It can depend on where you live, where you play, and even your academic record.

Traditionally, college football and basketball coaches most often look to high schools to award scholarships and assemble their teams. For men’s hockey, however, the path to a college scholarship isn’t as cut-and-dried. In addition to developing the ability to compete at the collegiate level, your chances to land a hockey scholarship can depend on where you live, where you’ve played, and even your academic record. If a hockey scholarship is your goal, you have several options and variables to consider.

Know The Basics

First off, remember that men’s ice hockey is considered an equivalency sport by the NCAA. That means college hockey coaches can award both full or partial scholarships to some or all members of the team, so long as the total amount awarded doesn’t exceed that school’s limit. For example, an NCAA Division I men’s hockey team is limited to 18 scholarships. However, the average roster size is 29. In DII the limit is 13.5 scholarships for an average roster of 31 players. That means that, while full-ride scholarships are awarded often in DI, they’re most frequently given to the most elite players and you may be working toward a partial scholarship instead.

With that said, your best opportunity to play college hockey might be NCAA Division III (which, with 84 teams, has more teams than NCAA DI and DII combined) or schools with ACHA-affiliated club teams. However, DIII schools don’t offer athletic scholarships nor do club teams, so if you’re looking in either of those directions make sure you’ve got the grades to earn an academic scholarship.

So. now that you know the college hockey scholarship situation, think about your options for earning one:

Junior Hockey

The top-level of junior hockey (Tier 1) in the United States is the USHL. And, because of the level of competition, it presents for high school players ages 16-21, many college hockey programs base much of their recruiting around USHL players. (Note that USHL players are considered amateur athletes by the NCAA, while those who play in Canada’s top junior hockey leagues lose their NCAA eligibility.) Given that, if you want to compete in the USHL as a path to a college hockey scholarship, you have to have the talent to get drafted by and make one of the league’s eight teams. Then, if you don’t live in one of those cities in the upper midwest, you’ll have to leave home and live with a billet family while you play in the USHL. The upside is it could all pay off big, as the USHL says that 95% of its players receive Division I college hockey opportunities and that more than 800 USHL alumni are currently on DI hockey team rosters.

If you’re not at the USHL level yet, you may also consider Tier 2 leagues such as the NAHL, the NCDC or, Tier 3 developmental levels such as the NA3HL or NA3EHL. While competing at a high level, Tier 2 and 3 teams are committed to helping develop high-age hockey players to move on to the next level. As an added bonus, given the greater number of teams in Tier 2 and 3 leagues, you have a better chance of playing and living close to home.

AAA Travel Hockey

If you’re still polishing your game, AAA travel hockey can be a springboard to a college hockey scholarship. While considered a notch or two below Tier 2 or 3 junior hockey, it’s not unheard of for elite AAA players to land a college scholarship. Though it may often require a player to step from AAA to a higher level junior league, playing on an elite AAA travel club can still get you noticed and create opportunities for a college hockey scholarship.

High School Hockey

Simply put, if you want to leverage your high school hockey experience into a college scholarship, you need to move to Minnesota. In short, Minnesota is too high school hockey what Texas is too high school football and there’s a reason Minnesota calls itself “The State of Hockey.” Given the number of players, the number of programs, and the level of play, college coaches from all over come to Minnesota to look for players. Does playing high school hockey in Minnesota guarantee you a college hockey scholarship? Certainly not. But if you want to play hockey for your school team, high school hockey in Minnesota offers the chance to play at the highest level.

While Minnesota high school hockey is about the best bet for top competition, high school hockey in Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York also boasts plenty of good players and programs. And don’t overlook boarding or prep schools such as Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Cushing Academy, or Avon Old Farms, which offer both quality high school education and a high-level hockey experience.

While those are the primary paths to a men’s hockey scholarship, there are plenty of exceptions. And if your goal is to play hockey in college, keep working hard so that you can forge your own path to a college scholarship.

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