Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A Thing That Happened

I've talked before about how kids--if they want to play D1 hockey--have to delay starting college by two or even three years because most programs aren't interested until they've seen them in juniors. And, for most kids, they won't play in juniors, or even have a chance to play, until they're 18.

Semi-standard process is this: play 18U for one season, start trying out for junior teams. Make one at eighteen, if everything breaks right. If it doesn't, maybe wait until 19 or 20.

D1 scouts are going to focus on two leagues: the USHL and the NAHL. There are plenty of "pay" junior leagues, but those are juniors in name only, not part of a legitimate talent pool that D1 scouts will find players from.

For goalies, in particular, this system is brutal. There are so few spots on "real" junior teams, and so many colleges that won't look at you unless you're playing on one, that it's incredibly difficult to get through.

Eli 17.2 has a friend from Elite camp who is a phenomenal goalie. He's 20, and he's put his life on hold for several years because he wants to play D1 hockey. This spring, though, he made a juniors team (a real juniors team, and I'm leaving details a bit vague on purpose). Huge deal, right? All that hard work--and believe me, it involves thousands and thousands of hours--finally paid off.

Dream progressing.

Playing in juniors is a big deal, for many reasons, but it involves a huge amount of personal upheaval. Moving to a new city, billeting with a family, basically being on a pro hockey player schedule, but without getting paid.

Doing that really requires a personal commitment, and it's stressful, even if you're happy about doing it.

So this kid (he's a man at 20, really) moves to a new state. Gets a billet family. Totally uproots his life.

That's all okay, though, because he made the team.

Training camp goes great. He starts one of the first games of the season.

Gets shelled.

He gives up four goals in the first period and gets pulled. Devastating, but it happens. Goalie is such an incredibly complex position, and sometimes your team is overmatched, and everything goes wrong.

Three nights later, he plays again. Faces 45+ shots, gives up only three goals. Absolutely stellar.

They cut him. He played two games.

Eli went to a lesson in Detroit and he was there, which is when he told Eli the story. Said he might quit hockey, because he's 20 and all of his friends are starting their junior years in college, and he doesn't even have a team to play on now.

It hurts to even type that last paragraph.

What is so excruciating about this whole system is that while it does contain elements of merit, it's also staggeringly arbitrary, particularly when it comes to goalies. Coaches who don't understand anything about the position can see one moment that sticks in their mind, and they decide on a kid right there.

The kicker is that the team that cut him is terrible. They're legitimately going to be the worst team in the league, based on the first month of the season. And neither goalie they kept has a save percentage above .875, or a goals against average below 4.00. 

Hard. Very hard.

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