Chris Nitchen & Brady Mielnicki commit to junior hockey programs

Colorado high school hockey players choose different paths to continue hockey after high school

C.J. Nitchen #20

C.J. Nitchen #20 – St. Louis Jr. Blues NA3HL commit

KUSA — High school hockey players have the option to play competitive hockey after high school. A growing sport in the Rocky Mountain area, high school hockey is gaining traction in Colorado. Is playing for your high school good enough to advance you into higher levels of the sport?

The Colorado high school student’s hockey resume doesn’t strictly need AAA club hockey (the highest form of club hockey prior to college and junior) experience to play at a higher level.

A common option for hockey players after high school is to play junior hockey. Athletes between the ages of 16 and 20 years of age have the option to play Junior hockey develop their skills so they can advance to a higher league. Both Canada and the United States have a complex hierarchy of leagues divided into Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III — Tier I the more advantageous of the three.

There are two premiere junior hockey leagues that are based in the United States: the United States Hockey League (USHL), a Tier I league, and the North American Hockey League (NAHL), a Tier II league. The US also has various leagues in Tier III:

Brady Mieleneiki # 35 - Dallas Jr. Stars NA3HL commit

Brady Mieleneiki # 35 – Dallas Jr. Stars NA3HL commit

All of these leagues are sanctioned by a greater governing body called USA Hockey. However, in the U.S., there is a junior league — the Western States Hockey League — governed by a group called the United Hockey Union instead of USA Hockey. The league is still considered equivalent to USA Hockey leagues in Tier III.

Cherry Creek’s Chris Nitchen and Brady Mielenicki both committed to teams in the North American 3 Hockey League, a tier III league sanctioned by USA Hockey.

Nitchen scored a goal and two assists for the Bruins in the state championship; he recorded eight goals and 16 assists last season. Brady Mielenicki was the net-minder for the Bruins throughout the season and the playoffs and recorded 414 saves in 21 games.

Cherry Creek Bruins Hockey Coach, Jeff Mielenicki, said, “What I like to do with my team is stay active with Junior and college teams in promoting my players.”

The players travel to tournaments in order to be seen by scouts of various Junior and college teams prior to high school graduation. “One of the great things Junior leagues are doing is developing players,” Jeff said. “NCAA coaches want a more mature athlete and they lean on Junior leagues to develop the player before recruitment.”

Coach Mielnicki after state championship win - Photo by Jack Eberhard

Coach Mielnicki after state championship win – Photo by Jack Eberhard

When both Chris and Brady enter college hockey, their Junior league will have made them faster, stronger and more mature players to increase their success and their level of competition in college. “Both have the competitive desire to play NCAA hockey,” Jeff said. “The first step is seeing the road you’re getting onto and second, both players were offered contracts prior to the draft so they can focus on getting faster and stronger.”

Nitchen wants to make it to higher levels of hockey and is using Juniors to commit his lifestyle to hockey in hopes of making it to an NCAA team.

“I chose to go to Juniors mostly because I want to play college hockey at some point. I’ll get more looks from college scouts in Juniors,” said Nitchen. He’s hoping to eventually advance to a higher tier of Junior hockey and from there to join any NCAA Division I program that will offer him a shot.

In all sports, teams and leagues can be stepping stones. They develop skills in high competition with repetition. Junior leagues in hockey are just that, a stone on the path to college or a professional league.

Jake Christofferson

Jake Christofferson, former Monarch Coyote – ACHA Colorado State

College may also be a stone. It is yet another opportunity for athletes straight out of high school to eventually find there way to a professional league.

There are two college options in the U.S.: NCAA Division I and Division III, or the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I, II, or III.

Current professional hockey players like Paul Stastny, former NCAA Division I University of Denver Pioneer and current NHL St. Louis Blues Center, and NHL Colorado Avalanche Defensemen Erik Johnson, former NCAA Division I University of Minnesota Gopher are two examples of how playing for college teams can help a player reach his goal of making it to the NHL.

These professional players used Junior leagues to pursue high level college programs that excel them to professional leagues.

Meilnicki big stop against Monarch - Photo by Jack Eberhard

Meilnicki big stop against Monarch – Photo by Jack Eberhard

The recently hired Mullen high school hockey coach, Devon Brady, traveled between both college leagues from NCAA Division III Hamline University in Minnesota to ACHA Division I University of Arizona.”These collegiate club teams (ACHA) are producing competitive hockey,” Jeff said, “Teams like Arizona State are going NCAA Division I out of ACHA.” Similarly, he referenced Robert Morris (a former ACHA college team) who will now be playing in the same league as the Air Force Academy.

There are a collection of options for hockey players straight out of high school looking to extend their career. Each path is specific to each player, whether it be developing skills in a Junior league or pursuing college career right out of high school.

Chris Nitchen and Brady Mielnicki of the Cherry Creek Bruins have a good shot for extending their hockey careers. “There is no doubt that both players will be playing NCAA hockey,” said Bruins Head Coach Jeff Mielnicki. “They may need a little seasoning in Juniors, but they will get there.”

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