February 15, 2014

Life is about choices.

So too, at times, is hockey.

There are hockey players who excel on the ice and maintain good marks in the classroom who are often in position to make choices.

In Sault Ste. Marie for example, while the Ontario Hockey League is often seen as the preferred route given the way it hypes itself and is hyped by others, the National Collegiate Athletic Association can also be an option.

Over the years, there have been players from the Soo who had the choice of playing in the OHL or crossing the International Bridge to play at the Division 1, NCAA level for the Lake Superior State Lakers.

Two of the more-recent examples are forwards Matt Caria and Anthony Stefano.

Both turned down full-ride scholarships at Lake Superior State to play in the OHL.

Caria, who is now 25-years old, played four seasons in the OHL, going from the St. Michael’s Majors to the Soo Greyhounds to the Plymouth Whalers.

Despite being a highly-skilled centre with good size and breakaway speed, Caria never did realize his dream of being drafted into the National Hockey League.

Still, to his credit, Caria went on to play Ontario University Athletics hockey at Lakehead and graduated with a degree. He is now a first-year pro playing in the low-level, East Coast Hockey League with the Kalamazoo Wings.

I often wonder if Caria had the chance to do it over, if he would have chosen four years of hockey and school at Lake Superior State instead of four years of hockey with three OHL teams and then going to school after.

Then there is Anthony Stefano, a rookie winger with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes.

The 17-year old Stefano opted for the OHL and Peterborough over a full-ride offer from Lake Superior State.

While he is having a fine rookie season in the OHL, Stefano is not considered to be an NHL prospect.

That Stefano chose the OHL and Peterborough over hockey and school at Lake Superior State is a decision that he and his parents made. It’s also a decision that can’t be revisited as once a player signs a card and steps onto an OHL rink, his Division 1, NCAA eligibility is gone.

Hockey-wise, the OHL is seen as the fast-track as opposed to the NCAA.

My question is, the fast track to where? The show?

How many players actually get drafted out of the OHL into the NHL and how many actually make it? The percentage is low. Very low.

Besides, players do get drafted by the NHL before they go to the NCAA. And players do get drafted by the NHL while they are in the NCAA. In other words, the OHL doesn’t hold exclusive draft rights to the NHL.

I am just saying that the bright lights of the OHL have been known to cast long, dark shadows.

Given a choice between playing in the OHL or combining hockey and an education at the same time at a Division 1, NCAA school, I know where I would be headed.

There are many players who have gone to a Division 1 school — even smaller ones such as Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan — got their degree and then went on to play in the NHL or a rung below in the American Hockey League or over in Europe.

Not all hockey players have the choice between playing in the OHL or Division 1, NCAA.

Those who get to make that choice should think long and hard about taking the safer route.

Just my thoughts.

What you think about “OHL or NCAA?”

  1. The Ohl tends to be the most glamorous track. But ncaa allows you more years to develop. You can start your program a year or two later, as well, you get that second chance if you do develop later to sign a pro contact, after you graduate , alla Tyler Bozak , Justin Shultz , Martin St. Louis, just off the top of my head, come to mind.
    Of course you have to stand out to do so just as you need to shine bright in a CHL league, in college you can just take your time doing it and when you finish you have your education , not looking for a place to use your education package.

  2. Why would Caria wish to do it over if he could and decide on Lake State…did he not play college hockey in Canada and end up with a degree anyway? What could have Lake State or any other NCAA program offered him that the OHL did not…he received a scholarship to play Canadian University hockey because he played in the OHL, a league which features many of the best U-20 players in the world…seems to me that both Caria and Stefano made a good choice and do not have any regrets.

    1. stne,

      Read my column carefully.

      I said I often wonder IF Caria would do it over and decide on Lake State if he had the chance. I didn’t say he actually wished that. I also noted that he went to Lakehead and got his degree, so you didn’t need to point that out to me.

      (I do know Caria rather well, by the way. He is in a relationship with a family member of mine.)

      And nowhere did I say that Caria and Stefano have any regrets. Your words, not mine.

      At any rate, you have your opinions and I have mine. Mine are clearly stated, using my full name.



  3. Every case is different and as stated here the OHL is not the only option for certain players … OHL has more glamour but the NCAA is the “safe” choice imho.

  4. The “O” is certainley not the “Road of Glory” for all players that is for certain! Thanx for “telling it like it is” as usual RR! Great site with so much great content btw!

  5. bayinfo:
    If you are using Tyler Bozak and Justin Schultz to support your argument, you may want to rethink.
    Neither graduated.

  6. RR, not sure why you imply that the NCAA is the safer choice when the OHL and the CIS offer scholarship packages that often exceed what the NCAA can offer.

  7. Regarding OHL or NCAA, every kid, every parent, should do their own research, and ensure they talk to the people who know.

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