As young players move through the ranks of minor hockey and edge closer to their draft year, the same thought sits for many: ‘How do I get noticed by the next level?’
For some, this is a motivating force that drives them to train harder on and off the ice. Others — including parents — are often left with feelings of anxiety and uncertainty over whether then will go unnoticed.
So what exactly is the key to moving forward, and what are the avenues for greater exposure?
At the higher ranks, when players are in junior hockey, showcase camps are prominent throughout the hockey season and in the summer, where certain organizations host weekends of player development and competitive games.
At most of these camps, collegiate and OHL scouts are invited to come and watch the talent, who have the opportunity to make the most of their weekend performance. The majority of these showcase events cost between $200-$500 to enter, so picking the right showcase is critical so your money isn’t wasted.
Unfortunately in minor hockey, there aren’t nearly as many showcase camps like these in Ontario, but that at doesn’t mean recruiting isn’t occurring.
While players and parents may not see it, there is always someone in the stands from an organization looking for talent.
OHL and junior teams have designated scouts they send to league games throughout the season and across the province, constantly seeking out players ahead of the spring draft and junior camps.
Scouting is quite high near the beginning of the winter season, when fresh talent is emerging and players are excited and energized to kick off their first few games with success. Early bird tournaments and Christmas tournaments are big recruiting grounds as well, since scouts have the ability to watch multiple teams play across the span of one weekend.
The U16 (minor midget) year is a big season for all players as they look forward to their opportunity to be drafted in the following spring. At this age group, one of the few showcases and arguably the biggest one at the in AAA minor hockey level in Ontario is the OHL Cup.
This tournament is hosted after playoffs end, and it features the top U16 teams across the province as well as teams from the United States.
It is invitation and qualification-based, as you must be ranked in a certain position at the end of your season (pending on your league) in order to receive the invite.
There are also ‘wild-card’ invitations as well, where 10 teams outside of the invitees are matched up and play a single-game qualification to receive their tournament invite. The rules for qualifying for the wild-card matchups differ across the leagues in Ontario.
The OHL Cup is very heavily scouted, as there is an abundance of talent when looking at the players of the top teams in the province.
Most scouts already have their primary list of players on their radar, but this tournament is a chance for some to move up the draft list if they have a stellar performance.
It takes one solid week in front of the eyes of these scouts to make an impression, and there’s no better time to prove yourself when you’re up against some of the best players in your age group.
It is safe to assume that every OHL team will be present during this week, as well as many NCAA Division 1 programs making the trip up north to seek out players for future scholarships.
Hosted in the spring for minor midget players, another invite-only tournament is the OHL Gold Cup that sees 160 players selected from across all the Ontario minor hockey leagues, with each league building one or two teams depending on their player density.
This tournament also serves as a recruiting and scouting ground for Hockey Canada officials to evaluate players to be a part of Team Ontario, which will go on to compete at the national level in various tournaments for the U17 categories.
The selected players for Team Ontario will also compete as one of three Canadian teams at the U17 World Hockey Challenge, an international competition where many scouts from all over the world will be present.
While this event is primarily focused on scouting for global tournaments, having the opportunity to participate can put a player in front of many sets of eyes that could lead to greater exposure and connections that may lead to opportunities at higher levels in the future.
In terms of showcases at the minor hockey level, these are the ones that all players would definitely want to be one of the participants.
With these opportunities present at the U16 level, many people might ask how their child can get noticed at a younger age than these big showcase tournaments allow.
The answer here is quite simple — CONSISTENTLY stand out above the rest.
Sometimes, parents will try to find summer tournaments and camps to get their player more exposure, but at the end of the day it is up to them to perform and garner attention.
Players have to possess that desire and competitive nature to want to be the best player they can be. It takes a certain spark or ‘wow’ factor to catch the attention of scouts or coaches, and each player needs to find their own edge as they grow and develop.
Player development has seen tremendous growth in hockey over the years and there are a lot of kids out there who possess the technical skills to be great.
It ultimately comes down to how a player is able to utilize those skills and how well they demonstrate an understanding of the game that will gain the attention of scouts as they grow up.
If you’re good enough, the interest will find you.