Each and every player on the Colorado College men’s hockey team took at least one year off between high school and college to play Junior Hockey, a league that is focused on developing players’ skills and exposing them to NCAA recruitment. Participating in Juniors is essential for students looking to play D-I hockey because the number of potential teams to play on at the collegiate level is limited. “With most sports there are a few hundred D-I schools,” said sophomore Ben Isreal. “With hockey, the competition is so tight that they need you to develop before you come in.” There are a ton of hockey players but there are only 60 D-I hockey teams.
Junior Hockey is considered an amateur level of play, one step below professional. A number of teams and leagues exist throughout the U.S. and Canada. Like any collegiate or professional leagues, each team has their own venue and fans that cheer them on, even if there might not be as many of them in the stands.
Every player on the men’s hockey team experienced Juniors differently and reaped different benefits. Still, all of them ended up here after years of hard work and determination.
SG: What was your high school team like and why did you play Juniors?
Westin Michaud: My high school was very intense with hockey, being from Minnesota. Our state tournament had 18,000 plus fans, so it’s a big ordeal. Growing up in Minnesota with the ponds was really a treat. And then Junior Hockey was definitely an experience. I was in Corpus Christi, T.X., which is two hours from the border right on the beach. I lived in a $2 million house right on the water. It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. We had about 5-7,000 fans a night, we had a sleeper bus and we didn’t have to worry about anything other than hockey.
SG: How many years did you do Juniors?
Westin Michaud: I did two years, so I should be a junior but I’m a sophomore.
SG: What was the best part about playing?
Westin Michaud: I’d say the best part was playing in front of our home crowd and playing in a warm climate. Usually there’s no ice in Texas and the only ice sheet available in south Texas was actually the rink we played at. It was a huge facility and overall very professional.
SGt: Did you go into the league hoping to get recruited or had you been recruited and were looking to improve?
Westin Michaud: A little bit of both. I knew I was getting exposure before that so it was a good league for me to step into, especially at a young age. I was 17 and I left during my senior year of high school to go play Juniors. I later finished my senior year in Texas. I’d go to school there 8-12 every day and then we’d have practice. I graduated back home actually after the season. I was fortunate enough to take classes and meet new people at a 5,000 person school, compared to my school back home which only had 1,000 kids. That was definitely a highlight.
SG: What’s CC hockey like compared to Juniors?
Westin Michaud: CC hockey is definitely up a couple notches. There are all these top players from Juniors coming together in our conference. We are playing with and against potential future NHL guys. It’s a tough league and we just need to keep on developing and getting better.
SG: Did Juniors prepare you for CC?
Westin Michaud: Oh, definitely. My Juniors coach held me accountable every single day. But college hockey is just at another level, so we always have to be working as hard as we can.
SG: Why did you decide to play Juniors?
Alex Leclerc: Well, since I’m from Quebec, a province in Canada, minor hockey is a bit different. Therefore, a typical path would be playing Midget AAA and then playing at the junior level right after. But I never played midget AAA; I was playing amateur hockey. Then I got the opportunity to go play Junior Hockey two hours from my hometown. Everything is different in Quebec, including the education, so we finish high school a year early and then go to two years of community college before going to university. I split those two years of community college into three while playing.
SG: What was the Junior Hockey experience like for you?
Alex Leclerc: It was a learning experience because I was living by myself and taking care of myself from age 17 to about 20. Then last year I played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, which is another Junior league out west in Canada. This league was more competitive and was exposed more to the NCAA.
SG: What was the best part about playing?
Alex Leclerc: You don’t have a choice, especially in my case at 17, having to live by myself and find ways to perform in the classroom and on the ice. You can’t eat junk food, you are making your own food while living on a budget. It prepared me for the future, for sure.
SG: Are you glad you did that and ended up here?
Alex Leclerc: Of course. There are definitely easier or more accessible paths, but I’m happy to have taken the path I did.
Samantha Gilbert: What was high school hockey like for you?
Ben Isreal: I didn’t play in high school. My senior year I played travel hockey. Then I went to play Junior Hockey because I wanted to get a college scholarship. I needed to develop as a player and get scouted.
SG: What was the best part about Juniors?
Ben Isreal: It just gave me time to develop; there are more games and practices and you mature as a person as well. Plus there was no school.
SG: What was a day in the life like during Juniors?
Ben Isreal: Wake up, eat some breakfast around 10, go to practice at 11 or 12, have a workout after practice, go hangout with the guys, watch some Netflix, wake up the next day and do it again, seven days a week. It was our job. We played around 60 games in a season and I played Juniors for three years.
SG: How is CC hockey different?
Ben Isreal: College hockey is much better. Everybody is the best of the best from Juniors, so it’s better, faster, and stronger hockey.
SG: Because everyone on the team played Juniors, is there a certain chemistry on the team?
Ben Isreal: All leagues are different. Everybody knows what it’s like to live somewhere else and we all have some of the same experiences, but chemistry develops in the locker room, not from Junior Hockey.