Comparing Tier II Junior A Leagues – SJHL & MJHL vs BCHL/AJHL

This week’s article – “Comparing Junior Leagues” – comes from a great question sent in to ASK JASON by one of our reader’s. I’ve kept the sender confidential and done my best to make the question as applicable to as many different situations, leagues and people as possible. While we may be focusing on Western Canadian Junior Tier II leagues in this discussion, it is important for people to understand that the where isn’t as important as focusing on the right decision making processes for a player and family in their hockey journey.


Subject: Comparing Junior Leagues

Hi Jason,

My son is a third year midget player(1993 Birth Year) in the SMAAAHL(Saskatchewan). He was drafted in the Top 4 Rounds of the WHL bantam Draft. After an injury and multiple surgeries he was dropped by the team. He was devastated but soldiers on. He attended another WHL camp last fall and there is a good chance he will be invited back this spring. He is also listed with our local SJHL team and has been invited to two MJHL camps. His coach has recently suggested to him that he could get him a tryout with a BCHL team where he has contacts. If his dream of playing in the dub doesn’t play out, how do the other leagues stack up? I’ve been told the Manitoba league has been historically weaker but I think the Dauphin Kings have proved that to be untrue. He is interested in the NCAA route and he is still eligible.

As a parent, I just want to be equipped to steer him in the right direction. He wants to go to school at some point. It may be after junior. Any advice you have to offer would be great!

___________________________

Well I think this type of scenario is one that most of my readers may be familiar with. Essentially we are looking at a situation where a player is a bit of a late bloomer developmental wise, whether it is because of injury, lack of opportunity, politics, finances or any other potential stumbling block.

When you are at this crossroad, no matter where you live, you need to assess your options as realistically as possible.

Major Junior Options  

As a 1993 Birth Year, your son has 3 years of Junior Eligibility left. At this point, because he is behind in his development, unless he can realistically step into a top 3 line roster spot in Major Junior, you ought to be planning for a Tier II Junior A option as your Plan 1–A.

Now, by all means, look at ALL of your WHL/CHL options. As an unlisted free agent, you DO have options. Plan to attend a camp where there is the best chance to crack the line-up. This is where you need to do your homework, check rosters, see who is carrying more or less 1993’s. Make an informed decision; do NOT just go to camp for Ego’s sake. IF, having done your due diligence, and camp goes extremely well, THEN you need to make a tough decision. The fact remains, unless he is going to get reasonable ice-time, he will definitely develop better at the Tier II level for 1 year and be in a better position to jump back to Major Junior for his remaining two years in a larger role. Basically, if the WHL/CHL option is legit, take it. If NOT, it will be there NEXT year and at that point you will know if it makes more sense to stay or go. Also, with SOLID Junior Stats under your belt, you have a stronger bargaining position with the WHL/CHL and you ought to be able to secure 3 or even 4 full years of CIS scholarship in exchange for your 2 remaining seasons of eligibility. Leverage is a GOOD THING!!!

The Tier II Junior A & NCAA Option

Being a 1993 with 3 years of Junior left is not a horrible situation to be in. If you remember from one of my first articles (So you Don’t have an NCAA Div 1 Scholarship yet…), 63% of ALL BCHL scholarships are awarded to players when they are in their final two years of junior eligibility (20-21 years of age). You have one year to develop your junior skills and earn your ice-time and then up to two more seasons to promote yourself and earn a scholarship! Lots of time! 

Comparing Leagues

Now, to establish that I’m not just talking out of my “you-know-what”, I have been to showcase events in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, while scouting many games annually in BC. So having seen basically every team play in every one of those 4 leagues, and having represented players from each league and province as an Agent, I think I can at least provide a reasoned opinion.

So therefore, I’m not going out on a limb to say that the AJHL/BCHL leagues are better then their Praire Brothers. For this article, I won’t go in depth into the AJHL & BCHL as they are reasonably accepted as being two of the Elite Tier II circuits in Canada by most scouts and NCAA Coaches. It’s simple math, there are more players & population to choose from. I’m not going to debate this point here but I will submit that both Leagues average between 80-100 Scholarships PER Season while the SJHL (44) & MJHL (13) aren’t even close. More importantly, significantly more players in these two elite leagues are signing with Elite NCAA teams then in these two comparable leagues. [See Ranking the NCAA for a reference point if you aren’t familiar with the NCAA]

If you have a Legitimate BCHL/AJHL opportunity, all things being equal, then I would recommend taking a shot at going further West, especially considering you are a FREE Agent right now! As a free agent, you can move there without any problems, but once you sign your rights away, then you are at the mercy of the team you sign with. Now, I’ll examine each of the SJHL and MJHL in turn and I’ll rate which league is a better choice based upon the one criteria that matters most, opportunity to get an NCAA scholarship. I do think that there has to be more to which league is better then the simple population argument.

Manitoba Junior Hockey League

 Well, my first out of province client as an Agent back in 2003 was from Manitoba – Dustin Fisher – and so was one of my recent clients Josh Froese (2010) – so I think I have a reasonable understanding of the league and how it has evolved. Now, while neither of those two were NHL stars, they were both top 20 MJHL scorers who went on to either the NCAA or minor pro tryouts & games. What’s the bottom line, Will you create opportunities for yourself in the MJHL?

Looking at the MJHL Scholarship info for the 2008-09 & 2009-10 Seasons, we see that 13 Players (4 earned NCAA D1) gained university or college opportunities in 2008-09 & 14 Players (5 NCAA D1) were also lucky in 2009-10. Breaking that down further, we see only 4.5 Players PER SEASON are earning NCAA Div 1 Scholarships. The remaining 9 scholarships a year are divided up between NCAA D3, CIS and lower level Canadian colleges. To be honest, this does NOT look very promising. There are 11 MJHL clubs and they are sending on average ONLY 1.22 Players on to college of ANY level. And in truth, only HALF the teams actually move players along in any one year. NOT great odds…. Bottom line, if you are an elite player, you will get your scholarship. And you will have to be a TOP 10-15 Player in Manitoba to even realistically get a college look.

Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

To be honest, I actually thought that the SJHL would be even ‘worse’ then the MJHL in terms of moving players along. My gut feeling was that the WHL would have raided too many top players from Saskatoon and Regina and negated the eligibility of too many others to allow for many scholarship opportunities. I’m very happy to say that I was VERY WRONG!!! That deserves RED ink because I was clearly prairie biased or something!!!

SJHL Scholarship info in 2008-09 & 2009-10:

In 2008-09 the SJ had 33 USA college (18 NCAA D1) & 16 Canadian College Commitments!

In 2009-10 the SJ had 29 USA college (14 NCAA D1) & 16 Canadian College Commitments!

That’s an Average of 31 US (16 NCAA D1) & 16 Canadian commitments per season! Not too Shabby!!!!!

So, it appears that IF you have a legitimate SJHL opportunity in 2010-11, it looks to be a better choice then the MJHL. What you want to do is ensure that the club you do sign with is the best choice for you AND that they are one of the teams that has a successful track record of moving players on to the college ranks. If your choices are still limited and do NOT look as rosy as they could, THEN you should consider AJHL or BCHL opportunities. Do remember that there is something to be said for playing your Grade 12 year closer to home…

I hope this gives you some food for thought?! If any readers have any further comments, or helpful information, please drop me an email!!! I’ll be happy to update this article!!!