USHL: Creating the Big Men on Campus
What’s the best route to college hockey? Let’s ask Mike Snee, the Executive Director of College Hockey, Inc., about the USHL’s ability to produce Division I players.
“The USHL is synonymous with NCAA hockey. Nearly every USHL player will go on to play in Division I, which is something no other league can say,” Snee said. “The league is innovative and keeps finding ways to improve and will continue to play a critical role in developing talent for college hockey and beyond.”
College coaches agree. Mike Hastings is the head coach of the top 10-ranked Minnesota State University Mavericks. He served as a head coach for 14 years in the USHL where he won Coach of the Year honors three times and the GM of the Year award five times. Hastings was the all-time winningest head coach in USHL history at the time when he was hired by Minnesota State.
He sounded off on the USHL as a premier development opportunity and critical step for those who want to play in college and beyond.
On the Environment for Development…
The USHL has the infrastructure and standards that allow a player grow and develop, on and off the ice.
“The USHL has standards in place,” Hastings said. “There are standards for what is available for academic support. Most teams now have their own strength coach. The teams are fully staffed. The availability of the facilities where guys can go and put in extra time on and off the ice to develop their game and individual skills. These are all critical.”
On the Level of Intensity…
The competition in the USHL is second to none. You cannot take a night off.
“Every day you’re put in a situation where, if you don’t give your best, you’re probably not going to be successful. There are no off days,” Hastings said. “In that league, if you weren’t good that given night as a team, you were going to get beat. It didn’t matter where you were in the standings. And if you were really off, you could get embarrassed. It’s that much of a fine line.”
On the Schedule and Lifestyle…
The USHL schedule mirrors the college schedule, which can help make the transition to the college game (and life) easier. The games are mostly played on Friday and Saturday nights. Most players get up early, have breakfast, and go to class or work. They come home, eat, and go to practice. Eat, go home, and do it all again the next day.
And after road trips, you’re expected to be at class or work bright and early on Monday morning.
“You take the entire 24-hour clock and a lot of their schedule mirrors what it’s like to be at the college level,” Hastings said. “It’s that go-between of high school-midget hockey and college hockey. It’s that intermediate step and I just think it helps young men develop the time management skills and the mental toughness they have to have to be successful at that next level.”
Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky can attest to the advanced time-management skills gained through the junior hockey experience. These players typically perform at a higher level academically than others.
“Our best students have always come from a junior hockey background where the student-athlete has lived away from home, learned how to manage their time, and come to college with a better appreciation for the education opportunity they are given,” Gadowsky said.
In the USHL, you’re going to be scouted. There are hundreds of college and professional talent evaluators flocking to USHL games.
Hastings was at the USHL Fall Classic East, an annual preseason showcase, earlier this year in Green Bay.
“You go and you grab the lineup. It was Cedar Rapids playing that afternoon against the U.S. NTDP,” Hastings said. “You look at Cedar Rapids’ roster and the 22 or 23 that were dressed were all committed to college hockey programs. All committed.
“Whoever it is that’s doing the evaluating, when you walk in, you’re looking at these nine or so guys who are already committed to universities. You have a tendency to look at it as, ‘Well, if there’s somebody here that isn’t committed, and they’re being successful, it’s not a huge leap of faith to say that they’ll be successful at the collegiate level.’”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 13th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2014-15. A record 35 players were chosen in the 2014 NHL Draft and more than 300 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.