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Daily Dish: Main Camp is a Real Opportunity? Canadian Junior Hockey News

Published: Monday, 22 Jul 2019  
By: Stephen Heisler,

It's that time of year again; North American and Canadian Junior Hockey League teams are working the emails and phones to fill up the main camps. It is funny how some of the NAHL teams contact players for their tryouts.

We were called yesterday by a parent, asking about a certain coach and team in the NAHL.  He said their son received a call, by the coach, giving him a personal invite to the main camp. The coach went on to say that he saw the prospect play at recent showcase and they think he is a good player and they are looking for another defenseman. 

During the conversation, he asked us to hold, as he needed to answer the phone. He came back and said his son just received another invite, to another NAHL team's tryout, and the coach said almost the identical thing. 

The parent just laughed, because his son was not even at the event in which they supposedly saw him play. He was registered to be there, but was unable to go at the last minute, and all of his information was in the tryout-scouting book given to the coaches.

"Having been involved with the NAHL as an owner, I have seen many things people do to get players to believe they are going to get a chance at making the team, through what was supposed to be an invitation only main camp," said one former NAHL owner.

Let's look at some inside facts of a typical NAHL team. Most of the coaches in the NAHL get a bonus if they fill a camp quota. This is a way for a coach to make a little extra money for the year, but at whose expense? The prospects.

What is the actual number of players each team really needs?  Count the returning players, tenders, and draft picks.  Prospects found at open tryouts, and invited to the main camp, will have to shine above all others who have already been invited to the main camp.

The facts are simple, in the NAHL, the players who are going to be tendered are going to be the best young players available coming from high school or some of the elite AAA midget programs around the country.  Yes, there are the occasional players from prep schools and even Tier III programs.

Let's just use 2001 birth dates for this year, to sum this up for you.  USHL teams have already talked to the elite prospects that they are planning to draft. The USHL draft is prior to the NAHL's and that is done on purpose, which we will explain in a moment. The players, who have not been talked to by USHL teams, and are still really good players, are offered tenders by individual teams in the NAHL.

A tender is a signed agreement between the player and the NAHL team which allow the team to place the player on their protected list so no other NAHL teams can contact him. The NAHL draft allows each team to draft up to 30 players minus any players on the protected list.  It looks something like this.

Team A has 15 returning players they are protecting, each team is given 8 tenders to sign players prior to the draft. The total number of players at this point is 23 allowing Team A to draft seven players for a total of 30 players on the protected list. 

Now each team can only carry 25 players on the active roster once the season starts so five players from each of the teams will not be playing in the NAHL that season. That is 130 players getting released to find somewhere else to play.

Now we are at the NAHL Draft. Most of the teams are looking to get the player who they believe was good, but didn't want to tender because they felt they could get him in the draft. They also select veteran USHL players that are expected to be left exposed as over agers.

Here is a little inside secret, teams in the NAHL also look at players who were selected in the USHL draft.  Why you ask? The USHL draft was prior to the NAHL draft and the numbers don't lie. From year to year, players drafted in the later rounds of the USHL don't always make that team.

So if a NAHL team drafts a player, who has already been drafted by a USHL team, and that player gets released from the USHL, the NAHL team who drafted that player holds the players rights within the NAHL.

With the USHL roster restricted to only 23 players at least 2 to 3 players will be released after their main camps and those players will be looking to play somewhere as well.  Since those players were drafted in the USHL, they are probably better than some of the players who are on NAHL rosters.

If a prospect is approached by an NAHL team, and is invited to an open tryout, do some research and ask some questions. 

-Ask how many returnees at the positon from last season they have.

-Ask how many tenders and drafted players do they have coming to the camp.

-If they say things like, "we really like you as a player," ask why team did not select you in the draft. 

Here is a newsflash, many coaches will lie and talk out of both sides of their mouth in order to convince players to come to the main camp. Teams will say things like everyone has to pay because it's a NCAA violation if prospects go for free.

Tendered and drafted players, on most teams, don't pay for tryouts. There are also teams that need a few more players to fill the rosters for tryouts and deals are worked out to get players in at a fraction of the cost.

Here's the thing, players need to go to these camps to get exposure, and so going to a few is not a bad thing.  Playing junior hockey is not easy and it's a level way above what most players have played to date.  By going to a few tryouts, prospects get acclimated to junior hockey, and what to expect at the next tryout.  Prospects need to make sure to research every team's roster situation before attending.

Prospects not tendered or drafted, should attend tryout camps with no expectations of making the team.  They should attend for the experience, give it their very best effort, and hope that it will pay off in the long run.

Please don’t fall into the hype trap. One of my client’s parents said it best. “I could have easily spent $25,000 this summer if we did not have you to keep us grounded.” Glad we can help.

Author: Stephen Heisler from
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.

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