It’s that time of year again, when youngsters strap on their skates, their equipment, tape up their sticks and get back on the ice. It’s early September and hockey associations across the continent are preparing for the new season. With new challenges presented from a COVID-world, hockey associations are planning for what the upcoming seasons will look like. Developing plans for return to play for hopefully a somewhat normal season. Like most of our world, the pandemic has changed much of our lives. Cohorts, minimal or no fans, vaccination passports you name it, minor league sports is going through something never before experienced.
When it comes to minor hockey, the tryout and evaluation process can be a stressful experience for kids and parents alike. Not to mention evaluators, coaches and managers. Whether playing rec or rep, the start of the minor hockey season involves a lot of planning and time to ensure that the kids have a pleasurable experience. When it comes to trying out for Rep teams, a whole set of challenges are presented. Rep hockey is meant to be a higher level of fast-paced, more competitive hockey where spots have to be earned. We say earned, but there are always exceptions to the rule. How many times do you see a parent coach’s son or daughter not on the team? How often do you see a REP team mainly composed of first year players for that age group? It simply does not happen that often or at all. Regardless of the sport tryouts are just that the players are trying to make the team. Even at the NHL level there is a pre-season where teams go through the exercise of finalizing their rosters for opening night. Even on National teams or Olympic teams. Players are often invited to tryouts or training camp and have to earn their spot on roster. With the Olympics coming up in 2022 in China the NHL has decided that it will send NHL players to the Olympics. While you have to think that the games greatest player in Connor McDavid will be on the Canadian team, he will still have to attend “tryouts” and training camp. It’s rare for a player not to attend a tryout and make them team, again exceptions to the rule but it’s usually an elite athlete who might be nursing an injury. At a minor level its just doesn’t happen or rather it shouldn’t happen. if you tryout you should have to attend to have any chance of making the team. It’s part of the process.
As mentioned, the evaluation and tryout process can be a very stressful time for the players. There is pressure to perform well in a short amount of time to prove yourself to the coaches and evaluators. It’s a lot of pressure for any player at any age. For those hockey parents new to minor hockey or new to Rep tryouts, we thought that we would share some FAQs that we commonly hear from parents and young players as they go through the process.
Minor Hockey Evaluation FAQs
Here are some typical questions often asked around the tryout/evaluation process.
When do tryouts occur?
This depends on the league and level of play being tried out for. In North America, typically Rep tryouts for minor hockey begin in early to mid-September. It depends on the Association. In some areas tryouts may start in late August or later in September.
How long do tryouts last?
Again this is one that will depend on the Association, ice time availability and season start date. Typically evaluations/tryout occur over a seven to fourteen day period. It’s not uncommon to have a couple of evaluation sessions followed by an exhibition game or two.
What do coaches/evaluators look for during the tryouts?
This tends to vary, depending on age group and level. With younger age groups coaches may be looking at skating ability and overall fundamental skills. With U13 – U18 age brackets, coaches will be evaluating more specific skills such as passing ability, game sense, positional play etc. There are typically seven or eight criteria that is used which include:
- Skill – coaches and evaluators will be looking at overall skill level of the kids. This would include skating, passing, puck control, shooting ability and playmaking ability (both defensively and offensively).
- Speed – not just with skating but the ability to move the puck and read plays. Additional areas come into play here including forechecking and backchecking.
- Skating Ability – not every player is a great skater, we get that, but when trying out for a Rep team means being prepared to skate hard and
- Being Prepared – arriving on-time, having all of the necessary equipment including practice jerseys, and being ready to hit the ice.
- Sportsmanship – being respectful of the coaches and other players in the ice. Having a positive attitude and coming prepared to work hard during every drill and every shift. Coaches will also be looking at things like edge work and backwards skating ability.
- Attitude – coached will be looking for kids that are “coachable” and have a positive attitude and are willing to work hard. They are looking for kids who can recover from making a mistake or poor play. They’re not looking for kids to apologize constantly after every mistake or drill mishap. They are looking for kids/players that pay attention and are able to execute the drills.
- Initiative/Leadership – making an impression is one thing, but making a positive impression is another thing. Coaches often look for players who exemplify solid leadership skills, that doesn’t always mean being vocal either, it could be stick tapping the goalie after a big save or missed goal. Coaches are looking for kids that lead by example, perhaps making a strong play in their own end as opposed to scoring a goal. (Everyone wants to score goals and can score goals, but not everyone can set up a nice play with a strong pass, or good positional play).
- Ability to listen and follow the drills – from a coaching perspective there is nothing more frustrating when you have to explain a drill over and over. You see it all the time at minor hockey levels or even at the NHL level. Coaches are looking for kids who pay attention and are able to execute the drills. Sometimes the drills are simply too complicated, but overall coaches want to see kids that can listen to instruction and apply what they have learned.
How do tryouts work?
Again this will vary depending on the team, age group and Association. Tryouts may consist of a couple of sessions of drills focusing on skating, stick handling and positional play followed up by a scrimmage or exhibition game(s). In some cases a combine style may be used where players are put through a series of exercises emphasizing skating, read and react and shooting skills. Evaluators (non-parent) are often in the arena rating the kids on a pre-determined scoring scale for the various skills being tested. It could be a score of one to five or one to ten. Results are tabulated and presented to the coaches. This is typically followed up with some sort of game action. Throughout the process there may be multiple “cuts” or players released from the tryout.
I’ve heard that often the teams or portions of the teams are pre-selected? Is this true?
Although associations will not admit it, unfortunately this does happen (usually more prevalent with certain age groups). There are a number of stories about coaches meeting ahead (sometimes months ahead) of evaluations to compile a list of players that they “want” on their teams and while they still conduct an “evaluation” of talent, some of the players may be pre-selected for a team. For the most part, if the Association is doing their job correctly and if the coaches are following rules, the tryout process is used to determine the players for the team. it should be noted that Hockey Canada (amongst other Associations) does not condone this type of behavior. Hockey Canada states:
“Determining the player roster for an AE or Rep team before tryouts encourages nepotism, infighting, the growth of ego, and unproductive and unhealthy group dynamics.
Hockey is about fair play, hard work, building community and having fun. Pre-formed teams undermine all of these values, and that is why pre-formed teams have no place under the Hockey Canada banner.
If you believe your child was unfairly denied a spot on an AE or Rep team due to bias, nepotism or factors unrelated to skill, attitude or performance, you should file a formal appeal with your local hockey association.
Hockey Canada encourages local hockey associations to bring in outside evaluators from other associations to perform player evaluations in order to ensure objectivity.“
If you feel that this might be happening in your Association, you are advised to bring the matter up with the Association, or Division Representative. The fact is, this type of stuff creeps into many areas of society, the hockey rink is not different. Every player who tries out should be given a fair change and opportunity to make the team.
Do I have to register for my child to tryout?
Yes, usually as part of the registration process you can select which level you are registering for. In some instances they may be a fee for trying out for Rep team. Registration dates and any associated fees will vary by Associastion.
How do I prepare my child for tryouts?
This will depend on the age group and type of tryout being had. As a reminder, the minor hockey age categories are:
Timbits U7 – for players six years of age or younger
U9 – for players seven and eight years of age
U11 – for players nine and 10 years of age
U13 – for players 11 and 12 years of age
U15 – for players 13 and 14 years of age
U18 – for players 15, 16, and 17 years of age
U21 – for players 18, 19 and 20 years of age
Preparation can consist any number of items incuding:
- ensuring your child has all of the necessary equipment
- ensuring that skates are sharpened and sticks are taped
- ensuring your child understands the process
- its often a good idea to have your child skate a couple of times prior to going into tryouts
- ensure that your child gets sufficient rest and has good energy for their tryouts
- ensuring that your child arrives at the rink with sufficient time for tying skates and dealing with any equipment issues
- communicating that hockey is fun and that the tryout experience should mean trying their best and having fun with it
How do I find out which local hockey association my child is designated to? Who sets the boundaries between associations?
Local minor hockey association boundaries are set by Hockey Canada members. You can access a zone map of local minor hockey associations, and find out which association zone you’re located in, through your Hockey Canada member or your local hockey association.
Hockey Canada has also created a tool that can help you find your local association:
Hockey is a great game, and trying out for Rep teams is not for every player. However if you are trying out for a team, just be as prepared as you can be, work hard and great things can happen.