Jason Deskins, Co-General Manager and Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League (USHL), joins Kirk Luedeke on the latest episode of New England Hockey Journal’s RinkWise podcast.
A native of Warren, Mich., Deskins is in his second season on the management side of the Tier 1 junior hockey league — first serving as the Assistant General Manager and Director of Scouting for the Omaha Lancers in 2020-21.
In addition to his USHL role, the former NAHL MVP also serves as head coach of the Little Caesars 15-U AAA Midget team. Last season, he led Honeybaked 15-O to the 2021 Tier 1 National Championship.
Deskins played four seasons of Division 1 college hockey at the University of Miami (Ohio), as well as four seasons of minor pro hockey, before his retirement in 2006.
Now 42, Deskins joins the show to discuss his history in hockey, the evolution of the USHL and more.
On changes in junior hockey leagues:
Deskins: “(It’s) changed drastically over the years. Now we have a Tier 1/Tier 2 model, which is great. It’s provided even more opportunities for more players to get involved at the junior level of hockey, where we’re starting to see record numbers in the USHL and the North American League for players that are committing to Division 1 colleges.
On making the jump from juniors to college:
Deskins: “It’s a bit of a double-edged sword to talk about. When you really look at it, going from junior hockey to college hockey is an immense job, and I did it when I was 18 years old. Looking back now … I wish I would have played another year of junior hockey and really found a way to physically mature myself as a player on and off the ice. My first year as a freshman at Miami, I did OK, but I struggled in many ways, just physically being able to compete against 22, 23, 24, 25-year-old men.
“I don’t think that’s changed a ton in regard to the transition nowadays either from the USHL or the North American League to Division 1. In general, the physical side is truly going to be the biggest difference for these kids because you go from playing against 16 to 20-year-olds to playing against 18 to 25-year-olds.”
On the pressure to lock in a college commitment:
Deskins: “It’s hyper-sensitive now. I coach Midget and I can tell you even at the 15-U level, people are extremely anxious about getting that call on Jan. 1 or getting that offer on Aug. 1. We do a lot of education with parents. We try to make sure that they understand how this process really works. We try to let them know that it is a big decision and sometimes when you’re 15, 16, 17 years old, you might not be ready to make that decision. There are times when you’re 15, 16, 17 years old where you’re not even presented the opportunity to make that decision.”
On realizing that everyone has their own path:
Deskins: “From a development aspect, you’re going to develop at different rates than everybody else. Don’t compare yourself to your friend or your buddy or your teammate from wherever you played before. I think the biggest thing for people to really, really focus on is understanding the value of time.
“Oftentimes, they struggle with that. I think for various reasons, whether it be the traditional path of getting to college at 18 years old and graduating at 22. … That’s kind of a mindset we’ve established here in the U.S., and unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily work with hockey. We’re the only sport that has a purgatory, per se, where you’re kind of stuck between high school and college sometimes, and I think it’s a great thing. Most of the kids that struggle when they get to college hockey, oftentimes go in too early.”
On dominating the level you’re at before leaving it:
Deskins: “Marinate. Give yourself time, make sure you go when you’re ready. You shouldn’t leave a level until you’ve dominated that level. Too many people are leaving, whether it be Midget hockey to juniors or juniors to college or college to pro, they’re advancing too quickly and they’re getting too excited about the next opportunity instead of understanding that I’m not ready for the next level until I can dominate my own. It’s just too big of a decision to rush and to race.”
For more from Jason Deskins on the USHL, advice for players coming up through the ranks and more, listen to the full episode of NEHJ’s “RinkWise” podcast today.