaches would like to watch other games during the season that they cannot necessarily make it to. 
  • Finally, an email to a coach should close by thanking them for their consideration and letting them know that if they have any questions or would like to connect, they can do so at any time. An athlete should also include any contact information for where coaches can reach back out to them.

Sample Email

Dear Coach [coach’s name],

I hope this email finds you well. My name is [athlete’s name] and I am a [age]-year-old [position] from [hometown, home state]. I am [height], [weight] and currently play for the [current team] in the [current league]. I am very interested in joining your program in [year you intend on joining the team]. 

I am a tenacious player who is always hungry to jump on loose pucks. I pride myself on having a high hockey IQ, being disciplined, and playing a 200-foot game (replace these with the athlete’s own attributes). I always bring a high level of intensity to each and every shift and look to lead by example, as I also serve as an assistant captain on my team (tailored to the athlete's own attitudes). 

This past season, I tallied [#] goals and [#] assists for a total of [#] points, while also recording [other relevant stats]. My team finished that year by [how the team ended the season. Missing the playoffs, losing in the first round, winning the championship, etc.] The season prior… (repeat for 2-3 prior seasons, mentioning any team changes and season results). 

If you would like to take a look at some of my game film and see more stats, here is a link to my Hudl account: [link to film or recruiting webpage].

I would also be very grateful if you watched some of my games this upcoming season. Here is a link to our schedule: [link to schedule]. We play at [name of rink and rink address]. If you are unable to watch games in person, here is a link to stream the games live online: [live stream link].

Thank you so much for your consideration. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at any time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

[athlete’s name]

[athlete’s phone number]

[athlete’s email address]

Inside Scoop on Ice Hockey Recruiting

Inside Scoop on Ice Hockey Recruiting

The ice hockey recruiting process can seem overwhelming, but athletes need to take it one step at a time. The reality of ice hockey in college is that there aren’t as many teams as there are for other sports. At the NCAA level, there are about 150 schools that offer men’s ice hockey. This means there are fewer opportunities for athletes to find their way onto college hockey rosters, and not every athlete is going to be able to do so.

If this is the case, athletes should not be discouraged. Even though they are not at the NCAA level, hundreds of schools across the country have club hockey programs, like AAU Hockey that are extremely competitive and can even rival the skill level of some NCAA Division III programs. These programs are part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association or the College Hockey Federation and are full of former junior, prep school, and varsity high school players. These conferences also don’t have recruiting restrictions, so if an athlete knows well in advance that they are not looking to play hockey at the NCAA level, they can begin communicating with club coaches whenever they want. Essentially, there is a chance for everyone to play college hockey. 

* Originally published on April 10, 2024, by Owen Roche

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