A Commentary on Higher Levels of Hockey in the Time of Corona - College Hockey Edition
Wow, what a title. Bet you had to read that twice :D
With the fluidity of this hockey season in the time of Covid, it might be hard to know what to expect to come down the pike. Nobody really knows for sure what might happen next.
We all have hopes and dreams and aspirations, but if there's anything that these last 10 months have taught us, it's that things can change on a dime...we must become adaptable.
There is a large element of trickle-down and delayed consequences in the College-recruiting market. Changes at the higher levels impact goalies at lower levels, likely years in the future. Let's explore this together.
And so, let's take some time to evaluate what the landscape looks like from the top down, to see where you might be able to find opportunities once this strange year wraps up. First up in this edition: the NCAA.
College Hockey (NCAA Div. 1)
The NCAA on October 14th announced that winter sports athletes will "regain" this season both as competitive and eligibility years. This is a massive change.
Under normal circumstances, an athlete has 5 calendar years to compete in 4. This means that you could redshirt in a season (or go back to Junior if eligible) and then return to competition. Here are 2 examples of how that might look.
19-year old Freshman (2001) beginning the 2020-21 season with Any College.
2020-21 = Year 1 Free Covid Year
2021-22 = Year 2 Redshirt (and/or last season of Junior eligibility)
2022-23 = Year 3 First Competition Year
2023-24 = Year 4 Second Competition Year
2024-25 = Year 5 Third Competition Year
2025-26 = Year 6 Fourth Competition Year
24-year old (non-redshirt) Senior (1996) would have been last season with Any College.
2017-18 = Year 1 First Competition Year
2018-19 = Year 2 Second Competition Year
2019-20 = Year 3 Third Competition Year
2020-21 = Year 4 Free Covid Year - Fourth Competition Year
2021-22 = Year 5 Fifth Competition Year (extra)
So an athlete already in college could have 5 total "competition" years with this Covid season not being considered one.
You could see how this might cause issues for up-and-comers. There is always turnover in hockey programs, and teams across the board. The exiting seniors make space for the incoming freshman.
And colleges often recruit years out. Take a look for yourself at the number of 2022-24 commits here: http://collegehockeyinc.com/commitments.php
Colleges expect that they'll have outgoing players by 2023, for example, to make room for the incomers. So they'll commit a U16 or U17 goalie for the spot and let them develop into their game as they age.
Because of the extra Covid eligibility rule, who knows how those strategies might change.
This may take 5-6 years to work itself out, all dependent upon when the last group of this year's freshman are finally done. Let's take a look at an example roster now, to see how it might impact a team.
Here, the team has 3 goalies currently on the roster, and when they were originally expected to leave.
1997 - 5th-year Senior (expected to leave 2021)
1998 - Sophomore (expected to leave 2023)
1999 - Freshman (expected to leave 2024)
Under this scenario, this college would need a new incoming freshman for the 2021-22 season, which is next fall (from writing Dec. 2020). So goalies playing Junior this year are prime candidates for this spot.
However, Covid is changing all that. Here's the new scenario if all goalies take advantage of their extra eligibility.
1997 - 5th-year Senior gets extra year (expected to leave 2022)
1998 - Sophomore (now expected to leave 2024)
1999 - Freshman (now expected to leave 2025)
So either the college will need to carry 4 goaltenders in the 2021 season, or they'll need to put off committing a new guy until the 2022-23 season, a year later than expected. Or, they ask their Senior not to return.
So what does that do to this years' Junior goalies (who don't get an extra year of Junior)? Well, it may remove some 20-year-olds (2000s) from contention to commit. So the schools will have to look younger to commit for 2022 (2001 or younger) if they expect their exiting senior to exercise their extra year.
And what seniors wouldn't? If you had an extra year at the end of your college career, and potentially had professional offers on the table, you may definitely want to exercise that right.
This also means that if a goalie has Junior eligibility left, they might have more options than a 2000 or 2001 this year. 2000s are really in a tough spot, relative to other birth years. Next season might not see any seniors leaving, and so the glut will be largest on the front end.
The long-term ramifications of extra eligibility could take 4-6 years to wear off (more quickly for older college rosters, longer for younger)
Young goalies have a comparative advantage to older goalies (2003 vs 2000)
Current Junior goalies hit double whammy: fewer 2021 seniors leaving and they don't get an extra year of Junior (like the outgoing seniors get)
So, what does this all mean for you? Well, it depends on your situation. But the landscape for older goaltenders might get a little tighter for the next couple years.
If you're a 2000 or 2001, let this be a wake-up call. You've gotta do more than you think. You must absolutely DOMINATE to get an opportunity at the next level. In normal years, that's the case too. But now colleges aren't just picking between Junior goalies, they're picking between their active roster of current seniors (who now get an extra year), and Junior goalies.
It's unfortunate, but it's out of your control. You have two options: quit, or get after it. Up to you, but let's not make excuses now that we know the situation has changed.
If you're a 2002, 2003, or younger, you have a comparative advantage to older goalies currently. You might have the luxury of time over them. By the time you get to aging out of Junior, the NCAA rosters may have returned to more-or-less normal.
However, your comparative advantage is only worth anything if you make the most of your time. Schools might commit more young guys, then let them develop all the way through Juniors before bringing them in. We might see fewer true-freshman goalies in the coming years.
Of course, we might not. But that just plays more to the fluidity and interconnectedness of the higher-level hockey system.
Remember that many situations are specific only to one team. However, with many teams facing the same situations, the trends in the aggregate might be what is important.
We're going to continue this line of thinking in another installment later this week, exploring how Juniors may change as well.
None of this is meant to discourage! In fact, the opposite. Those who are true competitors will see this challenge as something to overcome. They'll recognize their place in the situation and work to make their dreams happen, whether they succeed or not.
So get after it. This dream was a challenging proposal in the first place. So don't let regret into the picture...do everything you can do.
Stay frosty friends.