How To Play College Hockey

May 10, 2022

Are you trying to figure out how to play college hockey?

If so, you're not alone.

In this post, we’ll cover everything for you from going over the various levels of college hockey to the most realistic path one needs to take in order to play at the collegiate level.

Based on years of helping players from North America and Europe do just that, we know a thing or two about the process.

Let’s get started…

We’ll cover:

How hard is it to play college hockey?

play college hockey

The answer to this question completely depends on which level of college hockey you’re interested in playing at.

Is your aim to play Division 1 NCAA hockey, in the ACHA, or somewhere in between?

If you want to play NCAA Division 1 hockey, it’s quite hard and competitive to play at this level.

It’s the creme of the crop…

NCAA Div 1 programs are generally recruiting hockey players from top-tier junior hockey or elite prep hockey programs. Junior leagues such as the USHL and NAHL have some of the best placement rates into D1 hockey programs.

Even at the NCAA Division 3 level of hockey, the majority of rosters are full of players who have been playing playing junior hockey for a couple seasons years prior to them playing at the NCAA level.

How good do you have to be to play D3 college hockey?

It’s not as hard to play NCAA Division 3 as it is to play NCAA Division 1 hockey, but it’s certainly no cake walk to make a roster either.

ncaa division 3 hockey

Most team rosters are filled with strong players who’ve been hand recruited to attend their school to play sports (there’s occasionally one walk-on spot per team). You’ll find players from the US, Canada, and even Europe.

In recent years, more NCAA Div 3 players have gone on to have solid pro careers in the minor leagues, both in North America and Europe.

Past the NCAA level, you can also play college hockey at the ACHA level.

Playing ACHA College Hockey

how to play acha college hockey
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ACHA stands for the the American College Hockey Association.

Although ACHA hockey is not as well known as the NCAA, a number of top clubs at this level are quite comparable to the lower tier of NCAA clubs and a select number of players have gone on from the ACHA level to pro hockey.

Since the ACHA is quite large and has multiple divisions, there’s a large spectrum of skill and ability as you move from ACHA down to ACHA III.

A number of top-tier ACHA programs (Minot State, Liberty, and others) recruit players similarly to NCAA Div 3 programs.

For the majority of ACHA clubs though, there’s a bit more opportunity for you to make a roster if you have what it takes to play well at the ACHA level.

Your average ACHA roster will have a mix of players with junior, prep/high school level experience.

Whether we're talking NCAA or ACHA, it's important that you're realistic in your expectations of where you can play.

That brings us to the next important topic…

How to get recruited for college hockey

getting recruited for college hockey

Short answer: you get recruited by playing well for years at every level leading up to the college level (from travel to prep/juniors, and so on).

That’s obvious…

The reality though is that there are a number of routes you can take as a player to play college hockey.

We’ll cover a few of them below for you…some can be used in combination.

Walk on/Tryouts

As you move down from NCAA Div 1 to the lower ACHA levels, it becomes more common to have tryout/walk-on opportunities available to you.

That’s a good thing.

Many ACHA clubs hold open tryouts, but depending on the level, the team may only have a handful of positions up for grabs.

It’s even common for some NCAA clubs to hold some form of open tryouts, but these generally take place just before official NCAA activity begins for the full team. If a player stands out in these tryouts and the team has a spot or 2 open, they may be invited to join the team on ice to see how they fare in practice.

Planning Ahead

If you’re interested in playing hockey in college, it’s best to start taking action before enrolling. It’s fine if you’re taking classes elsewhere at the moment, but proactively planning is key.


Because if not, your fate on playing college hockey is 100% dependent on the one school you’re currently at. If they don’t have a roster spot open, you’re out of luck.

If you plan ahead though, you can get a much better feel for where it may (or may not) align for you to play if you attend school there.

This process includes outreach to a wide set of college clubs across the country to gauge interest. We’ve helped dozens of players through this process depending on their goals (both on the ice and in the classroom).

Hustle/Hard Work

One of our clients from years back was an NCAA walk-on…

How’d he make the team?

After we helped put him in direct contact with the coach, he sent the coaching staff video showing off his summer training on ice. This earned him a tryout…his ability on ice took it from there. He went on to play pro in Europe through us after NCAA for a number of years. Talk about hustle.

Whether your personal aim is to play NCAA hockey or ACHA, hustling (in the positive sense) to get coaches to notice you is always recommended.

This spans from communicating professionally via all mediums (email, phone, in-person) to showing dedication to your craft on/off the ice…

If you’re a late bloomer, have dealt with injury, or maybe don’t have the best stats on paper compared to your peers, it’s even more important that you do this to stand out to prospective college teams.

NCAA Hockey Recruiting

ncaa hockey recruiting

Hockey recruiting at the NCAA level is an integral part of each programs agenda.

If a team doesn’t recruit quality players to their program each season (and other NCAA teams are), they won’t be able to compete for long with them.

On any NCAA coaching staff, one of their main roles is recruitment.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, but many assistant coaches will spend more time traveling to identify prospective players…and to convince them why they should attend their school to play for them.

NCAA Division 1 programs recruit from the top-tier junior leagues and prep programs across N America.

NCAA Division 3 programs also recruit from many of these same leagues, but they also recruit players from mid-tier junior levels as well.

ACHA programs may also recruit top junior players (similar to how NCAA clubs handle recruiting), but you’ll also find players with a bit less experience throughout all the lower ACHA divisions.

How to play College hockey when you have less experience?

We already touched on a number of ways for you to stand out in the recruiting process earlier in this post (from tryouts to planning), but we’ll emphasize on this again here.

It's important...

If you have less hockey experience (on paper), you need to give college coaches a valid reason on why they should take you seriously as a prospect.

Depending on where you’ve previously played and where you’re looking to play college, your strategy will vary a bit.

The walk-on/tryout route may work well at the ACHA level….but it may not work as well at the NCAA Division 1 level.

It’s up for you to decide which route is best for you to take based on your situation. If you have any questions at all on the process or you need help making it at a higher level, feel free to send us a message.

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