After a playing career that put him in the RIT Athletics Hall of Fame, Jared DeMichiel has been rising through the college hockey coaching ranks as one of the top recruiters in the game.
Lured to Michigan State this past off-season after helping build UMass into a perennial power, DeMichiel has been hard at work scouting and recruiting for the Spartans. What is he looking for when trying to find future college hockey stars?
First and foremost, well-rounded athletes and hockey players. That’s why he wants the next generation to play as many positions as they can as they are learning the game at the 10U level and down.
“I think it's great to play different positions,” said DeMichiel, who was listed as one of the top three college hockey recruiters by The Athletic earlier this season. “You see it when kids are coming up now, some players might start off as a forward and then when they get to 10, 12, 14, they might switch to playing defense but those skills of being a forward – handling pucks, making passes, getting comfortable skating forwards, going into plays, having that IQ at the same time too.”
By playing multiple positions, you learn what works and what doesn’t at that position, which leads to being a smarter hockey player in whatever role you take on full-time later down the line.
“I think it's helpful for a defenseman switching to forward where you know what a defenseman may be thinking, what they might be trying to do with and without the puck which can help you be creative and find some strengths and some weaknesses to that position,” said DeMichiel, who was a goaltender. “Obviously too for a goalie, I think it's something to be said to be able to put yourself in the skates of the shooter and what a forward might be thinking, what a defenseman might be thinking, and where plays might originate from.”
A native of Avon, Conn., DeMichiel started hockey as a forward. When he was cut from a youth hockey program in 12U, he decided maybe it was time to try a different position. His time trying to get a puck past a goaltender set him up for success when he decided to spend the rest of his playing days between the pipes.
“For my background, I was a forward and I might think in certain situations – oh, hey, in this situation, he might be looking to shoot. Where specifically might he be looking to shoot? Is he looking for a rebound? What are my options?
“I think if you're not open-minded and try out different positions, you might be a little more nearsighted when if you just stay in the same position, you can only see it from one perspective the whole entire time. I think it's great to try out different positions and when you get older then maybe that's the time that you want to focus in on it. In 10U, I think it's only going to help your game if you're playing different positions and I think it's also going to be fun.”
DeMichiel doesn’t stop at just playing other positions though. He wants young hockey players to play other positions – in other sports. Growing up, he played baseball, soccer, basketball, taekwondo, karate, and golf, which all played parts in his success as a goaltender.
“I did a lot of different sports and I think it actually really helped me in the goalie position where I was able to bring in the coordination of my feet to being a goalie. I was able to bring in the hand-eye coordination from baseball into being a goalie. The skating piece, I think it was really good for me that I started off as a forward, that I had an understanding of my inside edges and my outside edges. With me doing karate and taekwondo, I picked up some flexibility and some core strength there, which obviously you need as a goalie. So I think playing a lot of different sports really helped me.
“I think also, too, my parents weren’t ‘hockey people.’ They had no background in hockey. My dad was way more of a baseball and basketball guy. So they kind of knew that route, whereas with hockey they were kind of naive to it and I think in the long run all that that helped me.
“Hockey was September to March and then after that, I didn't really do much hockey. I might do a camp here or there in the summer, but once hockey was done, I was more focused on baseball and maybe playing spring soccer. So, hockey all day every day seven days a week – you don't need that when you're 10 years old. You're not winning the Stanley Cup when you're 10, contrary to popular belief.”
DeMichiel is rather familiar with one guy who has won a Stanley Cup, however. He played a pivotal role in keeping Cale Makar in a UMass uniform before the superstar defenseman went on to have a thriving NHL career. Makar played multiple positions and multiple sports while growing up, which meant that when a late growth spurt happened, he was ready to seize his opportunities on the ice.
“Cale can throw a football. He loves to golf, basketball, he's into other sports and he was not just a specialized defenseman when he came out of the womb,” DeMichiel said. “It took him some time to get to where he is. Everybody looks at him right now thinks, oh my God, he's just obviously arguably one of the best defensemen in the world, if not the best.
“But when he committed to UMass, Cale was undersized. He was maybe 5-foot-8-ish. So most people just looked at him when he was 15,16 years old and be like ‘whatever, good player, but he's tiny.’ Cale continued to work on his craft and I think growing up playing different sports and playing different positions helped him. He was fortunate enough to hit a growth spurt during his draft year when he was turning 18 years old, got up to around 5-foot-11, 6-feet, out of nowhere, and he goes from being a good college player to have the potential to be a really good pro.
“You have no idea how things are going to happen and how things are going to change. He was not the chosen one when he was 10, 12 years old, but he continued to work on his craft and play different sports. And then when he finally decided to specialize in hockey in his late teens, that's when his game also grew and evolved and he didn’t stunt his development by any means.”