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One of the factors that recruits don’t consider is the lifestyle in each league.
Having played in both the NCAA and the OHL, I can say without a doubt the college life is far better than anything the OHL can offer. It’s not even a competition. If having fun away from the rink is at all a consideration on where you want to play, the NCAA is a no brainer.
On the one hand we’re talking about living in a university dorm room packed with new people to meet, friends to make and trouble to get into. College parties, college bars and endless opportunity all while pursuing, in some cases, a top-tier education.
You eat meals with teammates and friends at the campus restaurant; usually for athletes there are amazing meal options with all you can eat buffets or made to order meals. To get a grip on the “full” college hockey life, Jamie McKinven provided a really detailed look in his book “So You Want to Play Pro Hockey”
College life is a time when you are challenged in everyway; academically, physically and emotionally and you do a lot of “growing up”.
In an interview, Keir Ross of Cornell University discussed a day in the life of an NCAA player:
If I have time between classes or before practice I’ll go to the library and get some work done before practice comes around. I don’t really have any downtime, so I have to take advantage of those times when I can.
On Mondays and Wednesdays we practice at 5 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays we are on at 3:15. Practices are usually an hour and a half at the most. We’ll usually get a little individual skill work in beforehand.
I live in a house with six other guys from the team. On a night that I need to bear down and work I’ll eat at the dining hall and go to the library. Other nights I’ll head home for dinner and hang out with the guys. – Keir Ross, Cornell
College teams have far fewer games and usually only play on Friday and Saturday nights. Saturday nights as a college athlete don’t compare to Saturday nights in the OHL. As a 20 year old having left college finding yourself at a high-school party with 16 year olds is hard after a Saturday night on a US university campus.
Life in the OHL, as glamorous as it sounds, its all that. After leaving college and ending up in Owen Sound, Ontario, a small town with little to do as a 19 year old, I found my 19 year old self living with a 16 year old underage player and a billet family.
Don’t get me wrong, my billets were amazing, and most are. The fact is, coming home to sit around the table for family dinners to talk about how everybody’s days were isn’t quite as appealing to a 19 year old as having free reign of a college campus and listening to hockey banter with the team around a meal prepared by chefs whenever you want.
In the OHL, I was told by the team that because I had a car I had to chauffeur my 16 year old roommate/teammate to his high school classes in the mornings before heading to the rink for “breakfast club” (the morning skate or workout).
We’d do a skills session for a couple hours, maybe a light workout and then head back to our billets houses to waste the days away while they were off at work. In the afternoons, when high school was out, we’d head back to the rink for the afternoon full-team practice. I took one online university course which didn’t take up too much time.
In some ways I can’t help but regret my decision to leave the NCAA, simply because the lifestyle was so amazing.
Even during pre-season an NCAA day was packed. We had fitness testing and training most mornings at 6:30 a.m. and would be on the ice right after. Guys would head to the diner to grab breakfast and then head to class for the day.
For Canadian recruits, most of the NCAA programs are not even comparable to Canadian universities. The sports atmosphere is absolutely incredible, and nothing most Canadians can fathom. I highly recommend that recruits make the effort to attend a college sporting weekend at a top NCAA DI program and then contrast it by watching a CHL game. If you are out west go see a University of North Dakota game and if you are in Ontario, make the trip to a Michigan State or Michigan Friday night hockey game and Saturday football game. It will blow your mind.
The guys over at the College Hockey Experience have been taking bantam recruits from the Greater Toronto Hockey League and their parents to MSU, Michigan and Northern Michigan games for the past couple years and the response has been amazing.