There are many paths to college hockey. One of them is Prep Hockey which provides a unique preparation for college life. It is also an excellent option for European players who decide at a relatively young age to pursue their dream of becoming a professional hockey player by combining athletics with academics.
Prep schools are private secondary schools, typically 9th through 12th Grade. Many of them are boarding schools with dorms on campus as well as their own ice rink. The Northeast is well known for prep schools and more than 60 schools compete in the New England Prep School Hockey Association. The Midwest also has quite a few prep schools with the most well known one being Shattuck-Saint Mary’s (MN). Currently, more than 100 NCAA D1 players come directly from prep schools and many more through the typical path, playing one season of Junior hockey after graduating from High School (prep school).
For European players prep hockey offers the advantage that, after completing their compulsory schooling at home, they can enter the prep school at the according level. For instance a Swiss player completing primary and secondary school (9 years) can enter 10th Grade provided he/she fulfills the schools academic requirements including English proficiency level. The boarding school offers the kids a safe environment and the parents back home peace of mind.
The prep schools emphasis is on education. They offer a complete support system with Academic advisors and tutors to keep their students on track to successfully complete High School to get accepted into colleges.
Prep teams play a typical league schedule of around 26 games, usually two games a week which gives them a nice balance with games and practice time. The prep season starts in November but the Midwest Prep Hockey League starts in fall, offering their players the chance to get on the ice sooner (there are also fall leagues in CT and NH). These teams play up to 50 games a season. Some players also play on local Midget teams once their prep school finishes its season to give them additional playing times.
Having their own ice rinks on campus, players have the opportunity to be on the ice whenever their schedule allows them and work individually on their skills. So the total on ice time for a prep school player may be higher in spite of playing less games than a Junior level player.
Boarding schools can be expensive. But as with colleges, financial aid is available with most schools offering merit scholarships and need based assistance.
As mentioned previously, there are many paths to college hockey, and no one right way. Prep hockey is one of them and certainly an attractive option for European players wanting to make it to Division 1 college hockey.