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.