For most hockey parents, going through the post-secondary recruitment process with their children once is plenty. Twice is more than enough. But Fred and Patty Samoskevich can count themselves among a group of recruitment veterans who’ve gone through the process three times, though it was only recently their eyes were opened to a whole new world.
Over the past several years, they have watched their oldest daughter, Melissa, and 16-year-old twins, daughter Maddy and son Mackie, complete the college-hockey commitment trifecta. Back in 2014, when Melissa chose Quinnipiac University mere months into her tenure at Shattuck St. Mary’s – all three of the Samoskevich children are Shattuck’s alums – it was a relatively straight-forward process.
It was much the same for Maddy, who arrived at Shattuck’s for the 2016-17 season and not long after signed her letter of intent with Quinnipiac, following in her sister’s footsteps. But for Mackie, who skated with the U.S. under-18 team at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, the journey not only took far longer, but it was also “scarier,” Patty said. “It’s very complicated,” she added. “You can make a wrong decision one year, and it could set you back two or three years depending on where you’re going. When you’re coming into a freshman or sophomore year, where you’re playing as a U16, you could progress where you’re going, or you could make a bad decision and it doesn’t work out, and that puts you behind.”
It’s those complexities and the pursuit of the NHL dream that result in one of the most noticeable differences in the development process for elite teenaged boys and girls, particularly when it comes to deciding where to spend their formative years.
While Maddy visited schools she thought could be the right fit before making her decision – Quinnipiac “felt like home,” she said, which makes sense given its proximity to Sandy Hook, Conn., the Samoskevichs’ hometown – Mackie’s quest to map out his on-ice future was instead aided by a family advisor. Beginning in his freshman year of high school, the Samoskevichs enlisted the help of Pat Brisson, the NHL agent who represents other Shattuck’s grads like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, and at times Mackie leaned on Brisson for his expertise during the search for the right college program.
“Having an advisor for him to turn to, to talk through the process, the pros and cons…that was a big help,” Patty said.
But because of the weight of the decision and that a career in the big leagues could be at stake, commitment can be a painstaking process. Mackie didn’t officially sign his letter of intent with University of Michigan until days before the Hlinka tournament, 20 months after Maddy had made her choice. Patty suggested the breadth of talent in the men’s game and the limited spots mean recruiters want to take a longer look at each player and, at times, remain patient with their development. “And sometimes, if you recruit too early, things can change in a year,” Patty said. “Boys, they are more careful and don’t make the commitment as fast as the girls do.”
I need to focus on my career and what I want to do after hockey, because i don’t have a choice to make hockey my living, you know?
– Maddy Samoskevich
Maddy echoed that sentiment and quipped that she thinks it bothered Mackie that she was able to settle into her commitment nearly two years earlier. And she might be on to something there. According to Mackie, there were times he wished there were fewer distractions, that the process was simpler. “I feel like my two first years at Shattuck were a little like, ‘Oh, I have to do this, I have to do this, make sure colleges see me, make sure I’m playing good,’ ” he said. “It would have been easier to just play hockey than think about, ‘Oh, so-and-so is here,’ and stuff like that.”
Despite the difference in the search for an on-ice fit – and Maddy and Mackie made it clear the ability to grow their game was a significant element – one aspect remained the same for the Samoskevich twins: the importance of academics.
Mackie, for instance, was selected 36th overall by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the 2019 QMJHL draft, but he’s spending this season with the USHL’s Chicago Steel. That’s not only because he believed it to be the best fit for him right now, but also because he wanted the opportunity to get a college education, and playing major junior would have made him ineligible for the NCAA.
Maddy, meanwhile, said academics “were a huge factor” in her decision, albeit for a different reason. “I know (Mackie’s) goal in the future is to make it to the NHL, so he’s mostly focused on that, but of course he has a Plan B of finding something else career-wise,” she said. “But definitely I feel like I need to focus more on my career and what I want to do after hockey for a living, because I don’t have a choice to make hockey my living, you know?”
And that is indeed the unfortunate economic reality of the women’s game despite the growth of the NWHL and the emergence of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association. Maddy admitted, too, that it bothers her at times that Mackie “has basically a whole load off his shoulders” and can focus on making the most of his on-ice career, adding that she can still play in a professional women’s circuit down the line and get paid to play, “but it’s nothing close to how much (Mackie) would make in the NHL and how he can make a living off of that.”
Even if the NHL is a possibility for Mackie, though, and even if the opportunity exists for Maddy, who has national-team aspirations, to earn a wage as part of Team USA, Patty said that education has to be a top priority regardless of gender. “It’s how you’re raised,” she said. “It would be great if you make the NHL, but you definitely have to have a fallback on education.”