CUW The Beacon

The Voice of Concordia Students Since 1984

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For most NCAA athletes, the recruiting and signing process is very similar to one another. You start by playing throughout your early years and into high school; mostly for the love of the game, with no real big-picture goals in mind at the time. As high school upperclassmen, many athletes are faced with the decision of whether or not they would like to continue their athletic career in college. The athlete is then recruited and eventually signs their letter of intent to attend an NCAA institution to continue playing the sport they love. But, for many NCAA hockey players around the world, this process looks significantly different.

In hockey, most NCAA players play Junior League hockey out of high school. What this means is that these players go all over the United States and Canada to play two (sometimes more or less) years of hockey without attending school. Where these players end up varies greatly. Most players choose to play somewhere far from home and stay with a host family.

Athletically, this is a home-run for these hockey players. They get to go play for two years and develop their skills so that they are significantly better by the time they go play for these NCAA institutions. It also allows them more time to get recruited by schools.

You may be wondering: “But what do they do for school?” These players defer school while in Junior League, which has caused some to speculate on the effectiveness of the decision.

In order to shed some light on the trials and tribulations of Junior League Hockey and see what it’s really like, I interviewed two current CUW hockey players to see about their experiences. The players in question here are a set of sophomores: goalie Gabe Rosek and forward Jason Tenezaca. Gabe is originally from East Lansing, Michigan and played his Junior Hockey for the Soo Eagles of the NOJHL. Jason is originally from Niles, Illinois and played for the Oregon Tradesman of the NA3HL.

Both Gabe and Jason started their freshman season at Concordia last year (2022) at 21 years old. Despite delaying their start to their college careers, both players speak highly of taking the Junior Hockey route.

When asked about the factors that went into his decision, Gabe said: “For whatever reason, if you want to play college hockey at the division three or division one level, you have to play juniors first, that’s the way the game is.” Although struggling a bit at first, Gabe was able to make a smooth transition back into attending school: “It was definitely tough at first, having graduated high school in 2019. I lost my academic edge. But, I got into that groove pretty quickly after that.”

Jason had a lot of the same to say regarding academics, and even found some humor in being one of the oldest guys in the dorms: “I lived in the dorms my first year and was even older than my resident advisor. That was funny to me because someone who oversees you is younger than you.”. This may be something that could be improved about the Junior hockey experience. Including an opportunity to earn some college credit while still playing Juniors could have a huge impact on the transition to college. Even if it’s just one class a semester.

As for the experience, both had nothing but good things to say. “Even with all the ups and downs, junior hockey has taught me a lot. It has given me experiences only a select few understand, and I am a more well-rounded person because of it” says Gabe.

“Junior Hockey was one of the best experiences of my life,” Jason says. “I met many people from around the world that I never thought I would. I also got to meet two incredible people who took care of me as if I were their child”. All in all, despite what some say about the academic drawbacks of Junior League hockey, for Gabe, Jason, and countless other athletes, it is an experience like no other.

—William Sommers is writer for The Beacon, the official student newspaper of Concordia University Wisconsin.