Cloutier: US or Canadian Junior Hockey?
“Cloutier’s Corner” is the personal blog of Canadian goalie Logan Cloutier, who is fighting to earn an NCAA D-I scholarship. Logan currently plays for the Kahnawake Condors in Quebec, and has battled through a season-ending knee injury and a concussion. You can follow him on Twitter at @lcloutier30 and follow his blog as he tries to earn that magical college scholarship!
U.S. or Canadian hockey? The debate continues. You always hear arguments and debates between Canadians and Americans about whether junior hockey is better in Canada or the States. Well, today I am going to add to the argument and express my opinions on the different leagues in both Canada and the U.S.
There is quite a bit of confusion in Canada about the different options available to players who would like to pursue the NCAA route. I grew up in Western Canada, where the minor hockey systems are centered around promoting the BCHL and AJHL as the premier Junior-A leagues in North America, (we will exclude Major Junior completely for the sake of this article).
However, this may not be entirely true, and players, especially younger ones, need to understand that there are lots of other options available. In Canada alone there are 10 different Junior-A leagues available to players, and as of January 28, every league was represented at least once in the CJHL Top-20 Team Rankings.
One of the biggest arguments people use in favor of the BCHL and AJHL is that they have the best exposure to NCAA schools in Canada. This may be true, but the OJHL actually has more committed players this season than the AJHL. Another point people bring up is the fact that the level of play in the BCHL is superior to that of every other league; I think this is an unfair statement, mainly because the number one team in Canada is currently from the AJHL, and the top-ranked BCHL team is currently fourth.
I truly believe that, although the BCHL may historically be the number one league in Canada, the other leagues give it a run for its money. Between 2002 and 2012, BCHL teams won the Canadian National Junior-A Championship (the RBC Cup) four times (Saskatchewan teams won it another three times).
When it comes to Junior-A leagues in the United States, there are two that are recognized as true Junior-A leagues. The USHL is the most prestigious Junior-A league in the US, and very arguably the number one Junior-A league in North America. With 254 players committed to NCAA schools in the league this year, it surpasses every league in Canada and actually totals more than every league in Canada put together, an amazing fact if you ask me.
It is hard to say what the true level of play the USHL is, as I have only seen one game. But what I can see is that it is on par with the BCHL and may even be slightly better hockey overall. It is often touted as an equivalent to Canadian Hockey League major junior teams, but personally I can’t see it.
The advantage they have over CHL major junior however is that players maintain their NCAA eligibility – something that does not happen in the CHL. The other Junior-A league in the US is the NAHL. Considered as “Tier II” Junior-A by American standards, it is clear that is a step below the USHL, but it is fairly hard to determine where it fits in the Canadian system.
The Wenatchee Wild, one of the top teams in the NAHL, will be a part of the BCHL next season and it will be very interesting to see where they fit in. In my opinion, the NAHL fits below the BCHL, but is still a very competitive league. Though the players may not get the amount of NCAA D-I scholarships as the USHL or BCHL, lots of players receive deals from D-III schools, another great option to many players.
I’ve had the opportunity of playing U-18 hockey in the US system on a North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) team in Wenatchee, Washington two years ago and I definitely see a difference between Canadian and American hockey. The difference I noticed is that overall I believe American skaters are more skilled than Canadian, however Canadian players are a tougher breed and play a more physical game.
It’s another decision that I had to make, whether I wanted to play more hockey in the US, or return to Canada and try and achieve a scholarship playing Junior-A out east in Quebec. It’s a tough choice I had to make, but it’s one I hope more Canadians have to make in the future.