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14U: Why You Might Be a Late Bloomer

01/08/2014, 10:15am MST

So you didn’t make the A Bantam team or you missed the cut for the high school varsity squad. Maybe you have to play another year of Midget Major hockey because no junior team will give you a shot yet.

So what? Late bloomers are common in hockey.

Mike Snee is the executive director of College Hockey, Inc. When prospective college hockey players attend their seminars, most parents have the same question for the NCAA coaches in attendance.

Where should my kid play before going to college?

There are a lot of options out there, but there is always one answer.

“Play where you’re going to be on the ice,” Snee said. “What those coaches are stressing is more ice time in key situations is better for development rather than seeing minimal ice time or sitting in the press box.”

This doesn’t only apply for high-end recruits. It’s sound advice for every hockey player, at every age, at every skill level. It’s not about playing for the best possible team. It’s about ice time, puck touches and development.

On the Bubble?

For most teams during tryouts, there are “bubble” players, who might almost be good enough for the top-tier team but are perhaps better suited with the lower-tier team. This player often has a better year developmentally with the lower-tier team because they see more ice time and become a more impactful player at that level.

Is it better to be on the power play for the B team or the fourth line for the A team? If you have the puck on your stick more, you have a better chance to become a better player.

Growth Spurts

Most athletes are still developing physically well into their 20s. Players at 14U/16U have not yet reached their peak potential. They might have just scratched the surface. That can all be deceiving when it comes to the hockey world, as young players are often drafted into the NHL at the age of 18. Most basketball and football players aren’t drafted until their early 20s, giving them a few extra years of prime physical development.

Growth spurts happen when they happen. It should also be taken into account when these growth spurts are occurring. A young, rapidly growing athlete may experience dips in coordination during these periods. That’s completely normal. It will just take time to adjust.

Don’t Hit the Panic Button

Players, parents and coaches often rush to judgment. Development comes at a different pace for every growing athlete.

“This is the constant battle in youth athletics today – early measurement of where a player is at relative to their peers,” Snee said. “They’re drawing too many conclusions too quickly.”

Oftentimes coaches will see one 12-year-old make the C-team and another make the A-team, only to watch those roles reverse just a few years later.

Late Bloomers are Everywhere – Even in the Pros

Ryan McDonagh didn’t make the A team his first year as a Squirt. All of his friends did, but he didn’t. He was devastated. Now, the New York Rangers defenseman and Minnesota native is an Olympian.

Danny DeKeyser played Midget Major through 18U. He then had to play Tier 2 junior hockey before the United States Hockey League gave him a shot. He went undrafted but earned a spot at Western Michigan University, where he flourished. As he grew physically and developed as a player, NHL teams came pounding on his door looking to sign him as a free agent.

Ultimately he chose to sign with the Detroit Red Wings, where he currently sees big minutes as a top-four defenseman and is widely considered a rising talent in pro hockey.

“He’s now playing an important role with the Red Wings on the blue line and four or five years ago there wasn’t one team in the NHL that was willing to make him their seventh-round draft pick,” Snee said.

This is becoming common, thanks to college hockey. As of today, 30 percent of NHLers played college hockey. Of those 30 percent, 20 percent of them were not drafted.

“So when they were 18 years old, all 30 NHL teams passed over them seven times each,” Snee said. “And those teams chose many players who never played in the NHL.”

It’s Not a Sprint

Players, parents and coaches should not rush development. It won’t work. Learn and grow at your own pace. More success equals more confidence, which equals more fun.

Understandably, it can be difficult for kids – and parents – to accept the slower development path. But don’t prematurely jump up to the next level if you aren’t ready.

“Those are good goals to have and admirable qualities, but it’s a long road,” Snee said. “It’s not a sprint. Put yourself in a situation where you can ensure you’re giving yourself the best opportunity to reach your full potential.”

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