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Player Perspective: Early College Prep is Key

By Alex Nurse, 11/18/14, 10:30AM PST


A Washington Wild Student-Athlete Perspective by Alex Nurse

WWFHA supports their players and the experiences they have on and off the ice. From time to time we will post articles written by the student-athlete. Alex Nurse is a senior on the Washington Wild U19 Rep team. She writes about her summer experiences in the RUSH programs and recommends preparing for college early.

This past summer was a huge wake-up call in terms of preparing for college and playing collegiate hockey. I had just finished my junior year in high school and on the Washington Wild, and I asked myself, “What now?” I felt like high school snuck up on me. I’ve always wanted to play college hockey because, simply, I love the game. But suddenly I found myself behind and wondering where I would go to college and if I would play college hockey. So to recover quickly and try to catch up on the collegiate preparation process, I researched schools and attended two major scouting camps this past summer, both RUSH hockey programs run by Kelly Katorji.

In early July, I attended the Rush Development 2-Day Camp in Toronto, Ontario. I went because I was hoping to be seen by collegiate coaches and to get my name out there. What I learned was that coaches are not just simply looking for the best talent; coaches are looking for people who recover quickly from their mistakes, who won't give up when facing an obstacle, and who are well-rounded and have good character on and off the ice. I learned fairly quickly that no NCAA DI college coach will be looking to scout someone who is unknown on the hockey scene, about to turn 18 years old in a couple of months and entering their final year of high school unless she is RIDICULOUSLY talented. I’ve attended numerous college hockey talks, from Western Washington Female Hockey Association (WWFHA) to USA Hockey State and District Camps, and the speakers always said you should start promoting yourself at an early age. I heard that advice when I was young, but I always thought I had more time. In reality, you don’t have a lot of time and you need to be working every year to prepare and promote yourself. Otherwise, it sneaks up on you like it did for me – and puts you in a more challenging situation for reaching your goal.

Up until last season I never really thought I was good enough to play at the NCAA DI level. I thought “what is the point of putting in so much effort for something that might not even happen?” Now that I’m older, I highly regret not putting in more effort, and I encourage my younger teammates on the Washington Wild all the time to get their name out early and decide later what they want to do.  You never know how quickly you will improve each year and what type of player the coaches are looking for – it just might be you.

I think my favorite part of attending the RUSH camp was meeting the different coaches and seeing how they coached and acted around players. I think the most nerve-racking moment for me was meeting the University of Maine coaches. It was my first time conversing with actual NCAA Division I coaches. It was really great as they greeted me, asked me about my college progress and preparations, and told me that they were open to answering any questions I had for them. They were extremely welcoming and seemed like great people and coaches.

I recommend anyone interested in playing college hockey at any level – NCAA DI or DIII, or even ACHA non-varsity hockey, attend the RUSH camp well before their last year in high school; I should have gone to the camps as a freshman in high school. I remember seeing a little girl on the first day of the camp and I was super surprised that she was there. She was really small, probably in 7th grade, but the college coaches all loved her determination to get better. She was seen on the national stage and the coaches had her name down early to see how she improved each year and as a future recruiting prospect.

The second RUSH program I attended was the Women’s Beantown Classic Tournament in Boston, Massachusetts in late July. It is a tournament event that I entered to be placed on a team as an individual player. I went because I was trying to see where I stood on the national level and get more exposure. I decided to play down a level in hopes of being on a team with a previous teammate (which I regret now, as I didn’t get on her team and I never did play with her). I was placed on an established west-coast team and I immediately felt out of place since I was playing against one of the Washington Wild’s district rival teams. However, a lot of individual players from the West were put on that team so we were all forced to play together. The scariest part was simply joining that team and being accepted. I’ve always been about teamwork and being a family, and I was without my Washington Wild family at that tournament. It was hard. However, my favorite part of the Beantown Classic Tournament was definitely when I scored one of our first goals. It was great to score, but also all the girls were giving me the cold shoulder up until that point. I guess joining a new team is always like that at the upper levels; you have to prove your worth before the other players realize you really deserve to be on their team. So in the end, that was a good lesson to learn.

I would highly recommend other girls attend the RUSH Camp and Beantown Classic Tournament for the experience, development and exposure to scouts. I actually want to work to bring an entire, united team from Washington next year so we can have a better experience and more fun. Also, I think if I went again I would definitely not drop down a level in hopes of playing with a teammate; I was out of place at that tournament and only hurt myself by doing that.

I know most players think they can reach their goals by just doing the minimum: not practicing in the summer, not getting extra ice or working out on their own, not promoting themselves, not doing well in school, not attending highly scouted tournaments on the other side of the country. But the truth is you need to be doing all of that plus more. If you want to play NCAA DI or even NCAA DIII, and you think practicing twice a week and playing 2 games on the weekends is enough – you are wrong. Most NCAA DI players and DIII players looked for extra ice on their own during high school to prepare for college. They attended free skate to enhance their skating and explosive speed, stick-and-puck to perfect their shooting and stick work, and private lessons to improve everything else. These players also worked out off-ice to improve their conditioning. The players who make it to the collegiate level start doing all this extra work in their early teens – because they know it will advance their game and improve their chances of playing college hockey. They sacrifice and give up other hobbies, activities and high school events such as Prom and Home Coming. You also really need to do well in school, and to promote yourself as much as possible; it shows you’re really interested in playing college hockey, and coaches love that. Players don’t realize how important the off-ice marketing and self-promotion really is, regardless of their living location.

This past summer I never had a moment to spare with all the on-ice and off-ice training, researching colleges and hockey programs, writing to coaches, flights, touring schools and going to camps and tournaments; however, to be honest, I wouldn’t have changed one thing about it. I only wish I had starter earlier.

Coach Reichenbach, University of Maine

“Kelly Katoji runs winter tournaments, summer showcases, summer camps and summer tournaments.  His events are by far the most organized and well attended by college coaches.  We currently have 60% of our team recruited from Kelly’s events through Rush hockey.  He is also a great resource on all things college hockey and a very neutral source on all things.”

Coach Kimball, University of Vermont

“Kelly Katorji scouts players from all over North America. He has almost every NCAA program involved as part of his staff, and some Canadian CIS coaches. Coaches get on the ice with the players to run practices, interact with them, and it’s one of the best events in terms of exposure.”

Tips from Kelly Katorji – Scout / Rush Programs

- It doesn’t matter where you play hockey in order to be recruited; stay local.

- Don’t try to do everything; save your money. Invest in good coaches.

- Play girls' hockey; college coaches don’t have time to adjust your game.

- Winning isn’t everything; coaches see talent beyond the score.

- The girls’ recruiting process is different from the boys’ process.

- Attend USA Hockey State, District and National Camps.

- Don’t rush up in level; be the best on your team.

Coach Idalski, University North Dakota

"When looking at a player, we don’t just look at on-ice performance. We are deeply interested in players who are self-motivated in the areas of strength and conditioning. We seek out players who can motivate and push themselves to improve on the ice, off the ice in regard to their physical and mental condition, and in the classroom.

What we focus on when recruiting:

- Development - we don't look at tournament teams.
- It's not necessary to go to every scouted tournament.
- If you aren’t seen that often, send video to coaches.
- Academic success and connecting with coaches.
- Strength and conditioning.
- Character.

We are genuinely interested in strength of character: how the player handles herself in times of adversity – with a positive or negative attitude; how a player leads and follows; how she interact with her teammates; how she adds to her environment and the people around her in a positive way."

Coach Desrosiers, Clarkson University

“We look for work ethic first and foremost, then hockey smarts and skating. The player should always have a good attitude (be a team player) and work ethic on the ice. Leadership is key, but so is following; we want kids that show good leadership skills, but are able to take instruction and want to improve.  It is always a good sign if the player is a leader on her current teams."

-- 2014 NCAA DI Women’s National Champions