Cloutier: From Midget Minors to Juniors
“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!
My last blog covered my opinions on the different junior leagues in both Canada and the United States. This week, I thought I would focus a little bit more on the leagues that give players a chance to make the jump between minor hockey and the junior level. They are often not very well understood on a wide scale.
I have always been a bit of a late-bloomer when it comes to hockey, all my career I have been told this and I believe for the most part it’s true. I always seemed to begin to really excel at the end of seasons, after I had the chance to become comfortable in the league I was playing in.
This was the case for both my PeeWee AAA and Bantam AAA years, though I often played well during the season, I always struggled with consistency; which as most of us know, is one of the biggest parts to a goalie’s game. This has changed somewhat because this year I had a strong start to the year and have played consistent hockey throughout.
In my first year of midgets, I had an outstanding start to the season during tryouts, but the local Kamloops minor hockey association decided that all 16-year-olds would all play on a U-16 team (with only a couple exceptions). So I wasn’t allowed to play Midget AAA and played Tier III midget instead. It was anything but excellent.
The following 2010-11 year, I opted to attend Okanagan Hockey Academy based out of Penticton, B.C. With every midget team at OHA carrying three goalies, I knew we might not get a lot of ice time, however practicing five times a week with games on the weekend was definitely beneficial to my development. The team coaching was unbelievably good with Robert Dirk and Greg Holst.
Tyler Love, the OHA goalie coach, completely changed my style and really showed me how to play the position.
In British Columbia where I grew up, there is Midget AAA hockey, run by each local minor hockey organization, but there is also midget AAAA, or “Major Midget.” I played on the Major Midget team at OHA, although they used the USA terminology of “Prep Team” and played against USA Prep Schools at Major Midget tournaments, and in the fledgling Canadian Sport School Hockey League which is comprised mostly of private hockey academies like OHA.
Again, I had a rocky start to the year, but began to feel comfortable later in the season.
The following 2011-12 year, I decided to play for the Wenatchee Wild U-18 team in the USA-based North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL); a league very similar to Major Midget in British Columbia. I felt that giving myself another year of development at the same level would be better than trying to force myself into a situation at the junior level where it may not work out for me. But, as (bad) luck would have it, my season came to an abrupt halt early in the fall when I suffered a season ending knee injury.
The Western Hockey League, one of three Major Junior Leagues in Canada, sponsors the British Columbia Major Midget League or BCMML for short. With this sponsorship comes a lot of recruitment and scouting of players in the league and many of the players in the league were selected in the WHL bantam draft at age 16.
With three years of eligibility, players who play BCMML in their first year are seen as top prospects and many of these players go on to play in the WHL within the next two years. Others, who make it as second or third years, won’t generally stick at the Major Junior level for long, but there are of course exceptions to this.
Though it is heavily WHL recruited, many players who play BCMML decide to try and go the NCAA route and find themselves playing in the BCHL after a couple of years. The BCMML in itself is not really NCAA scouted because of the heavy WHL presence and players are generally only exposed to the BCHL and AJHL as Junior A options, which as I covered in my last blog aren’t the only options for a player!
As far as the NAPHL goes, it is very similar in skill level to that of the BCMML. My experience on the Wenatchee NAPHL team was that with many highly skilled players, it is definitely a finesse league with not as much hitting as you might find in the BCMML. The biggest difference is the fact that the NAPHL is heavily NCAA, NAHL and USHL scouted. In fact, most of the NAPHL tournaments are held in conjunction with NAHL tournaments so they are big events and that makes it worthwhile for scouts to show up.
Some of the NAPHL teams are owned and operated in conjunction with NAHL teams, so there is a strong connection between the two. The strong US-based scouting is excellent for players who want to go the NCAA route. Many players, myself included, get NCAA D-III offers and scholarships straight out of the NAPHL. I had something like 11 D-III offers and if I don’t get a D-I scholarship during next season, will attend St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
In fact, Jesse McNulty, the assistant coach at the University of Delaware is the person who connected me with my present Kahnawake Condors Junior A team in Quebec. It would be hard to describe how helpful the D-III coaches such as Coach McNulty or Sean Goldsworthy at St. Olaf have been to me. Amazing, really. Now all I need is a D-I coach to feel the same!
Last year when I was in the NAPHL, there were a limited number of Canadians playing in the league, and I think that younger elite players need to understand that there are other options than solely local teams and leagues. As well as being an excellent league for exposure, in the U.S. you also have an extra year of midget eligibility.
The NAPHL is known as a U-18 league, however there are 18-year-olds who are allowed to play in the league; whereas in Canada where players finish Midget at age 18. This causes the league to be slightly older, as well as causes NAHL and USHL rosters to also be slightly older overall. Players need to really think about whether or not they feel they are rushing into playing junior, there is no point, especially for goalies, making a junior team and not playing.
Playing in the USA is pretty straight forward for Canadians who are still in school as the VISA requirements are pretty simple and given the exposure a player can get playing there is something to consider. Not for everyone for sure, but an option for some. For me, it just kind of happened and wasn’t planned but I am happy with how it has worked out so far.