While many students at the College choose to matriculate directly following senior year of high school, some opt to spend a year abroad, working or – in some cases – playing hockey. Around half of the men’s ice hockey team spent at least one year between graduating from high school and coming to the College playing in USA Junior Hockey leagues in the United States and Canada. Current players who also played Junior Hockey include Taylor Carmola ’17, Colby Cretella ’18, Dan Doherty ’18, Sam Gray ’17, David Italiano ’18, Greg Johnson ’16, Noah Klag ’16, Michael Lata ’19, Captain Zander Masucci ’16, Michael Pinios ’19, Luke Stickel ’17, CJ Shugart ’18, Matt Werner ’16 and Tyler Young ’17.
Junior Hockey comprises a year-long commitment available to athletes ages 16 to 20 that strives to “prepare the athlete for career advancement either in a collegiate or a professional opportunity,” according to its website. For more competitive leagues, scouting begins in high school. Although participating in the Juniors Hockey League for at least a year in between high school and college is not a requirement in order to get recruited to the NESCAC or to Div. III schools, it is essentially a requirement for most Div. I programs. About 50 percent of most NESCAC teams have former Juniors players.
“NESCAC schools are actually pretty low proportionally [in terms of the fraction of former Juniors players] just because [the] NESCAC model fits the prep school model and [the] NESCAC will – more often than other places – take kids right out of prep school,” Stickel said.
Junior Hockey includes some relatively newly established women’s leagues, but the men’s leagues have existed for much longer. Junior Hockey is currently a more popular option for aspiring collegiate male players than for female players.
For Stickel, playing Junior Hockey was close to a no-brainer; his high school team did not offer the same level of competition as did other teams at that level. Thus, he knew for much of high school that he might eventually play Junior.
Once they have decided to play for at least a year between high school and college, players must decide which league they can join and how long they want to play for. While Gray’s league – the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) – comprised players aspiring to both collegiate programs and professional programs, Masucci’s league – the Eastern Junior Hockey League – almost exclusively focused on players looking to go on to college. The major leagues in the United States include the United States Hockey League (USHL), the North American Hockey League (NAHL), the United States Premiere Hockey League (USPHL) and the Eastern Hockey League (EHL).
“I played only one year, but another kid in my class – Sam Gray – played for three, so it’s what you want to make of it,” Stickel said. “I knew going in that I only really wanted to play one year but some approach it differently.”
While Gray was playing for the OJHL, he lived with a host family that all played hockey. Many players stay with host families, since they join leagues and teams that are based around the United States and Canada.
“If I would’ve played another year, I would’ve taken classes,” Stickel said. “It was a pretty relaxing year but also pretty frustrating at the same time because hockey can get pretty frustrating mentally. Normally you have schoolwork as an outlet or just anything else.”
Most agree, however, that the year serves as a jumping point for improving hockey.
“My experience was unbelievable,” Masucci said. “I had two years to work on intricacies of my game that would help me evolve to become a better player.”
Coming to the College, many players had to readjust to school after taking time off even though many had already experienced living away from home.
“I came to school way [hungrier] to learn and to do schoolwork,” Stickel said. Coming straight out of high school, I know I would have had that ‘senior spring’ mentality.”
While having a year off from intensive classroom time might make certain players more excited to return to a formal academic setting, many adjust to life at the College in a way that is unique to this experience.
“The transition to Williams was definitely tough,” Gray said. “I took some classes at a local college during my junior hockey career but it was a huge change diving headfirst into a Williams courseload. Luckily there [are] a ton of resources at Williams that I took advantage of that I think eased the transition.”
Although many Junior Hockey players aspire to play professionally – and although there are certainly players aspiring to Div. I programs after Junior Hockey – the Ephs agreed that the style of play in Juniors Hockey was less competitive than playing for the College.
“Williams is definitely a higher level of hockey, which is partly a function of players being older and more experienced,” Gray said.
The significant difference between styles of play often exacerbates the players’ adjustments to hockey at the College.
“The things that helped me get through Juniors successfully, attitude and hard work, were the things that helped me get through my first semester,” Masucci said. “With that being said, I was very excited to get back into the classroom and Williams could not have offered more support lines for academics.”