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Hockey Limbo: The Junior Hockey Years

Oct 29, 2012, 11:05 AM EDT

There are few people who understand the time, effort, and commitment it takes to become a Division I hockey player. Sure, it takes a whole lot of time, effort, and commitment to become a Division I athlete of any sort, but I am inclined to say that hockey is unlike all the rest.

The usual path to Division I athletics looks roughly like this:

  • The right physical build. Rarely will you see a 5’8 165-lb linebacker, or a 6’5 250-lb diver. Ordinarily, you’ve got to have the right set of genes to succeed
  • A passion which transcends just a love for the sport. Let’s be truthful here; if you haven’t given your life to your sport, you’re rarely going to succeed. This might seem self-evident to most athletes out there, but it’s necessary to include in such a list.
  • An outstanding high school athletic career. This is really what seals the deal for just about any aspiring Division I athlete. If you don’t stand out on the field or on the court, you’ll never make it at the Division I level.

So, in a nutshell, we have our basic route to D-I athletics—except for hockey players. For those pursuing a D-I hockey career, a fifth step is almost always necessary: playing junior hockey.

What is “junior hockey?”

Well, the best way to describe it is as this state of hockey limbo which just about all hockey players must go through in order to chase their D-I dreams. In this period, usually lasting 2-3 years after their high school years, hockey players try out and play for “junior” teams across the nation and even into Canada. These top-tier hockey teams are essentially “pre-college” teams. They play anywhere from 40-70 games a year, with practices almost every day during the week (any hockey player knows this is quite a demanding schedule).

During this time, players are living with billet families who are subsidized by the organization for housing their players. Also, and this is one of the biggest reasons I refer to this period as “hockey limbo,” players are rarely going to school or taking college classes. Usually, an online class or two is taken every semester, but most junior hockey players will attest that it is nothing like the experience of being in a classroom. So after two to three years of living with hockey as a number one priority, it can be a bit of a struggle for a 20- or 21-year-old freshman to adjust to a college classroom setting. Now, consider the difficulty of adjusting to a college classroom setting at a top-tier college such as Notre Dame. It is no small task—but it is the task which most of our hockey players take up.

Amidst many weekends on the road and countless hours in the gym and in the classroom, these ex-junior hockey players must find the time to add a new element to the life they’ve been living for the past three years. Not only do they have to make the team, they have to make the grade.

So the next time you’re in the stands at the Compton, cheer loud and cheer proud, because those guys have put more time, effort, and commitment into their sport than you can imagine.

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