When a freshman commits to a major division one school, we hear about it. We talk about it on social media and in the rink. You might read about this “stud” hockey player online. This one commitment distorts our view of the college recruiting process because it receives such a disproportionate amount of attention. To understand better how college recruiting is actually taking place, it’s important to look at the data that we have and see what it tells us.
I analyzed all commitments to NCAA Division I men’s hockey programs from Sept. 1, 2017 to April 5, 2018. What I found was that 42 percent of all commitments over this period were to play in the 2018-19 hockey season, meaning that 42 percent of commits were seniors in high school or older!
The majority (70 percent) of male college commitments take place during or after a player’s junior year in high school.
It “feels” like that percentage is quite high because we hear about the young players committing. But our perception is skewed by two major factors. First, some players get de-committed by their schools. They don’t develop as they were expected to and the college they originally committed to roughly half a decade earlier says they are no longer interested. We don’t hear or talk about these players. An older player that goes to the USHL after graduating from high school and commits is not even a blip on our hockey radar.
The below table shows which year players are committed to start their college career. A player that commits to the 2018-19 season is labeled a “senior or older.” This data does not distinguish between players that are seniors and those that are committing to colleges post-high school.
Positionally, there were minor differences. Fifty percent of goalies commit during their senior year or later. Defensemen committed the earliest, possibly in part because size is a greater factor in recruiting defense than forwards.
College recruiting for female athletes takes place earlier, with a greater percentage of commitments occurring during a player’s sophomore or freshman year, compared to males. Yet, even this data surprised me. When discussing college prospects with female athletes, they sometimes feel as if it is impossible to commit to a school as seniors. But one out of five of female college hockey players commit their senior year (to U.S. college programs – if you include Canadian colleges, it is a MUCH higher percentage).
Why is female college recruiting taking place so much earlier? Females go directly to college, so the late bloomers don’t have an additional year to develop. Sadly, we don’t know who we missed. We can’t identify the top female athletes that simply figured “it’s not in the cards for me” and gave up the dream of playing college hockey.
The same pattern by position exists in women’s college recruiting. Defense tends to be recruited the youngest and goalies probably stand the best chance of being recruited during their senior year.
College commitments by girls in Minnesota tend to be far earlier than the rest of the country. There are 16 current college commits that committed to play college hockey in eighth or ninth grade. Ten (63 percent) are committed to play for the University of Minnesota. Many colleges overwhelmingly take commitments from Minnesota high school players before their junior year. See the rest of the Minnesota-born college commitment data in Kevin Kurtt’s article here.
We all know the recruiting of the youngest players is silly and wrong. Eventually, I think it’ll be solved with rule changes at the collegiate level.
But the data should also provide hope to all high school hockey players who aspire to play in college that their dreams aren’t over if they are uncommitted sophomores. Forget about the social media exposure, the popularity contests, and the egos. Focus on what matters – set goals, train hard in the gym, sprint fast at the track, stickhandle with purpose in your garage, and play with joy and tenacity whenever you have the chance to showcase your skills.
Josh Levine is the Assistant Coach of the Bloomington Jefferson Girls Varsity Hockey team and owner of The Fortis Academy. Fortis works with youth associations to implement skill development programs with all teams, from Mites to Bantams. The program includes parent education seminars, coaching clinics and Fortis skill-based practices. If you’re interested in learning more, shoot Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Fortis on Facebook and Instagram.