Hockey is a sport that once it gets into your blood, you become addicted. It becomes a part of your everyday life. It’s a passion, lifestyle, and grind, which nobody can get in the way of. Whatever you do in your daily life ends up revolving around hockey. Whether it’s in the classroom, at home or at dinner, whatever decisions you make, hockey influences them.
Most hockey kids at a very young age have a dream of playing in the NHL and beyond. They grow up watching the Sunday games on NBC, where all the big stars are playing. Crosby, Ovechkin, Giroux, St. Louis, Zetterberg etc. They see all the fame and hype that surrounds these games, along with the fact that they can make a living playing hockey. Throughout their lives, it’s crucial for them to develop their skill to increase their chances to make it one day. After growing up and playing in their hometowns, they move on and play away from home. After their last year of youth hockey, around senior year of high school, they are faced with different paths.
For very few kids, a path to the NHL is already carved. Meanwhile, most kids have to decide between going to college or playing juniors to chase the dream. For many of these kids, junior hockey is the answer. It’s two years off from school. Your life only consists of hockey. It’s a life-changing opportunity that provides kids the hope of moving onto prestigious colleges where they can play hockey and try to make hockey their life after school. If that fails, then they have a degree. This is why some see going to college a better route; it has guaranteed outcome. A job!
After a while kids get burnt out in a way. They don’t see hockey being something they want to pursue, which is understandable, so going to college is their best path. That is typical with a lot of kids who aren’t serious hockey players, but it kills me to see kids who have a large amount of potential, just go off to college. I want to know why? How did they make their decision to do that? What steps did they take?
Personally I’m in the same boat. You can either go off to college and stop chasing the dream, where in college you can get a degree and hopefully a decent job. At the same time you can go play junior hockey, grow and develop as a person and player, with the hopes getting into a D1 or D3 school of your choice. That is if injury doesn’t occur, but if you get hurt, your career could be over. All the pain, sweat and tears was for nothing. What does someone have to do to ensure that they make the right decision? What sort of things need to be taken into account? Is this more of a family decision or your own decision?
I interviewed Max Blitz (`14), who came to the Academy as a senior from California, a growing hotbed for hockey players. He saw Gilmour as the best opportunity to make it to college after a couple years of development. When asking him why he chose to continue playing rather than going to college, Max said, “I chose to play juniors because it was something that I had been working for since I was fourteen years old. I knew that college was always going to be there, and the point of playing junior hockey is to mature on and off the ice.”
After hearing Max express his view on why he chose to play juniors, I understand one key reason why kids do it. Maturity. Maturity is a big thing in life after high school and taking a couple years to go off on your own, will enable you to grow up. Junior hockey enables you to live on your own, make your own decisions, discover who you truly are and simply grow up. Continuing on this path does take away a couple years of schooling away, but Max said, “I understood that I could be three years behind all of my friends in school, but it didn’t matter because I was doing something that I love every day. As a result of playing juniors I have made many lifelong friends, but also been given the opportunity to play college hockey for the next four years.”
Max will continue his academic and hockey career at NCAA DIII SUNY Fredonia, which wouldn’t have been possible if he didn’t continue on the path of junior hockey. After this interview, I came to the conclusion that in the end, school will always be there and kids shouldn’t stop chasing the dream, but also if you continue to work hard enough, it carves a path for college, where you have the opportunity to study and play something you love.
I also interviewed Joey Young (`15), who took the second path. Joey chose to stop chasing the dream and pursue his academic career at the University of Kentucky. He felt that the college route was the best for him. I asked him why he made that decision and how he felt about it? Joey responded, “I chose to go to college because I wasn’t interested in playing NCAA hockey. I knew that I didn’t have the ability to play at that level, therefore going to school was the best option.”
What I took away from this was that if you’re interested in playing NCAA Hockey, a couple years of juniors is the best route. Joey said, “I would rather start my education than take a spot on a junior team from a kid who has aspirations of playing at the next level.” Joey wanted to be truthful and reasonable when making his decision. What one may take away from Joey’s words is that if playing NCAA hockey is the goal, then playing juniors is the way to go. If you aren’t good enough to pursue that path, then you need to be realistic and recognize that going to school is most likely the best option.
To conclude, if a goal of yours is to play NCAA hockey, junior hockey is the best route to go. You have to be realistic when making your decision and understand that there is no easy way. Most likely, you will be going to school, whether it’s in six months or in three years.