Timm: The long and icy road

I would venture a guess that football fans at any Division I powerhouse have a good understanding of the road that athletes take from pee-wee’s to the NFL. With the rise of our men’s hockey team this year, which has clinched the ECAC and Ivy titles and proved itself to be among the nation’s elite programs, we should probably know more about the background story. Before we consider ourselves true Yale hockey fans, we better become more knowledgeable about the road that leads to fame and glory on the ice.

All sports differ in the avenues that lead to the highest levels of competition. From high school programs to traveling tournament teams, all athletes commit themselves in the name of future glory, whether that be college-level prowess or professional fame.

Arguably, among the most dedicated athletes are those who choose hockey.

The road for these players begins in youth hockey or minors. In Canada, it seems that as soon as boys are tall enough to hold a stick, they strap on their first pairs of skates.

Once they mature, usually around middle school or high school age (this maturity is debatable in the case of men, but I’ll let it slide for now), the boys diverge into two groups — junior hockey and major junior hockey. Major juniors play in Canada, get paid, and run on the fast track to the NHL. For this column, we’ll stick with the people who chose diplomas before dollar-signs.

American and Canadian hockey differ slightly once a player reaches high school. Players from the States can choose to play for specific prep schools or junior league teams, while Canadians must enter a junior league to continue their efforts, since there are no high school teams in the land of the maple leaf.

The prep school road is much like that of any other high school sport. Players live at home, develop skills locally, and hope to get recruited for elite college teams.

But what sets hockey apart from other sports are its city-based leagues. Players in these leagues do not play for high schools, but rather, participate on teams from which they can be drafted or traded at will.

I don’t know if you caught that, so I’ll spell it out — 17-year-old boys leave their homes, live with host families and travel all over the country with their teams all in the name of Division I or NHL ambitions. Remember, this is all while they are still in high school!

After talking with some players on the Yale team, I found out that several attended multiple high schools, lived with various families and played for countless teams while trying to improve their skills. Once they graduated, they stayed in these leagues and continued to develop against better players in the hopes of a draft to the pros or a letter of recruitment. You seniors no longer have to wonder why half of the freshmen hockey players are older than you.

None of this is meant to discount the countless things that other athletes do to get into college or go professional. However, as someone who played high school softball, traveled with a team from Oklahoma (native-Texas talkin’ here), and went through the college recruiting process, I have to admit total awe (and complete respect) for what these players do in the name of their sport.

And apparently, here at Yale, all of this has been worthwhile. While many of our men on the hockey team would probably rather be making the big bucks in the NHL, I’m sure they would all agree that success on the ice, even in college, is just as sweet.

Although some still look forward to NHL glory, all of them are focused on the here-and-now— this team , this game, and this minute have spelled success for the men’s hockey team this season. Let’s be thankful that our boys, put in so much effort early on so that we are able to enjoy their skills now while cheering them on to victory.

This one’s for you, Surprise Guy.

Tracy Timm is a junior in Pierson College.


  • Anonymous

    Interesting article. Are the major juniors then ineligible for college hockey because of amateurism rules? Also, I know a few of the guys have been drafted prior to college--how does that work? I know the athletics handbook says we lose our college eligibility if we get an agent and declare ourselves eligible for the draft in college-how is that different in hockey in hs/juniors?

  • Anonymous

    Yes. The players in the major junior leagues (OHL, QMJHL, WHL) are not elgible to play NCAA college hockey, as they receive stipends from the team. Those that play in Tier II leagues, like the BCHL, AJHL, and USHL, retain their collegiate elgibility.

    The NCAA and the NHL have a special relationship with one another because hockey has an 18 year old entry draft. Players that are drafted do not lose their collegiate elgibility. They only lose their collegiate elgibility once they hire an agent and sign a contract with the team that drafted them (or, if undrafted, any team). Drafted players, however, are allowed to talk to their teams representatives, and allowed to attend prospect camps, and still retain elgibility.

    The NHL team retains the exclusive right to sign those players for a certain time period after they graduate or choose to leave college.