You were an Assistant Coach and Director of Scouting for the Central Illinois Flying Aces of the USHL for two years. Talk about how the USHL is starting to get more recognized by NHL scouts.
Chase: One of the biggest things that help skews the draft numbers is the National Team Development Program (NTDP). Hockey USA picks all the top players from a specific birth year and puts them all on one team.
The USHL, as a league, has done a great job developing the next tier of players. This next tier of players are now playing a more significant role within their USHL clubs, which helps their development.
The difference between the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and USHL is the schedule. The setup tries to mimic the NCAA model where games are played Friday, Saturday, or Sunday so that the players can have four practices and two workouts each week.
How does a player end up in the USHL?
Chase: The USHL has two drafts: Phase 1 and Phase 2.
Phase 1 is for 15-year-old players who will be playing the next season as a 16-year-old. This year it was the 2004 birth year. In phase 1, there are ten rounds. These tend to be players who are the last cuts from the National Team Development Program or high-end Canadians who aren’t going to play in the CHL.
Phase 2 is for players who are considered late bloomers. These could be players who might not have been drafted in Phase 1 but have further developed since. It could be players who are playing in the AJHL or BCHL who have had good years and haven’t committed to an NCAA school and are looking for more exposure. For phase 2, there is no rounds limit. It will go until a team has filled out the allotted roster size.
USHL allows six import players per team. An import is classified as anyone without a USA passport. An import could be from Canada or Europe. If a USHL team decides to carry an Import goalie that counts as two import spots.
Why would a player playing in the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) come to the USHL?
Chase: Back in the day, the main reason was exposure. But nowadays, with every league having a showcase for NCAA programs, that isn’t the primary reason.
Without trying to sound arrogant, it’s the level of competition the USHL provides. With the USHL, you’re looking at each team having 18-20 players receiving Divison 1 scholarships.
For example, if you look at teams in the AJHL, they will have a couple of players earning Division 1 scholarships, a couple more receiving Division 3 scholarships and some uncommitted players. Some teams are outliers such as Brooks, who can have double-digit NCAA commits.
If you play in the USHL, I estimate you have about a 95% chance of earning a Division 1 scholarship.
Now you’re the Director of Hockey Operations for UMass-Lowell of the NCAA. Can you talk about the recruiting process?
Chase: The recruitment process is a fluid situation that changes a lot.
As of January 1st of your sophomore year of high school (Grade 10), colleges can start communicating with players. Players can always reach out to the colleges, but that’s all that can happen beforehand.
The player can talk with colleges, but it’s not until August of there Grade 11 year where players are allowed to sign.
What essentially makes a commitment binding is the National Letter of Intent (NLI). The NLI is only for Seniors (Grade 12) to sign. If you are a Sophomore (Grade 10) or a Junior (Grade 11), you are ineligible to sign one.
Some schools don’t deal with NLI, and they do straight verbal commitments. Players can always back away from a verbal commitment, which you see all the time.
Talk about the scholarships that players receive. Are scholarships guaranteed all four years?
Chase: It varies from school to school, but each program has 18 full scholarships they can give out. Each school can decide how they divide that up among their players. The Ivy League schools don’t do athletic or academic scholarships but offer grants.
Each school is unique, but the scholarship is on a year to year basis. Schools might tell you it’s guaranteed all four years, but schools can take away the scholarship if there are off-ice or performance issues. In saying that, if a player does his part, succeeds on the ice, performs in the classroom, and is a good citizen, there is nothing to worry about.
At UMass-Lowell, we deal with percentages. We can give players 50% scholarship, meaning 2 of their 4 years are entirely covered. We always keep a reserve amount for players who overachieve, and those players have the opportunity to earn more scholarship money.
What is a typical week in the NCAA look like in terms of practices, workouts, games?
Chase: Games more often than not are Friday and Saturday nights. Our players will practice Monday to Thursday. Generally speaking, Monday and Wednesday are our lift days. The goal for most NCAA programs is four practices, two lifts, and two games per week.
The practice times vary depending on the program, but here at UMass-Lowell, we practice in the morning, and our players’ first classes start at 12:30.
What resources do NCAA programs provide their hockey players?
Chase: Each program will have different resources based on their budget. If you look at a program like North Dakota, you pretty much name it, they have it.
Speaking with firsthand knowledge, here at UMass-Lowell, we have a skills coach that works with our players every Monday. Each program will have a dedicated strength and conditioning coach that works directly with their hockey team. Each program will have an academic advisor dedicated specifically to the hockey team to help players pick their classes, adjust their schedules, and set them up for success.
One of the most frequently asked questions from players and families, CHL or NCAA? Can you give us your viewpoint on this question?
Chase: This is a great question, and to be honest, I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer to this. When I was coaching in the USHL, and at Mount Royal University, I’d get this question all the time from families.
If you know at 16 years old that you are going to be a sure-fire 1st round pick in the NHL, maybe the CHL is the right path for you. If you have an honest conversation with yourself and consider yourself a late bloomer, the NCAA might be what is best for you.
My advice is you can always go to the CHL if you decide the NCAA route isn’t for you. But it gets complicated to go from the CHL to wanting to play in the NCAA. Players and families have to exercise patience as it’s hard to predict what type of player you will be when you are 16 or 17 years old. If you are not sure what your development path is, take an extra year to decide.
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