When 15-year-olds know where they'll play college
hockey, is it good for the game?
decision most high school sophomores face as their school year
winds down is this: should they take a summer job in the air conditioned
comfort of Denny’s, or aim to become a greenskeeper’s
from 1987 Birthdates
More and more,
that’s not the case if you can skate and fire a wicked slapshot.
Earlier this week Ryan Turek – who’s wrapping up 10th
grade in Northville, Mich. – made a verbal commitment to
Michigan State, joining five other 1987 birthdates on college
commitment lists (see box, right).
certainly is a trend,” said Ken Martel of the USA Hockey
National Team Development Program (NTDP), “and it’s
a trend that’s here to stay.”
here to stay, despite the fact that many express concern about
potential potholes. Most notably, do 15- and 16-year-olds really
know where they want to go to college more than two years down
the road? And do colleges know what they’ll get –
both as players and as people – once they arrive on campus?
coach Tim Taylor, for one, thinks that the trend spells trouble
– and not just because at Yale, he can’t take a kid’s
pre-algebra grade and know whether he will be a candidate for
creates a lot of issues for the student-athletes and the programs,”
Taylor said. “I think there’s going to be more and
more kids who realize, maybe after they commit, that they wish
they had more time to think about it. And it seems to be a little
bit of an epidemic right now.”
Those on either
side of the early commitments see the positives involved. Colleges
ensure, at least verbally, that these top players won’t
end up playing at a rival school, or in the Canadian Hockey League
(major junior). Players get a potentially stressful decision out
of the way, and can focus on hockey and school for the next two
feels good inside to know where I’m going,” Turek
said. “It takes a lot of pressure off, and it gives me something
to work toward. I know I’ll be playing at Michigan State
– now I just have to be sure that I keep working and getting
stronger before I get there.”
of it has to do with the players themselves,” BU coach Jack
Parker said. “They hear of one kid making a commitment and
they think why not get it out of the way, and not have to deal
with the hassles and the phone calls come July 1. A lot of these
kids have a gut feeling of where they want to go anyway –
they’re BU guys, or BC guys, or UNH guys.”
has been with the NTDP since 1998-99, has seen the trend develop
and commitments begin earlier and earlier, like the sunrise inching
earlier each day in May. As the program’s player personnel
director, Martel is scouting the same players who are beginning
to make college commitments.
average kid comes in to the program in the 11th grade, and the
first couple of years maybe you had kids committing the summer
before their senior year,” Martel said. “With the
1983s, we had someone commit in October of their junior year,
and we all thought, ‘Wow, that’s unbelievable.’
From that point on it really escalated. We now have kids committing
the year before they even come to us.”
that, because of the age involved, BU is very careful about the
players it will offer a scholarship to that early.
not looking to load up with guys that young,” he said. “The
guys who have committed to us – and we’ve made a commitment
to them – we’re pretty sure are can’t-miss Division
I players. And they’re guys who not only will be good for
us, but are ‘brand-name’ players who other guys will
want to play with as well.”
The NCAA prohibits
colleges from initiating verbal or face-to-face contact with a
prospective student-athlete prior to July 1 the summer before
their senior year. But coaches can write to prospects by mail
or email, and there’s no way to legislate against a high
school student visiting a school and talking to coaches on his
exactly how Turek came to his decision. He went with the Honey
Baked AAA midget team to see a game at Michigan State and talked
to the coaching staff afterwards. As a Michigan native and an
elite player, he thought his choice would eventually come down
to Michigan and Michigan State. He loved the atmosphere in East
Lansing and, after a subsequent unofficial visit, decided it was
the place for him.
A few months
later at a tournament, Turek’s family advisor, Bryan Deasley
of the Octagon athlete representation firm, told him that the
Spartans were offering him a scholarship for the fall of 2005.
As thrilled as he is with the opportunity – “it wasn’t
hard to decide,” said Turek – he acknowledges that
it’s an odd situation for a 10th grader.
does feel weird,” he said. “I didn’t even know
where I was going to be playing next year, and now I know where
I’m going to college.”
coach at Honey Baked, Jon Cooper, said that it’s a good
situation for both Turek and Michigan State.
no such thing as a sure thing, but Ryan’s as close as you
can get,” Cooper said of his 6-foot-0, 178-pound defenseman.
“And it’s a good decision for the entire family. He
lives less than an hour away, and his parents will get to see
him play in an elite program.”
As a coach
at the midget level, Cooper has seen the explosion in colleges’
interest in younger and younger players. And because of the NCAA
rules, he’s often in the middle of it.
the new wave of recruiting,” he said. “A lot of times,
I’m the liaison. Coaches will say, ‘Listen, here’s
my card. If the kid and his family have an interest in our school,
have them give me a call.’”
perfectly legal, according to the NCAA, but some coaches will
still avoid it.
don’t want to get into that,” said Taylor, when asked
if he would join the fray and recruit high school sophomores.
“There’s no way I’m going to somehow work around
the rules and have a parent or a coach put me in personal contact
with a recruit.”
At age 15,
Parker said, it’s much more common for the player to contact
the school or schools in which he has interest.
of the contact is by the family or the player,” Parker said.
“He contacts a few schools that he might be interested in
and come for an unofficial visit. Some others might email, or
you’ll get an email from their coach.”
Parker said that it’s the players following the lead of
their peers, other college coaches certainly see the BUs of the
world getting early commitments and feel like they have to keep
up with the Joneses.
a function of the high degree of competition that goes on in recruiting,”
of the schools probably feel pressure (to recruit young players)
because otherwise they’re going to lose them to major juniors,”
Martel said. “Others may say, ‘I’ve got to do
it to keep up with BU or Michigan.’”
away from major junior is one reason that early recruiting could
be considered a positive development for college hockey. Without
these early contacts with college coaches, younger players might
end up trying major junior hockey and forfeiting their college
a Lake Superior State grad and former college assistant coach
who does his best to steer players towards college hockey –
can appreciate that benefit. But he still thinks these early commitments
spell trouble for both the players and the schools that recruit
school is going to get burned,” Martel said. “I’ve
already seen a few mistakes. But it’s more of a problem
from the kid’s perspective than the school. Do they really
know what they want in a school at 15, when their personalities
haven’t even been shaped yet?”
feels confident that he knows what he wants, and now he doesn’t
have to worry about his college choice. This summer, he’ll
focus on some other concerns of a typical 15-year-old hockey player
– building his strength, and improving his golf game.