By Jim Clare, AHAI Director
The dream for many a young hockey player is to play college hockey as part of the NCAA. The opportunity to do that exists amongst the 59 Division 1 and 80 Division 3 Men’s teams that exist across the country as well as the 35 Division 1 and 57 Division 3 Women’s teams. While on its face this may seem like a lot, it actually represents about 4,170 athletes on the men’s side and 2,760 for the ladies.
As parents and players we need to keep in mind where these players come from. With over 150 Junior teams and countless players from overseas and Elite Prep teams, if a skater is not part of the Junior hockey scene the odds of making an NCAA roster are greatly reduced. One glance at a D1 or D3 roster and you can see what I am talking about.
Don’t be discouraged as there is a hidden gem – the world of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). Don’t be fooled, the hockey played at the highest level of the ACHA can be competitive with many D3 NCAA programs across the country. In fact, Penn State, a recent addition to the D1 NCAA ranks was playing ACHA hockey just a couple of years ago and Arizona State’s ACHA team is set to join Division 1 in 2 years.
ACHA provides an outlet for kids to continue their playing career at the collegiate level. The Association is broken down into three Divisions for men and two divisions for the women. These teams actively recruit kids from all levels of hockey including Tier 3 Juniors, High School, AAA, and AA. With over 415 schools and teams to choose from, the odds of continuing your hockey career are greatly enhanced.
I recently spoke with a couple local ACHA clubs to better understand how their programs work and what a player can expect out of the ACHA.
“The standards of school admissions vary depending on the University. The average standards expected would be an ACT of 22 to 25 and your GPA should at least begin with a 3,” said Michael Hernbrott, Head Coach at Illinois State. The ACHA has a minimum grade requirement of a 2.0 to play according to their website (achahockey.org).
Chuck Rinaldo, who coaches ACHA Hockey at Northern Illinois says, “The majority of the players on our D2 team come from junior hockey, AAA, Central States and a few high schools. The main junior leagues that we pull from are NA3HL, MNJHL, WSHL and NAHL. Our D3 team consists of high school, AA and a few junior players. We are always actively recruiting players at all levels for both teams.”
One of the differences between NCAA college hockey and ACHA college hockey is time and cost. Most NCAA programs are on the ice nearly every day and the players do not pay to play. ACHA hockey is more equivalent from a cost perspective to, but not as much as, Midget hockey, AAA, or Tier 3 Juniors – all of which you pay to play. There are some ACHA schools that do not charge, but the majority do.
As for ice time, “ACHA D1 teams can expect to practice three times a week, play twice a week and have off-ice and video sessions along with their school workload. ACHA D2 and D3 usually will practice twice a week Monday through Thursday, have off-ice and play twice a week, usually Friday nights and Saturday afternoons,” says Hernbrott. Both coaches stressed the importance of picking your school based on the educational requirements you have and then enjoy the hockey experience second.
Jack Wood, Hockey Program Coordinator for Oak Park, who played ACHA hockey at Lindenwood University in Missouri states, “The ACHA gave me an opportunity to continue playing even though I was not an elite player and has opened up doors in my professional field I wouldn’t have been afforded if I did not continue playing after Midgets.”
Women’s hockey in the ACHA is not all that different than the boys’ experience. According to Chris Chelios, coach at Robert Morris, “We recruit our girls from around the country, through showcase tournaments, and strong connections developed with programs around the country.” Much like the men’s ACHA programs, the ladies play 30 to 40 games, practice a couple times per week and play their games on the weekends. One difference at Robert Morris; they fully fund their athletics. Like the men, ACHA offers a women’s National Championship tournament at the end of the season.
For four years of college, the ACHA has provided an organized, competitive hockey league for myself, and thousands of other amateurs throughout the country. The ACHA is a safe way to extend our hockey careers, build our knowledge and improve our game. I couldn’t be more thankful for the countless connections and long lasting relationships I made in my four years at Indiana University,” Said Kyle Lewis, former Tier II midget player from Illinois.
As you can see, the ACHA offers a great alternative to NCAA D1 and D3 college hockey for both men and woman. As you near decision time, choose wisely. If you are good enough to play NCAA hockey, then go for it. ACHA hockey is competitive, rewarding, and fun. It allows you to continue playing, create new and lasting friendships, and enough time to concentrate on the most important part of college, your education.
From the ACHA Brochure:
Now celebrating its 24th season of existence, the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) is an organization of over 415 college and university affiliated programs, which provides structure, regulates operations and promotes the quality of collegiate ice hockey. The ACHA’s primary mission is to support the growth and development of collegiate hockey programs nationwide. The ACHA identifies standards, which serve to unite and regulate teams at the collegiate level.
The ACHA emphasizes academic performance, institutional sanction, eligibility criteria, standards of play and opportunities for national competition. The ACHA promotes all aspects of collegiate hockey, stressing the personal development of individual athletes, as well as national recognition for member organizations.