Friday, June 15, 2012

Continuing Education While Playing Hockey

Back in November I was browsing the MN Hockey Hub as I frequently do, and came across an article that immediately caught my interest. "College hockey's 'other' option" was an article written about the ACHA (American Collegiate Hockey Association). The ACHA is considered "club" hockey, as they are not NCAA sanctioned teams. Don't be fooled, though. Although the league has the label of "club" hockey, it is a very competitive league with various divisions.
       In the ACHA there are division-I, division-II, and division-III teams. Familiar teams to a Minnesotan such as the University of Minnesota, St. Cloud State, UMD, Minnesota State Mankato, and University of Wisconsin compete at the Division-II level in the WCCHA (Western Collegiate Club Hockey Association). Several teams in the ACHA have players who played junior hockey prior to joining a team, and Penn State even had some recruits on their Division-I club hockey team this season that will play with them this upcoming season when they compete at the NCAA Division-I level. The article caught my interest because I think the ACHA is a great option for skilled players looking to enroll in school right after high school rather than play junior hockey for a couple seasons, and an option I see being used more in the future.
      I myself played for the Minnesota State Mankato Club team my freshman year of college and enjoyed it very much. It gave me a chance to keep playing competitive games, go on road trips, and meet new friends at college. I found the level of play from most opponents could be compared to a good high school varsity team, and in some cases better. There are teams such as Iowa State, who recruit players from junior leagues and do quite well in the ACHA. I'm not by any means comparing ACHA hockey to NCAA hockey, but I am suggesting that this option could be a great opportunity for players who want to get on with their education and still play competitive hockey. There are some drawbacks, however.
      Since ACHA teams are club level teams, funding often times come mostly from the players. I know at Minnesota State the team did get some funding from the University, however, the players still had to pay a fee to cover the usual expenses of ice time, referees, road trips, etc.. The player fees vary from school to school, depending on how far the team is traveling for games, and how often the team is practicing.
      While I understand the ACHA may not be where most players dreamed of ending up playing their college hockey, I suggest to all players unsure of where they'll land next season to check it out and see what it has to offer.

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