By Mike Scandura – Special to AHAI
If there is one word to describe the essence of what the American Collegiate Hockey Association provides to student-athletes around the country, it’s “opportunity.”
“A lot of folks coming through the ranks of youth and high school hockey don’t know that opportunities exist,” said Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois Coaching Chair Jim Clare, who is also a board member. “They don’t understand many colleges offer club opportunities.
“The hidden gem is men and women have the ability to play beyond high school and don’t have to get a scholarship to a Division I college. Even schools that have Division I teams have club teams.”
Since more and more eight- and nine-year old youngsters are becoming interested in playing hockey, as they travel through the system and reach the age of 18 they invariably are looking to play somewhere.
“Kids want to play and schools are starting more programs,” said Clare. “As the youth numbers increase and more kids are playing, the number of ACHA teams has grown consistently over the last number of years.”
Those numbers have grown to the point where there are approximately 425 men’s teams and 150 women’s teams.
Conferences that exist for both men and women are split into Divisions 1, 2 and 3 and literally stretch from coast to coast.
A classic example is Arizona State, which until 2016 was a championship ACHA men’s program before making the jump to NCAA Division I. Penn State were seven-time ACHA champs before beginning Division I play in 2012. In 2017, the Nittany Lions made their first NCAA tournament after winning the Big Ten tournament.
“There are a lot of pretty good players who want big-school experiences so they’ll go to places like Iowa State, Illinois and Oklahoma,” coach Greg Powers (who led the Sun Devils to the 2014 ACHA national title) said in a New York Times story. “Though there are a limited number of roster spots in Division I, the current climate helps the prospective player because there are so many good [club] programs.”
Understandably, there are differences between the ACHA and the NCAA.
The NCAA has specific rules regarding recruiting, the number of games teams can play during a season, when a season starts and academic requirements.
The season is longer in the ACHA and academic requirements are established by each school. Moreover, recruiting in the ACHA can be done at any time whereas the NCAA has established a window during which recruiting can be done.
Regardless of each school’s academic requirements, the ACHA still has high standards.
“The standards of school admissions vary depending on the university,” said Illinois State coach Michael Hernbrott. “The average standards expected would be an ACT of 22 to 25 and a GPA should at least begin with a 3.”
But in order to play, a student-athlete must maintain a minimum grade requirement of 2.0.
Over the years, men and women who play in the ACHA are exposed to qualities that make them better players, and more importantly, better people.
“Like any sport from a student perspective, it gives you benefits like time management and leadership, being part of a team, developing teamwork, skills and the ability to work as a group,” said Clare. “It puts kids in a leadership position.
“It forces you to manage your time and you developing the discipline of being on a team.”
And players don’t have to give up their DI dreams. One of the benefits of playing for an ACHA program is that it gives student-athletes an opportunity to earn a scholarship to play elsewhere.
Another benefit is it gives them the opportunity to play the game they love and to develop a sense of belonging and camaraderie.
“Being part of a team environment gives you that,” said Clare. “Being part of that school makes the kids feel good about what they’re doing and bonds them.”
That’s especially true for freshmen who may be going away from home for the first time.
“If you’re going away from home for the first time you can feel isolated,” said Clare. “It gives you the comfort of being around other people. It gives you an interesting group of friends.”
ACHA Division I teams can expect to practice three times a week, play twice a week and have off-ice and video sessions in addition to maintain their academic requirements.
Division II and III teams usually practice twice a week, from Monday through Thursday; have off-ice sessions; and play twice a week invariably on weekends.
“The ACHA is a college/club association that offers people a chance to play hockey,” said Clare. “From the United States standpoint, I’m not surprised it’s growing.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
AHAI recently compiled a list of the over 650 Illinois men and women playing on ACHA teams throughout the United States. Click on the buttons below to view.
*The lists below were compiled from the American College Hockey Association website rosters. In some instances, hometowns/states were not listed on a team’s roster. If you or someone you know plays on an ACHA team and was not listed, please contact AHAI Communications Manager, Gretchen Cockey at firstname.lastname@example.org.