When in the midst of a pandemic, organizations are being forced to think outside of the box and pivot to new strategies. That's exactly what the Caps Youth Hockey Development department did when figuring out how to still make their annual College Combine & Fair happen for local student athletes.
The event was originally scheduled to take place on Sunday March 29, 2020 and would have been an opportunity for high school student-athletes to speak with college coaches and learn about the different avenues in college hockey.
With many student-athletes unable to finish their hockey seasons and with impending cancellations of summer camps and combines, students are left with less opportunities to get recruited.
Enter the new Capitals Virtual College Fair, driven by AAA in partnership with the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). It was a three-part event strictly online connecting high school student-athletes with ACHA programs to help facilitate relationships and allowing student-athletes find the best program fit for them should they want to continue their hockey career.
Typically, schools are faced with challenges to attend these in-person combines and fairs which include having no budget to send representatives to speak with the students, so this virtual event presented the opportunity for schools and students from all around the country to participate.
The in-person event is usually capped at around 140 kids in the DMV area, with typically 15-25 schools and only five or six female programs participating. This year, however, saw an increase in those numbers across the board with its shift to digital: 202 kids registered from 21 different states and 44 schools were involved including 22 female programs.
Each athlete got face time with any program they wanted where they were able to ask questions to coaches and student representatives.
Additionally, parents were able to engage in a webinar to learn more and ask questions to a panel that included:
Jessie Thompson - Manager, Capitals Youth Hockey Development
Steve Hyjek - Head Coach, George Mason University & ACHA Board Member
Craig Barnett - Executive Director, ACHA
Pat Money - Associate Director of Admissions, George Mason University
Nate Arthur - Manager of Financial Aid, NVCC
Haley Skarupa - BC '16 Alum, Team USA Gold Medalist, Capitals Hockey Ambassador
With all of the success of the first of its kind Virtual College Fair, the Caps Youth Hockey Development department plans on bringing it back in the years to come. The in-person event will still continue as well, but the hope is that other youth hockey departments will want to partner with the Caps in the future to broaden the reach of the virtual event, benefitting more students throughout the country.
Here's what representatives and attendees had to say about the event:
Matt Herr - Senior Director of Youth Hockey & Industry Growth, National Hockey League (NHL)
"The Washington Capitals have again shown that they are leaders in the community by connecting aspiring hockey players and colleges from all over the United States through their Virtual College Fair. This platform was incredibly valuable to student athletes as they begin their search for the right college. The Caps proved nimble by moving what was formerly a live event to a virtual platform and managed to meet people where they are in this current environment.
"The webinar format was absolutely perfect! We heard all the information we were expecting (and more!) without having to spend more than an hour in the car. The best part was the ability to submit questions live, as they arose while the presenters were speaking. And more importantly, it was nice to have most of the questions addressed!"
Matt Lojewski - Student-Athlete & Captain, The College of New Jersey
"I thought it was a great opportunity for kids in high school to get a feel for what the college hockey programs are all about. I wish there was something like this when I was younger. It was good for those kids to get information about not just hockey, but the schools as well. It gave kids a different experience that they might not have gotten from sending emails, texts, or websites."
Craig Barnett - Executive Director, ACHA
"The ACHA is very thankful to have been invited by the Washington Capitals to participate in their 2020 Virtual College Fair. With close to 500 non-NCAA collegiate hockey programs across 48 states and 2 Canadian provinces for Men and Women combined, we are always looking for ways to educate prospective student-athletes and their families on the benefits of the ACHA. For a young man or woman to attend the college of their choice academically and to have the opportunity to continue to play competitive college hockey, is a win-win for everyone. The more information a family has, the better choice they can make for this important decision."
DC-Area High School Student-Athlete
"The zoom call was fun, it was nice to meet the players from Towson, and it was nice to have time to just talk to them without feeling pressured by other people in the area."
Steve Hyjek - Head Coach, George Mason University & Board Member, ACHA
"The 2020 Washington Capitals Virtual College Hockey Fair -- proves that where there is a "will, there is a way" as the Caps show ingenuity and purpose in pulling together an informational forum which benefitted hundreds in these challenging times. Equally, the response from student athletes and ACHA programs from around the country demonstrated the need, and desire for this event to occur, as it has 12 previous time on a "non-virtual" basis. Kudos to the ACHA and the Washington Capitals for giving us all a sense of normalcy and an opportunity to share information with us about the game of hockey which we all love. I'm already looking forward to next year's Caps College Hockey Fair!"