In Switzerland only three of the four available paths to the NHL, for Swiss Junior Ice Hockey players, are commonly known: the Swiss National League, Sweden’s SuperElit and the Canadian Hockey League Major Juniors (CHL). Up to now most of the talented Swiss Junior players chose the CHL path (Sbisa, Niederreiter, Bärtschi, Meier, Andrighetto, Hischier etc.). Only a few tried the alternative USHL/NCAA path (Luca Cunti, Brady & Jordy Murray).
The debate which route to the NHL is best for young hockey players, continues in North America with prominent proponents on both sides. Both paths lead to the NHL with the CHL with its three leagues (OHL, QJHL, WHL) still being the number one developmental league for the NHL. Although if you look at recent drafts you will note that the USHL which is, also known as the feeder league to the NCAA, was on the top or among the first three in players chosen from its league. This year (2018) it lead all Junior Leagues worldwide with 45 players who played in the league (’17/’18) and 57 players with USHL ties!
It is also important to note that for Swiss players, up to now, the Swiss National League has produced the most Swiss NHL players (Aebischer, Gerber, Streit, Hiller, Josi, Diaz, Brunner,Berra, Malgin)! Another route for Swiss players is the Swedish League where Fiala played who was drafted No. 11 in 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Fact is that the number of NCAA players in the NHL is steadily increasing. Last season, 2017/18, over 32 % of NHL players were former NCAA players compared with 21 % in 2003, more than from all the European Leagues combined. Not only Americans (Backes, Suter, Quick, Parise, Kessler, Goudreau, Eichel) or Canadians (Keith, Kunitz, Toews, Sharp, St.Louis, Kariya) came out of the NCAA but increasingly also Europeans (Vanek, Stahlberg, Haglin, Murray, Haula). College Hockey has become the fastest growing development path for the NHL.
Why choose more and more talented young players the NCAA? The main reason is the opportunity to earn a College Degree while preparing for a professional hockey career, at the the highest Junior level, in an ideal environment to develop their game. Besides a first class education, College hockey also offers individualized player development. The CHL, with its professional style schedule, plays up to 70+ games with play-offs in a season, preparing the players for the vigorous NHL schedule. The NCAA with its approximately 40+ games schedule, places more emphasis on the individual player development. The teams are coached by experienced, knowledgable coaches like former NHL Coach Andy Murray, Western Michigan, who also coached in Switzerland for many years (Kloten, ZSC, EVZ, Lugano, Swiss National Team). Not only are most of them great coaches with long-term careers but they also build more than just a player. The overall mission for most college coaches is to develop the players beyond on-ice skills.
The NCAA schedule with two games over the weekend, normally Friday and Saturday, allows for ample on-ice practice time, the ideal balance between games and practice to build skills and prepare for a career in professional hockey.
In a nutshell, young Swiss hockey players parents should put emphasis at a young age on academics to have the option of playing in the NCAA available to their kids when it comes to making important career decisions once they are 17/18 years old!