Hockey season, for most levels, has either just entered the playoff pursuit or it may not be far around the corner. Some teams are trying to create successful runs and some athletes, from the player perspective, are thinking ahead.
The thought, "where will I be playing next year", can be both scary and exciting. I guess it is all in the way you look at it. Some athletes see the glass as empty, successful ones tend to prefer to look at the glass as full.
So many leagues, so many teams, so many questions, so few answers and most of all a very prevalent question. Where can I get a legitimate shot to ply my skills and make a serious effort to make that team that I would really like to play for? Rather than just throwing a dart to the map on a wall three or four times and deciding, those are the teams that you are going to tryout for. Be aware there is a big difference between a tryout camp and a training camp or main camp. Prepare yourself to do some due diligence and try to tilt the odds at least a little more in your favour.
It sometimes seems that fifteen, sixteen or even eighteen year old athletes have difficult decisions to make at such a young age. Sometimes the game you love can chew you up and spit you out. Help yourself with some preparation. Attempt to make educated decisions by gathering as much information as possible. In my mind there are two sides to this equation, the player side and the team or management side. You the player can only have some control on the player side. Unfortunately you will have very little or no control from the management side. Sometimes it can seem unfair and such factors as a little luck, timing, being in the right place at the right time or sometimes sheer will and determination can be factors.
How do you put yourself in a situation where it is a little better than a roll of the dice? First priority. Attempt to obtain an honest evaluation of your skills, ability and understanding of your current level. Understand the levels of hockey and how you can climb the ladder. Keep in mind that more than one respected opinion is helpful because at all levels you are just looking for the honest truth. It is great to have the support of our family. Mothers and Fathers make incredible sacrifices so their sons and daughters can play the game of hockey.
Unfortunately the "Dads" that do the evaluations, projections and step in to act as "Agents" are generally looking through rose coloured glasses and create more negatives than positives. There are exceptions but they are few. Father's hearts are in the right place but too often they need to check their reality perspectives at the front doors of the rink. That trusted, accurate opinion or evaluation is valuable. Sometimes young players do not hear what they want to hear but at the end of the day it is the truth or an accurate assessment followed by realistic recommendations to equip you with information to make a decision can be very valuable.
Remember when you are a young player it doesn't matter as much where you stand today but where you have the potential to be two, six or twelve months down the road. It is a process. With solid, honest direction and encouragement significant progress can be made. That is why they call it scouting. Like going to the horse races, everybody is trying to pick the winners and it is that longshot that pays the big dividends. Sometimes hardwork, encouragement and some "tough love" can help you overcome some odds.
Set realistic goals. Check rosters at league and team websites. At league websites refer to standings and see where teams are positioned. Winning teams will probably make fewer turnovers than teams struggling or near the bottom of the standings. Check team rosters for rostered player birth years. Check player sizes on the roster. Check player backgrounds on rosters. Keep in mind that good teams with a high number of players eligible to return in subsequent years may indicate that there is not as much opportunity to make a team and break into the lineup. Example: If you are a 17 year old defenseman that desires to graduate to the next level assess rosters to see how many defensemen are graduating due to age.
If a team presently has four twenty year old defensemen moving on the next season, hopefully to the next level, that may indicate legitimate opportunity. Check and see if it is an organization that moves players to the next level. Investigate their affiliate or feeder teams. Try to determine through the team websites if there is a history of continuity with ownership, management, coaches, staff and players. Check the team transactions to see if it is a team that traditionally makes a great number of roster changes or does it appear that movement is minimal.
Statistics are not the end all and be all but most times they do not lie. Check the team and individual player statistics and you can learn some things about a team. Is there balance, or are there only one or two scorers and then a big gap with the rest of the roster? Plus / minus can sometimes indicate overall team characteristics etc. Penalty minutes as a total can indicate whether or not the team is reasonably disciplined or maybe just a team that plays a physical style. Do some due diligence and learn some important information before you make decisions. Give yourself some credit because if you are taking small steps to review possible situations you are already putting yourself in an advantageous situation over that guy or multiple guys you are going to have to beat out to get a roster position.
Most of all you want to avoid a spring and summer of travelling from tryout camp to tryout camp incurring multiple registration fees, hotel rooms, fast food meals, transportation costs and a battered and bruised body with a fatigued mind without direction for the future. Prepare yourself to the best of your ability so you can give your pursuit of the next level an honest shot.
When you have progressed to the point where you have narrowed it down to a couple or a few teams where you really would like to play make some calls. Emails go to coaches and general managers everyday so it can be very easy to be overlooked. The phone call will give you a good indication about how the organization is run. Most importantly be realistic and be prepared to speak with a scout, recruiter, coach or general manager.
Be prepared, have three or four pointed questions that are important to you. Be polite, intelligent and project a positive image even if it is only a three minute telephone conversation. It can open doors for you. Remember all you generally want when making the initial contact is some kind of indication whether or not you can have a legitimate shot to make the team and to be able to learn more about it Hockey people are busy and they don't generally have fifteen minutes for every inquiry so be short, direct and make an impression.
If all you are told in the conversation is to fill out an application and send in your money for a tryout spot understand you probably are a longshot at best. If there is positive dialogue and answers to your pointed questions continue to gather information for your decision process. Confide in a person you trust to give you genuine feedback. Use the time effectively. It may be a benefit to prepare the pros and cons of your research and each conversation you experience with respective teams. Having information in front of you indicating the preparation you have done will assist you in making the best decision possible.
Be excited! The next step can be a wonderful experience if it is the right situation for you and your family. There will always be bumps in the road but how you deal with them and the end product that is produced can be the part of a great on going process. Be realistic, stay positive.
Work hard, good luck.
David Cole is a former coach in the OHA, AFHL, AWHL, GOJHL and the NAHL living in the Niagara region of Ontario enjoying his three sons and daughter playing the game of hockey.