Brad Berry, head coach of the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team, has one of the top-ranked programs in college hockey. Berry builds the foundation of his team through the USHL, just another example of college hockey finding success in USHL players. North Dakota’s current roster contains 20 players with USHL experience, 11 of which are already NHL Draft picks.
“I think the USHL is a first-class organization from top to bottom,” Berry said. “The coaching staffs in the league are great developmental avenues for players to get better and transition to the college level. What we find here at North Dakota is that when players go through the USHL, they’re ready to come in and play Division I college hockey. That’s a tribute to the coaches in place and how the organizations treat their players.”
Berry took over this summer for Dave Hakstol, who made the jump to the NHL as the new head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers. Hakstol coached the Sioux City Musketeers for four years prior to making the jump to college, and ultimately the NHL. It’s no secret the North Dakota program has in the past, and continues to rely on USHL talent. Here’s why:
Off-ice training and building strength are critical to long-term development.
“The USHL puts a premium on off-ice training, and their schedule lends to it, because the majority of their games are Friday-Saturday games,” Berry said. “That’s conducive to physical training which lets the players physically grow into their bodies and get stronger for the Division I level.”
Strength of Schedule
You have to earn every point, every night in the USHL. Nothing is given to players or teams.
“The parity in that league is so high and that’s a tribute to the depth of players on each roster,” says Berry. “It’s a tough league to play in, night in and night out. It makes you battle-ready for the Division I level.”
Academics and Time Management Skills
Life in the USHL develops players in the classroom and prepares them to be professionals.
“On the academic side, the USHL prepares players with their high school course loads and ACT/SAT training to help them prepare and enter college. Our weekly schedules are very similar at the college level. The time management side of it, that’s another reason why I think these players have been so successful transitioning into college.”
Developing Proven Scorers
College coaches know that scoring in the USHL is no cakewalk. The defensive game, paired with an elite level of goaltending make it very difficult for players to produce near a point-per-game level.
“It’s tougher to score in the USHL,” Berry, a former NHL defenseman himself, said. “If you see a player that’s consistently producing points in the USHL, that’s a pretty good sign that player will have success at the Division I college level. It’s tough to score at the USHL level because teams are prepared and the teams are very good defensively.”
Case in point: freshmen Brock Boeser, Chris Wilkie, Shane Gersich and Christian Wolanin have all contributed immediately after playing in the USHL last year.
“Just look at our lineup. We went on the road here to Colorado Springs recently and we won 5-2 and 2-0. All of our goals except for one were scored by freshmen who played in the USHL,” Berry added. “It’s a tribute to the league. These players don’t just come in and play. They make a contribution right away. That says a lot about the USHL.”
High-Quality Coaching Staffs
College coaches communicate regularly with USHL coaches and general managers. USHL staffs are readily accessible to both NCAA and NHL scouts following players.
“Our whole staff here does,” Berry said. “We have players sprinkled around the USHL and we get updates on how our currently committed players are doing but also ask about different players coming through their organizations that are uncommitted. We have great interaction with the coaches in the USHL.”
It’s not just Berry and the UND staff. All college hockey programs look to the USHL for mature and talented young men.
The USHL produces the most Division I college hockey players out of all junior hockey leagues in the world with 708 alumni currently on college rosters. If you play in the USHL, there is a very good chance you will play college hockey, as 95% of the league’s players move on to the Division I level. The developmental pipeline from the USHL to NCAA, and eventually onto the NHL continues to be one of the largest growing trends in professional hockey to date, and no junior league in the world supplies more prospects through that pipeline than the USHL.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 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.