Nearly two decades ago, Neil Lodin was a hockey dad with a math and computer science background looking to solve a problem.
He was an assistant coach on his son Ian’s 10U team in Indianapolis – a squad that was unusually good for the area. They would routinely dispatch area teams with ease. And even when they traveled to hockey hotbeds like Detroit or Chicago, they would still score blowout wins over lesser clubs.
“We had two families who quit hockey after that year because they thought it was a waste of time and money,” Neil Lodin says.
The idea that came from the problem: Come up with a way to sort Midwest teams in Ian’s age group by relative strength so that they could secure equal competition.
And that’s the origin story of MYHockeyrankings.com. Fast-forward nearly 20 years – an eternity in “internet time” that might be roughly equal to 100 years of real time – and plenty has changed.
MYHockey Rankings has expanded exponentially to include all levels of youth hockey from 10U up. Ian Lodin now runs the day-to-day operations of the business, and the site handles roughly 300,000 scores every year for a huge audience.
But one thing that hasn’t changed: At its core, the site’s objective is to help similar teams find each other and play each other. Emphasizing that mission is at the heart of recent adjustments to MYHockey Rankings that will have the biggest immediate impact at 10U but will also be felt at 14/16U as well.
The site assigns a rating to each team based on a number of different metrics. Historically, teams in each age group are then sorted and ranked.
“I’ve always given a ranking without really thinking about it,” Neil Lodin says. “But it didn’t take long to know that some people focused too much on the rankings. From the beginning, it’s been a concern of mine.”
In December, the New York Times featured MYHockey Rankings in a story about youth sports, calling into question whether ranking teams in such low age groups as 10U was healthy. That prompted a dialogue between the Lodins and Tom Farrey from the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program.
Farrey suggested the Lodins remove the rankings from 10U, the youngest age group on the site.
“At first I was like no, we can’t remove the rankings,” Ian Lodin recalls. “From a business perspective, it gives a (potential) competitor another two years advantage on us in the market.”
But the three kept talking and Farrey clarified that he didn’t think the site needed to stop doing ratings for 10U teams. Those should stay as part of the site’s original mission. But taking away the rankings would eliminate pressure and take away temptations.
Neil Lodin says he realized the site could “still get the value but de-emphasize being number one.” He brought the idea to USA Hockey and said leadership was very supportive. In May, he announced that MYHockey Rankings would no longer rank 10U teams.
“Parents and coaches were using it as a benchmark,” says Ken Martel, technical director of USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “They would think, ‘We have to move up in the rankings,’ and then they wouldn’t play anyone lower than them even if it was a good game.”
The Lodins say they are pondering making the same change to eliminate rankings at the 12U level in the future, but that they “need to do some analysis on that,” according to Neil Lodin.
But he is steadfast in his belief that 14U and 16U can be and should be ranked. There won’t be changes in the rankings this year or in the future for those age levels.
The reason? Neil Lodin notes that USA Hockey’s ADM says that at those ages players are getting more serious about hockey
Ian Lodin says there is an element of “keeping up with the Joneses” at all levels of youth hockey. That said, he is hopeful that the changes at 10U will lead to broader awareness of how MYHockey Rankings is intended to be used.
“At 14U and 16U, for me it’s about the same messaging as 10U but without the (ranking) changes,” Ian Lodin says. “We’re trying to get back to the original use.”
The Lodins have already added some educational functionality to the site and are in the process of adding more, Ian says. As the 10U change rolls out this season and other changes are pondered, there might be some grumbling from the “everyone gets a trophy” crowd. But the Lodins say so far most of the feedback has been positive.
“I know we play games to have a winner and loser. Competition is important and that’s fine. When the adults have the potential to over-insert themselves sometimes there is a problem. This is a way maybe to take pressure off certain age categories.” Martel says.
“The Lodins have done a nice thing by trying to keep the tool, which allows teams of similar ability to schedule games with each other. We think it’s a great proactive step by a group to say we might be able to lower the pressure on youth sports and here’s how we might do that. Tons of kudos to Myhockeyrankings.com for being a good steward of the sport and using their tool how they intended.”