I think the "is it worth it" question is relevant to every sport, given the effort and commitment it takes to make a serious college athletic team. I think it comes up more in hockey because of the need (for most) to play two to three years of junior (with all that entails).
Our family is struggling with the idea of delaying college a year or two. I get the maturity argument you make, but there are several compelling counterarguments.
Regarding your "you'll have your life to party" after college argument ... I beg to differ. College was an extremely special time for most of us. Partying was just one of the reasons. Student athletes will miss out on a lot of that. Yes, student-athletes have their own, unique experiences and memories, but they unquestionably miss out on other things.
I think the answer to OP's question comes down to two simple things: 1) does you boy absolutely love the sport, to the point where playing at a high level is worth the sacrifices he will make, and 2) can he handle the rigors of devoting all that time and effort to a sport, and also succeed academically.
My son is 19, going to age out of Tier 3 Jrs this year, Play D3 Hockey and study business. He's looking forward to every second of it wherever he ends up.
If you ask "is it worth it" then you are revealing you were not a college athlete. I played college baseball and missed out on a lot of typical college rites of passage but I never thought twice about it. Practicing and playing with my teammates was more appealing. If your kid loves the game, he'll feel the same about college hockey. If he doesn't, he probably won't make it anyway.
If only I could get one more Saturday morning bus ride and double doubleheader weekend...
Not sure I agree. I also played a sport in college. Yes, I enjoyed playing in big games before huge crowds and a tv audience, but I felt like I worked for the university and had no life. And practices could be hell.
I often think I would be better off today if I had spent more time on academics and social activities.
It's a trade off.