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By Joe Batista

I have been fortunate to be involved in hockey as a player, coach or administrator in Juniors, High School, Prep School, NCAA, ACHA, USA Hockey and the National Hockey League with the Pittsburgh Penguins. I am constantly amazed at how poorly prepared and ill-informed high school players and parents are when it comes to choosing a college and a college hockey program. This is one of the single most important decisions a young man and his family will make yet, unfortunately, most people spend more time researching the purchase of a new car than they do a college education.


The purpose of this article is to provide you with a game plan for developing a list of options for your choice of schools. There is no way to touch on everything; this is simply intended to whet your appetite, to provide a spark to get you motivated to become informed. I offer this information to help you to take a new look at choosing the best options for you based on informed decisions. Most young players aspire to earn a hockey scholarship and play NCAA Division I hockey, to represent their country on a national team or in the Olympics, and to play professional hockey at some level. These are all lofty goals for most student-athletes and only a very few exceptional athletes ever realize these dreams. So what is a hockey player to do? Give up? Certainly not! The answer is to get to work and start gathering the facts about college hockey programs and college admissions so that you can make informed choices. There is a school out there for everyone. There are excellent NCAA Division III, ACHA Division I and II, Intercollegiate Club and Intramural programs at some of the best schools in the country. Don’t forget to consider them. The key is to find the college that offers you the best combination of academic and athletic options. Get a realistic evaluation from an unbiased source, work hard in school and on the ice, and develop a list of options.


The guiding principle in all your decisions should be academics. Academics comes first, hockey second and social life third. The first questions most coaches ask you will probably be about your grade point average, class standing and SAT/ACT scores. Athletic ability does not guarantee admission to a college. More and more, public pressure is forcing colleges to re-evaluate their admissions standards for athletes.


Former Notre Dame Basketball Coach Digger Phelps comments, “We have a serious problem with sports in our society. We forget that an athletic career is very short and team championships are just moments. Education is something that lasts a lifetime.” Your academic record begins in 9th grade and is based on college preparatory courses. These include English, math, physical sciences and social science. (Physical education, health, shop etc. don’t count) Make sure that you work closely with your guidance counselors throughout your high school years. The better your academic record, the more options are open for you.


Call or write to schools and coaches and get current facts. Request academic, athletic, financial and campus life materials. Do your homework! You must keep hockey in proper perspective and select a school for the right reasons.

What if you step on the ice the first day of practice and blow out your knee? Will you still be happy at the school? Some kids will attend a school, tryout for the hockey team, get cut and then realize they don’t like the school and it doesn’t have the major they wanted in the first place! The key to choosing a school is to develop options. Many factors will play a part in your decision on which college you will choose. You should consider: cost, academic requirements, location, size, public vs. private, academic reputation, graduation and job placement rates, majors offered, financial aid available, social setting, student body makeup etc. Make a chart that will help you to compare various schools.


You should then divide the list of schools into three groups:

1. Those where you are certain to be admitted.

2. Those where you have a good chance to be admitted.

3. Those where you are a long shot to be admitted.


Plan to apply to at least two or three schools in each category. Find out the application deadlines (they are sooner than you think). Seniors should be applying in early fall and making plans to visit the campus and to set up meetings with the admissions office and the hockey coach.


How many Division I or III games or practices have you gone to lately? How about your coach who has been telling you that you’re “varsity” and “scholarship” material? If he hasn’t seen a game at these levels in several years then how can you have faith in his advice? The answer is to go and see for yourself. Go to a practice and a game at the schools where you want to make an application.


When you go for your campus visit have a list of questions prepared for the admissions counselor and the coach. You must do your homework prior to your visit or you’re wasting time and money. Ask questions about faculty to student ratios, national rankings of the department, where do the faculty come from, what kind of financial aid is available, etc. Don’t take anyone’s word for granted. Ask for proof. Coaches will tell you that their business school is one of the best in the country. According to whom? Business Week? The Gourman Report? There are many publications which rank academic programs. Ask them to prove it to you in writing!


Once on campus ask about housing, food services, social and recreational activities, etc. You should also talk to members of the hockey team. Talk to a top player and a fifth line player. A kid cut from the team is probably going to have nothing good to say about the coaches, but if you keep that in mind, you may still learn something of value.

When you meet the coach, wear appropriate attire. The first impression will last a long time! Ask him intelligent questions. How many players will graduate this year? What positions do they play? Do you allow walk-ons to tryout? Where do you do most of your recruiting? Do you have a JV team and/or an intramural program? Do you have an academic support program? When does the team practice? Ask him to describe his style of coaching.


Warning! Beware the coach who makes “guarantees”. Recruiting is an inexact science and you really don’t know how many other kids have received the same guarantee. Your recruiting “stock” may rise and fall as the coach finds better prospects or as other recruits find better opportunities elsewhere. The thing to remember is that there are no “guarantees”.


You should call or write to coaches and get current information prior to meeting with them. Get a copy of a game program or media guide and see where the majority of players come from. Compare the number of Americans/Canadians on the team. Is the rink on campus? Does the team have its own locker room? What equipment is provided? Are all road expenses covered?


What type of student and community support is there? Is there extensive media coverage? Is there a team physician, trainers and access to a training room? What kind of strength training facilities are available?


Remember that coaches see hundreds of players during the course of the recruiting process and they may not recognize you or your parents after just one meeting. Also they may recognize you in your uniform but not in street clothes. So if you run into them at a rink or at a tournament, go up and reintroduce yourself.


When most high school hockey players talk about playing college hockey the only level mentioned is NCAA Division I. In reality, very few of you will ever reach that goal. There are many NCAA Division III, ACHA Division I and II, Intercollegiate Club and Junior College teams that may make more sense academically, athletically, financially, geographically and socially.


Effective 2006/2007 there are fifty-eight NCAA Division I programs. Division I includes the Atlantic, CCHA, CHA, ECAC, Hockey East and WCHA.


How hard is it to play Division I hockey?

Number of Division I players 1,551

Positions open each year 380 (equal distribution after transfers)

Current rosters indicate that this group of 380 will normally include approximately:

USHL (USA Hockey Tier 1)


NAHL (USA Hockey Tier 2 Jr A)


EJHL (USA Hockey Tier 3 Jr A)


All Canadian Junior A






This leaves just 30 positions available for everyone else in North America, Europe, Asia, etc.

The facts are very clear. Only the very best will make it to Division I. Preseason rosters at most Division I schools include 20 returning players, 5 - 10 “blue-chip” recruits, 5 - 10 “recruited” walk-ons and another 15 - 20 walk-ons for a total of 50 - 60 players. At least 20 - 30 will be cut and since only 20 can dress each game, another 6 - 10 will be sitting in the stands watching.


The most unfortunate part is that many players cut or riding the bench at Division I schools might have been outstanding players on Division III or ACHA Division I, II or III teams. Worse yet, these other schools may make more sense academically, financially, etc.


My intention is not to discourage anyone, but to open up people’s eyes to the facts so that you are better informed and can therefore make a better choice. Besides, if you truly are Division I material, chances are you’ll know it because you’ll be “recruited”. Although parents are well-meaning,


Although parents are well-meaning, it’s a good idea to get an unbiased evaluation of your talent to get an idea of what level you should shoot for. There is a joke among recruiters that says a player should always play one level below where his parents think he should! The sad fact is that it isn’t always a joke.


There are currently 75 Division II-III programs throughout the country. The scope of each program in terms of budget, commitment from the school, fan and media support, quality of the rink, equipment supplied, etc. varies greatly from school to school as does the quality of the academic programs offered.


If you like a small school atmosphere, the traditional liberal arts education, then look no further. Schools like Williams, Amherst, Colby and Middlebury in New England and Gustavus Adolphus, Bethel, St. John’s and Augsburg in Minnesota have excellent hockey programs, offer an exceptional education and also come with a hefty price tag approaching and in some cases exceeding $30,000 a year.


You need to do your homework to find out which of these programs/schools suits you. Are they among the best in the country? (Lately it’s been Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Elmira, Babson, Middlebury, Bowdoin and St. Norberts, to name a few.) Some of the top Division III programs are more competitive than some of the less competitive Division I schools. These schools offer the athlete almost everything that the Division I program offers with the exception of athletic scholarships (There is financial aid available, especially at the more selective schools). On the other end of the spectrum are the bare-bones varsity programs. They typically have to travel to an off campus rink for practice, and play at odd hours (some at 5:00 am, others at 10:00 pm), offer little in the way of equipment, meal money and fan support and often play a very limited schedule. Some of these programs do not have the budgets of, nor are they competitive with many of the ACHA programs. Needless to say you must shop around and get the answers.

There are currently about 180 ACHA Division I and II programs playing at all sizes of schools across the country. These non-varsity programs are typically well organized, receive significant school funding, get tremendous community and student support and in many ways are like some of the better NCAA Division III programs. Many of these teams play in front of standing-room only crowds, have their own TV and radio broadcasts, provide players with most of their own equipment and have budgets that rival the best NCAA Division III programs. Once again it is your job to hunt these schools down.


In closing I encourage you to set your goals high and to go after your dreams. I hope you will be honest with yourself when evaluating your abilities and potential. There are a lot of great universities out there and one of them is going to make sense for you academically and athletically. Do your homework and develop options which make sense.