A Commentary on Higher Levels of Hockey in the Time of Corona - Junior Hockey Edition
Just like the professional and college leagues have seen dramatic changes and postponements in recent months, Junior leagues have suffered in the time of Corona.
Of all the Junior leagues in the US and Canada, few have played a meaningful sample of games so far this season.
In the Major Junior landscape, only the QMJHL has played games, with most teams playing more than 10 games already. The OHL and WHL slated to begin sometime after the turn of the new year.
In the United States, the USHL, the top league, has had mixed success as well, and only 1 team has played more than 10 games up to now. For context, the USHL consistently sees 45-55+ players drafted into the NHL. This has become more and more comparable to Major Junior, which saw 78 NHL drafted players in 2020 (but across the entire CHL, versus the 16 USHL clubs).
Anyway, that's besides the point. The point is that Covid has caused Juniors to look very different this year. The BCHL has seen an "extended training camp" period, allowing some scrimmages and exhibition games to commence, but no regular season competition. The NAHL has seen some portions of the country execute 10-15 games, and others as few as five or even just a couple (and even 0) games played up until now. Teams just can't get games in like they can normally. And it's outside all our control.
The landscape will look different for 2021 as a result.
I'm expecting a slight consolidation in the Junior team market. Perhaps (and I hope) I'm wrong, but so many teams that rely on game-attendance revenue are hurting currently. Those who may have already been struggling might not be able to keep it together.
You saw in the NAHL, several teams go dormant for the 2020-21 season, and I think it could be within the realm of possibility for others to do so in '21. I sincerely hope not, however.
The additional opportunities for athletes from the expansion of Juniors has been helpful to get more kids in college programs from the NAHL and Division 3 from Tier 3 across the country.
If (and that's a big if) some junior teams fold, then there could be a consolidation (improving the overall competition and quality of some leagues), or new teams could fill their void. New teams might mean new staffs, and a clean slate of new opportunities for some goalies who haven't already gotten on radars of current team staffs.
As mentioned in the College Edition of Higher Levels in the Time of Corona, the NCAA rule change impacts will likely have cascading effects on goalies currently in Juniors and those who seek to come up in the next couple seasons.
I hope this series serves as a resource for you to educate yourself on how to best optimize your opportunities in the coming year (or two) as the ramifications continue to unfold.
Colleges now may have a glut of goalie talent (and all players for that matter). The additional eligibility year for current college athletes means that everyone gets this season as a "freebie" and do not spend it as a year of eligibility. This makes all college careers for current athletes, a year longer than normal. Fewer seniors leaving, and longer subsequent tenures for current Fr, So, and Jr players means the recruiting market for Junior athletes may be out of whack for the next few years.
And remember, there are only 3 or 4 goalies per team at any time, compared to 23-25 players rostered. Therefore, the impacts we see will be exacerbated for goaltenders.
Who this impacts the most: 2000 and 2001 goalies.
Current "20-bombs" must absolutely dominate this season and then target schools where outgoing seniors might be asked not to return for an additional year...and there will be those seniors.
My message to my 20-year-olds: make the most of your time. Colleges may not need 20-year-old goalies like they have in the past, with some seniors being given options to return. My challenge to you: become so good that schools are afraid to play against you if someone else commits you first. That's the only way you can give yourself a chance at an opportunity.
You can't hold back this year. In any regular season it would be hard enough. But this year, you must maximize the developmental time you have remaining.
2001s, however, could be hurt because the current College Jr's across the NCAA may not retire at the same rate, and instead stay for two more seasons from next year (which would have otherwise been their last).
So, to my 2001 friends out there: get as many games as you possibly can this season. It's a weird year, I know. But collect game time, accumulate opportunities, and chances for you to jump up a league next year if possible. You, too, are running out of time, and especially so if College players exercise their extra season.
Our 2002 friends are in a bit more of a grey area. Those who are committed might be so for a year or two out anyway. Those who aren't might still be in high school or playing Midget.
My thoughts to you, my 2002s: focus on developing. Recognize that the backlog we're about to experience might put your "fast-track" dreams on hold. Maybe they won't! But recognize it as a possibility.
Now, remember, too: this is just one person's idea of what might happen to Junior leagues in the coming year or so.
Maybe Seniors in the NCAA do decide to just be done and hang em up or pursue Pro opportunities. I would bet that some take advantage, others won't. It'll be a case-by-case basis.
And that's what this all will be. Get used to it. We're all on a case-by-case basis. Each of our teams, leagues, states, and provinces are in different states of play. And that's ok.
But research and understand where the opportunities might be, based on your situation, and the ideal situation for you.
These are good times to evaluate your goals, your situation, and realistically check with where you are en route to your goal. How will you navigate? How will you adapt and change with the changing times?
Let me know how I might be able to help.
Stay frosty, friends,