The NCAA Division 1 Hockey Experience: Balancing Hockey and Studies, what’s involved?

We Love Kits
We Love Kits
Published on November 11, 2020

Curious about the life of a Division 1 Hockey Player? That would be my son Garrett. I asked him to help me write a brief blog post about what’s involved in his day to day life.

It all started a long time ago when he decided at the age of 3 that he wanted to play hockey. It evolved into Rep hockey, then AAA hockey for 9 years, and then followed by 3 years of Provincial Junior A hockey, the equivalent of the BCHL in British Columbia.

Coaches at the NCAA level and scouts truly don’t begin to scout players until they get into the Junior A level. They might have a few exceptions, but the lions share of their efforts begins at the Junior A level.

Don’t forget that we are in competition with other leagues around the world. Most of the recruiting is done in the U.S. in the NAHL and the USHL. Those leagues contain U.S., Canadian, Swedish, Finish, Russian, Czech, and Latvian players. I’m probably missing a few other countries. Compared to the American leagues the BCHL would be ranked a close 2nd or 3rd followed by the AJHL and the OJHL.

There are approximately 1450 Division 1 Hockey scholarships available. About 21% of those spots are for players from countries outside the U.S. So that’s 305 spots for Canadians and Europeans! In any given year, each team may only have 5-7 spots available. Which works out to 300-430 spots annually.

That’s the boy at the back 2nd from the left. The freshmen class from last year, an international cast from around the world

The other thing that needs to be considered is the position that is available on each team. For example, your son wants to go to Boston College, well, do they need a right side defenceman for next season? Maybe they are full at defence, and only need forwards.

Then the next layer of granularity is the “type” of player they are looking for. Is it a rushing defenceman, a speedy right-winger, a shutdown center? It’s not as easy as selecting a program and going. It’s finding a school that’s looking for a specific type of player and has an opening for the following year. Then, do the coaches and scouts like what you have to offer?

When you start getting offers you are limited to 5 official visits. My son visited 3 schools that were really interested in him. Most of the schools are back east.

We’ve heard rumours that more teams might be joining the loop from some of the western states. Something to look forward to. The NCAA currently has 6 divisions comprising 59 teams and 2 independent teams:

1: Atlantic Hockey

2: Big Ten Hockey

3: ECAC Hockey

4: Hockey East

5: NCHC Hockey

6: WCHA Hockey

7: Independents: Arizona State & Long Island University

The stats show that about 4.5% of U.S. high school hockey players end up playing Division 1 hockey. 36 players out of approximately 460 in my sons’ league (OJHL) received a Division 1 scholarship for the following season. Compare that to the BCHL with 145 players in 2018-2019, approximately 445 players are in the BCHL.

What about the cost? Many of the schools will spread out the scholarship money to more than 18 players. So that means some players will need to pay in U.S. dollars annually to play in the NCAA.

Some schools will front-load the scholarship. So you pay in full for year 1, and they will look after years 2-4. That first year might be $100K USD though. In Canada, we might pay $20-25K Cdn to attend a Canadian University, yikes. It all depends, you have to wait and see what type of offer you receive.

As a player and parent, you have to weigh the pros and cons. In 2019, 33% of players on active NHL rosters played College hockey (all Division 1). Don’t confuse the NHL draft though with the prospects of playing in the NHL.

Most players selected are high school students, the probability of moving forward is slim with the exception of the highest drafted players. It drops off significantly after that.

Division 1 players are older, stronger, and faster for the most part. They have matured, and are ready to make the leap to the NHL physically.

So once you get an offer, decide to accept, and head off to school, what’s involved? For my son, it meant heading off to Alaska to play hockey. Before he heads off to school though, he has the spring and summer to get prepared for his school year.

This was in October!

Playing at the Provincial Junior level gives you a solid foundation in terms of eating properly, having a proper workout routine, and also having an on-ice, offseason program in place.

After a long season though he starts with time in the gym. He usually gives his body a break from the ice until June and then ramps it up in July and August.

He’s going to spend 5 days a week at the gym, usually spending about 2 hours a session. He has a program that was tailored for him specific to hockey. Focusing on the areas of the body that need to be fine-tuned for hockey.

Last summer he usually had 3 on-ice sessions per week. Working out with an AHL coach and players, spending time every week with a skating instructor.

This started once he hit Junior. When he was younger he played different sports in the off season, and also had summer jobs up until the time he hit University.

What about academics, do you meet the requirements? The U.S. schools like to see consistency through high school, so tell your son or daughter to start studying early!

The NCAA has established academic eligibility requirements that each athlete must meet to compete at a Division 1 school. Recruits should familiarize themselves with the academic requirements. The NCAA has a sliding scale. So the higher your academic scores are in high school, the lower your test score can be on the SATs.

The opposite is true if you decide to take it easy in high school. Low averages on those report cards will result in a high SAT score requirement. So make it easier on yourself and get decent grades in high school.

Are you thinking of going to an Ivy League school? Think about an 85% average for starters in high school. The coaches can’t touch you unless you meet that requirement.

Now all schools are going to be different but the following is based on my son’s program at Alaska. When he arrived he was assigned an academic advisor. They work with him to set his schedule and select his courses.

They try and put the players together in as many classes as they can. It just makes it easier come study time to have a few buddies you can work with to finish those assignments. Especially when they are on the road, it becomes even more important.

The coaches come up with their weekly schedule or workouts, ice time etc. They provide that schedule to the Academic advisors who in turn use that to schedule the appropriate classes and times.

Let’s have a look at my son’s schedule for the week:

Monday – Friday

8:30am-11am: Meal prep for the day, study time & school work.

11:30-1pm: 3 in person classes (He also squeezes in 3 additional virtual classes, outside of the time he’s not at the rink or the gym)

1:30-1:45pm: Covid check in (Sadly, testing etc)

1:45-2:15pm: Prep and warm up for gym time

2:15pm-3:45pm: Time to workout. They have a workout regime they follow.

3:45-4:30pm: Dressing room time. Have a snack and get dressed for some ice time.

4:30-6pm: On the ice, drills, practice, practice, practice!

6:00-6:15pm: Get changed

6:15-6:35pm: Bike time!

6:50pm: Leave the rink and head home for the day. (The players have optional ice available everyday for 1 hour if they can squeeze it in.)

7:00-8:30pm: Make some dinner and relax. For first years it means heading over to the dining hall. For years 2-4 it means heading home and preparing dinner.

8:30-10:30pm: School time again (online courses), homework and study time.

10:30pm: Relax the mind and the body and get ready to do it again tomorrow!

Saturday – Sunday

6:30-9:00am: Let’s play some hockey. Intra squad games, 3 on 3 etc.

Friday and Saturday Game Days:

5:00-10:00pm: Arrive at the rink and prepare for tonight’s opponent. Kick their ass, and do it again on Saturday night.

Travel Weeks:

Playing in Alaska means that every away game is an adventure. For most of the teams, it means jumping on a bus and making your way to the opposing team’s rink. Think of the middle of winter and a long road trip!

For the teams in Alaska, it means a little bit more. For the weeks that they have out of town games, it means leaving for the airport on Tuesday and flying east. They usually have a minimum of 2-3 flights and a bus before they reach their final destination.

On departure day it’s actually departure night. They take the red-eye to their destination. So it’s a long night and the following day travelling. They usually arrive Wednesday around dinner time.

While they are on the road they have 2 mandatory team study hall sessions per day, for 1 hour each. You can’t just play hockey and forget about school. They spend hours at the airport, on the plane, and on buses doing schoolwork. You have to maintain grades otherwise you might just be watching that next game.

The team also has 90 minutes of practice each day, and an additional 30-minute video session to prepare for the upcoming games. Meals are scheduled in advance by the team, they have meals together while they are on the road. The teams look after the players to make sure that they are eating properly while they are away from home.

And that’s your average week for an NCAA hockey player. This season because of Covid they have reduced the schedule to about 24 games starting in early December. Hopefully everyone stays healthy!

You might also like: Navigating AAA Hockey

About the Player:

Opposing players don’t enjoy playing against him!

Garrett Pyke is a NCAA Division 1 hockey player (defenceman) at University of Alaska Fairbanks. In the offseason, you might find him down at Kits beach or The Boathouse. In the summer months, he is back in Toronto working out and skating. Working towards the next adventure!

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