You won’t find the answers you’re looking for in a Facebook group or a message board. One person tells you such-and-such camp is good, another tells you it’s not. One person says you should attend this combine, another says that showcase is better. You will find folks in both camps for every single camp, combine, or showcase. The thing is every player is different.
I get it. It seems like it makes sense to ask other people what they think, but here’s the harsh reality: The vast majority of hockey parents, even junior hockey parents, just don’t know. I include myself in that, by the way, because what works for my son might not work for yours. I also can’t tell you what a coach or scout might be thinking, even if I know him really well because he might have decided to change his strategy this year or he might be with a different team this year with different goals or a different definition of success. Besides that, on the internet, I can be anything I want to be, so for all you know, I’m one of those crazy hockey parents who stops a game to berate the scorekeepers because the shots on goal up on the scoreboards isn’t correct. I’m not, but I saw a guy do that at a junior hockey game once. You wouldn’t have ever guessed it from talking to him, either. Seemed like a reasonable fellow until he let it slip that he called the coaches every night to talk about his kid’s stats. It doesn’t hurt to ask for opinions, but try to remember they’re just opinions, and opinions are not facts.
Fact: Tier I and II teams generally have more players than they need between returning players, tenders, and draft picks. Also fact: Veteran players are not going to combines and showcases, so you aren’t competing against kids “at that level.” You’re competing against kids trying to make that level just like you are, so pretty likely you’re competing with kids you’ve already played with or against. You won’t be competing with veteran players unless you make it that far into the process. At a USHL camp, for example, the first phase of camp is only invited players. Vets, tenders, and draft picks don’t show up until a couple days later. Also fact: It’s very nearly impossible to make a team without going to a main camp.
Don’t get hung up on the “money grab” aspect. Hockey is a business. Yes, these camps generate revenue for these teams. However, there are also expenses to consider. Ice time isn’t free. Referees don’t work junior games out of the goodness of their hearts. Athletic trainers cost money, as do jerseys and socks. Advertising and staff cost money. These teams aren’t lining their pockets with fat stacks of cash. There is nothing nefarious about making money from holding a camp. They are providing an opportunity for coaches and scouts to watch a large number of players under one roof and for players to be seen by said coaches and scouts.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask questions. Call the scout who invited you to camp. Think like a consumer. Yes, that means ask other people for their opinions, too, but remember to think just as critically when you’re evaluating those “reviews” from other parents.
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