Striving to earn a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) scholarship, senior Michael Maple traveled to Detroit Nov. 21-23 with the Junior Kings Hockey Club in a Tier One Elite Hockey League tournament.
Although Maple has been playing the highest level of club ice hockey, AAA, for the Junior Kings since the age of 14, his mother initiated his passion for the sport with her enthusiasm for the National Hockey League. As an avid fan, Maple’s mother enrolled her son in ice skating classes in the hopes that hockey would become a pastime they could bond over.
Maple would eventually join a roller hockey team, yet he sought a sense of competition only ice hockey could provide. In ice hockey, he found that the thrill of the game fed his enthusiasm for the sport the most, Maple said.
“People who are more serious about hockey will play ice hockey,” Maple said. “The game itself is fun [and] exhilarating. It’s really fast-paced, and when you score or when your team does, you can’t really beat that feeling.”
In each season, Maple grew more accustomed to the aggressive play of ice hockey and gained confidence in his skill. Maple would rise in the ranks of club hockey, eventually making his way to the highest level. With each rank Maple reached, his skill level rose, and the prospect of playing in the NCAA became a realistic goal, Maple said.
“My first year when I was 10, I played in an in-house league which wasn’t very good,” Maple said. “But right away when I was 11 or 12, I played AA. When I was 14 I played my first year of AAA; that’s when I got really serious, and it’s been that way until now. My parents influenced me to play, but ever since I started [liking] it I motivated myself because I want to play in college.”
The Junior Kings AAA team provided the perfect opportunity for Maple to play at the level necessary to be scouted by college recruiters. To work towards a scholarship, Maple spends a majority of his time after school at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo for practice and training in order to sharpen his skills and catch the attention of NCAA scouts at out-of-state tournaments.
“We play in a [Tier One] League with teams across the country,” Maple said. “They have the most scouts and the best competition, so it’s the best place to get seen.”
Because of his time commitment to hockey, Maple originally struggled to balance academics and sports. He then decided to complete his junior year online, enabling him to both improve his grades and devote more time to training, Maple said.
“My grades weren’t that good freshman and sophomore year, and I missed two to three days a month easily [traveling for games],” Maple said. “Online school junior year really helped my grades because [deadlines were flexible]. I’d have three workouts a week at 12 o’clock in Yorba Linda, so I’d have to take time off of school to train if I went to Troy [junior year].”
As Maple continues his pursuit of an NCAA scholarship, he is motivated to achieve greater in athletics and academics with a work ethic developed by his experience as a hockey player, Maple said.
“Luckily this year I only have [periods] zero through four because I worked it out with my counselor, so I get out at 12:20 p.m., and I can go to the gym right after school before I go to practices at night,” Maple said. “[I’ve learned to] do homework whenever you can, like if you are on a flight or if you are even in the car if someone else is driving. Just whenever you can and make the best of your time. [I know that you] earn what you get, nothing can be taken for granted and you have to work hard to be the best. Nothing should be handed to you.”