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kwey24

Future of NA3HL

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kwey24

Interesting story/scoop from The Junior Hockey News.

https://thejuniorhockeynews.com/the-end-of-the-na3hl-is-coming-this-off-season/

This could end up a good thing for Tier III junior hockey. If we can thin the herd out while strengthening other existing leagues, that's great. 

So, if the salvageable parts of the Frontier Division can join the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League to make it decent, great. 

The USPHL in Minnesota and Wisconsin could become ultra strong if the USPHL and NA3HL merge.  That'd be great! Having so many teams in close proximity could be exiting for fans of those teams.  Travel may stay the same, but you'd be seeing a greater variation of teams.

I just want to see a thinning out of teams to where every team has a legit number of players and where all, or nearly all, of the players are certainly junior caliber.  I'd also really like to see each Tier III team average a certain minimum number of fans so that tuition need not be $8,000 and that tickets sales and ad sales actually make up part of the budget.  Paying $8,000 to $10,000 for Tier III hockey to me.  I don't have a problem with $4,000 or $5,000 and then billet on top of that.  Paying $8,000 to $10,000 per season for Tier III to, for the most part, only become a bottom-half NCAA Division III players or an ACHA player...  That model isn't sustainable. People aren't going to continue to pay money for that.  But, if you've been paying $4,000 or so to play Midget AA (think CSDHL), then it doesn't seem so ridiculous. 

I'm an ACHA guy and there are a lot of ACHA programs I could recommend to any number of Tier II or Tier III junior players (the ACHA is not bereft or NAHLers, Tier II Canadian juniors, etc.); but, I'm also a dad with a son coming up through the youth ranks and Iowa State has a highly competitive ACHA D2 team that can feed into its D1 team.  Do I send my son to play Tier III juniors at $8,000 a season or just send him to Iowa State to get on with his education and use the ACHA D2 team for a year or two of development before trying to challenge for a spot on the D1 team. ACHA now allows five full years of eligibility for every division and getting all your pre-requisite classes in to graduate within four years isn't easy at a lot of schools.  Blake Ramsey came to Iowa State from the Iowa Wild T1EHL team instead of going to Wooster and he's having a great season for Cyclone Hockey's ACHA D2 team.  If ACHA organizations are smart, they will attempt to mirror the Iowa State model.  (Some schools, like Colorado State, have two very separate clubs that make up their two ACHA entries--it's far better to be one organization, as long as the second team isn't treated like a red-headed stepchild.)

I played Tier III junior hockey way back in the day and there is value to it.  But, the price tag is hard to justify and if the herd can be thinned out so that none of the teams are playing in front of practically no crowds, that'd be great. 

At Iowa State, we're seeing some players of note from the Tier 1 midget AAA ranks contact us looking to forego junior hockey, as well as some noteworthy players from the prep and high school ranks.  Most all of them would need to skate for our ACHA D2 team first, but the path is there.  These are guys who would easily be impact players in Tier III; but, they're choosing to play ACHA hockey and many are aware they may have to start on the ACHA D2 team first.  About 15 years ago, Cyclone Hockey had to adjust its recruiting to focus more on the junior ranks; but, now, some ACHA programs may be in a position to "poach" players who, previously, would have gone to junior hockey and who, instead, use ACHA D2 or D3 hockey as their year or two of juniors.  If you don't think ACHA D2 hockey can be good, watch Iowa State and McKendree play each other. 

 

 

 

Edited by kwey24

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minor life

This is not a merger. The NA3 found out yesterday through this article, about team defections. It is not just mid western teams making the move.  There are other negotiations going on with the EHL that will likely be more impactful than teams jumping to the USPHL.  

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kwey24

Yeah, merger wasn't a good word for me to use. The article was pretty clear that it involved defections.

As far as the EHL goes; yeah, the article is pretty clear about that.  Part of me wonders how many strong teams the EHL really gets out of this, though.  That's why I'm more excited about the possibilities for the USPHL Midwest.  There are a lot more NA3HL teams averaging over 400 fans per game in the Upper Midwest. 

Unless you're telling me the EHL is going to pick up a Midwest division...

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minor life

I don't see the EHL venturing out of its comfort zone.  Trying to narrow down teams going that way.  USPHL on the other hand is grabbing some teams all over.  This is going to be fun to watch.  

I don't like the move for the EHL.  IMO they don't need more teams.  I am hopeful that some of these teams are forced into the lower level EHLP because they cant compete with the EHL teams.  It would be like putting a Pee Wee team against Notre Dame in some cases.

I am not sure if I like it for the USHPL either.  But, for the NA3 teams making the move to the USPHL its very smart.  The problem with the NA3 is talent weakness.  Easily solved with no import player limits if you have a good scouting budget.  

The question is how many more fold this off season and next season.  The NA3 model has been proven to not be what players were told it was going to be.  Interesting side note is that the NA3 and NA response to our story was to put out an article promoting their new start up Prep league.  

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kwey24

There's only two teams, or maybe markets, that really interest me for the EHL--Southern Tier and Lewiston.  That said, I'd far rather those two markets be Federal League markets. 

Tier III doesn't move mass quantities of players up to Tier II (or especially Tier I) regardless of the league.  Some guys do move up; but, most Tier III players only play Tier III or only get cups of coffee in Tier II. 

The one thing that has bothered me in the comparison of leagues and moving players on to NCAA is that there are SO many NCAA Division III teams in the Northeast, it's just going to happen that way. A lot of kids from the Midwest and West choose to play in the ACHA instead of NCAA Division III.   ACHA teams pick up a lot of good players from the NA3HL who picked ACHA programs over NCAA Division III team.

Fact of the matter is, there are A LOT of Tier II players in NCAA Division III hockey and a number in the ACHA, particularly amongst the higher-end ACHA Division I teams.  We'll see what the NAIA does with being able to offer scholarships; but, it'll probably be awhile until good players choose to take scholarships at those institutions.  It will depend, in part, on the coaching staffs and facilities at those schools. 

In reality, if you're still in high school, if you're not in the USHL or maybe the NAHL, you should still be playing midget AAA, high school, or prep.  I can see in some circumstances where if you have a Tier III team nearby but you have a week high school program and you're able to still live at home, that you play Tier III--but, that's not the case for most players.  This has historically been slightly different in the Northeast; but, with the development of more Tier 1 midget programs out there, the days of playing the Empire League or the Met as a 16-year-old and moving up to Tier II and possibly even Tier I juniors is pretty much over. 

What Tier III is really about is helping players become competitive for NCAA DIII spots and ACHA spots.  Some guys will be able to move up to Tier II; but, in general.  So, any Tier III league saying they're the pathway to Tier II is a misnomer. 

All of this is why I want to see Tier III move toward the teams averaging at least 300 fans per game and, somehow, making it such that tuition is only $4,000 and then billet.  The teams will have to actually have paying fans and advertisers to make that possible; but, that'd be the point.  This may also mean having to ditch these pointless Tier III showcases.  Well, they're not meaningless; but, traveling thousands of miles to participate in a Tier III showcase for your league is ridiculous.  You're spending how much money to showcase yourself to teams where you won't get a scholarship...  The showcases are handy for the colleges, yes. But, is the cost to the players really worth it? 

I played Tier III juniors when you could do it for under $2,000.  That was definitely no-frills junior hockey and I want standards higher than that.  But, $8,000 a year for Tier III junior hockey?  It's just really hard to justify that when all you're actually really doing is honing yourself to move onto NCAA Division III, where you don't get a scholarship, or ACHA, where you're likely going to pay to continue to play. 

 

 

 

 

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minor life

Kwey, while lower costs would be nice, its never going to happen.  Ice costs, transportation, hotels, and meal costs are not coming down.  With all those costs going up, coaches also need to be paid more in order for them to afford to live and coach.  

Geography does dictate scouting for many teams at the NCAA level regardless of division.  That is why every player who finds themselves in Tier III has to examine where teams are positioned.  To pick a team in an area that has zero NCAA schools within one hundred miles is simply not smart.  Yet, players are continually being told it doesn't matter when it clearly does.  If costs for teams are going up, those same costs are going up for NCAA programs when they need to go scouting, thus limiting what they can do with travel.

Your other general thoughts on Tier III though are spot on.  Players who find themselves in Tier III simply need to be smarter with their choices and they can dictate the direction of the market.

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kwey24

Tier III and no NCAA within 100 miles: It matters and it doesn't.  I understand getting seen; but, if all it is for is to be seen by NCAA DIII or ACHA teams, or NAIA teams (maybe this changes as the NAIA matures), does it really matter?  If that's where you're slotting in, you're going to be wanting to go to school for the school.  I'm not saying the hockey doesn't matter; but, if you're playing NCAA DIII hockey or ACHA hockey, the very highest you're coming into minor pro is the SPHL and, more than likely, you're looking at the Federal League.  If you have a large amount of student loans, playing in the SPHL or the FHL may be problematic (unless your parents paid for everything).  Even the ECHL can be financially problematic if you're carrying a lot of student loans.

So, if you're slotting into Tier III as a 19-year-old (and especially as a 20-year-old), keep playing hard, training hard, and do the right thing to be a person of character. But, at that point, it's important to realize that you're probably only going to play NCAA DIII or ACHA hockey.  You can go on to play in the FHL or possibly even the SPHL; but, you won't be making much money. Some of the higher-end SPHLers make okay money as minor pro goes; but even ECHL hockey players aren't making THAT much money. (They do way better than their minor league baseball counterparts, though--thank the PHPA for that.)

Yes, it feels good to be actively recruited by an NCAA DIII team or even the high-end ACHA teams; but, you're not getting a scholarship and it's time to start really thinking about what you want to do with your life if you cannot play pro hockey or afford to play pro hockey.  There are TONS of NCAA DI, NCAA DIII, and ACHA players who could play in the SPHL or FHL and don't.  Some can't afford not to go into the working world.  That's even true of the ECHL level, though.  Iowa State had a player with a USHL background start his minor pro career in the ECHL and he was told when he got there by another player, "Welcome to the four-letter league," and they wondered what he was doing there since he had a strong engineering degree.  He played one year of minor pro and then did make the move to use his engineering degree and makes multiples of what he'd make in the ECHL.  That's one reason why you can really root for FHL, SPHL, and even ECHL players, because many of them are playing for the love of the game, especially the ones who have degrees.

The highly recruited players for NCAA DIII are the Tier II guys.  (I mean real Tier II).   The good NCAA DIII teams are oftentimes littered with Tier II guys and the high-scorers from the Tier III ranks struggle to make the roster half the games. 

To me, if you're not playing NCAA DI hockey, then you need to be looking at what NCAA DIII and ACHA teams have the academic program/s you want and that match your career goals and are respected in those areas.  Then, go about reaching out to those programs yourself if they're ACHA and even a bit if you're NCAA DIII.  As someone who has recruited for an ACHA program, I'm looking for players with career interests that are a match for Iowa State.  If a player tells me they're interested in forestry, there are some NCAA DIII programs I'd actually recommend to them (and that's okay).  If they say engineering, we may certainly have a match (particularly over most other NCAA DIII and ACHA programs). 

It actually seems even some midget AAA players are coming to this realization.  We (Iowa State) have had two Tier I midget players contact us who are putting up good numbers in midgets and have strong ACT's and could definitely play juniors, but they know Iowa State is a good school and that we have a strong ACHA program.

I say all of this as an ACHA player who held it out as a goal to play minor pro hockey up until the very end, so I understand things from a player's perspective. So many of us love hockey and want to play pro hockey.  But, I also was nearly a 4.0 student in college and worked very hard to make that so, because I knew where I was going to earn a real living. 

In reality, every high school player needs to be working to also do their very best academically, because the vast, vast, vast majority of players cannot retire off they income they made playing hockey.  That's only true of players who have lengthy NHL careers, and even some of them cannot.  You're also always an injury away or you may be David Carle and be at the NHL Combine and find out you have a medical condition that ends your career.

I know TJHN and I agree on most of this.  I think what the rude awakening is for a lot of Tier II players who find out that, no, there's no place in NCAA DI hockey for them, either.  The majority of NAHLers go NCAA DIII or ACHA.  Their situation isn't dramatically different. They'll be getting some NCAA DI looks, which is great; but, only if you're in the USHL do you have a statistically high chance of going on to play pro hockey in the SPHL or higher after college. 

This is where the NA3HL has been off, to me.  You have teams strewn all over the United States and bringing them in for a Showcase so that they can be seen by teams where scholarships aren't a possibility.  So, you're team's paying how much to travel for a showcase where all you're going to get seen by is NCAA DIII and ACHA teams? Why?  I'm okay with the WSHL showcase and definitely fine with an EHL showcase.  I'd be fine with USPHL regional showcases.  But, having a Tier III team travel over a thousand miles for a showcase?  Why?

This is where we need to just get back to regional Tier III leagues.  It requires being honest about the futures of those players, though, and not selling an unrealistic vision. 

To be brutally honest, I've cynically believed the expansion of Tier III juniors and Tier I midgets is only because there were a lot of former minor pro players who were trying to find ways to avoid getting real jobs.

To quote Mark Levin, "That's right I said it!"

 

 

 

Edited by kwey24

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minor life

LOL.  I could debate and discuss this for days.  This all started because USAH was promoting all levels of junior hockey ten years ago as the way to get to NCAA.  They allowed this mess, and facilitated it.  

Tier III is as you say.  A great place for older kids to get to great NCAA and ACHA programs.  The most important thing lost with many young players is that this is about education, not hockey.  Hockey wont last forever, your education will.  That's what I tell every player and parent I speak with.

The problem with the NA3, and our article is being celebrated by parents, is that the NA3 is built on a lie.  It is built on the lie that its a direct path to the NAHL.  I know because I was in the room when the lie began.  I was in the room when it was first told.  Battle Creek going from pro to junior to refresh people memories.  I heard the sales pitch, and it is one of the main reasons I asked to be bought out of BC.

The showcase costs for some of these teams is around 30 Grand for a trip to Blaine!  30 Grand for a Tier III showcase?  I can think of a lot better ways to spend money on development, or to save families money on tuition.  That's if its included in tuition because some teams add the cost on to the tuition.

The NA3 is way behind the EHL and USPHL when it comes to college commitments.  They don't want to talk about how many players go nowhere.  They want to mislead and misdirect people into believing they can get to the NA from the NA3.  Without that sales pitch the NA3 is dead.  Parents are finally figuring out that the sales pitch is nothing but smoke and mirrors and that there is less than a 1 in 100 chance of an NA3 player getting into 1 NAHL game ever.  Want to pay 8 grand for a 1 in 100 chance?

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kwey24

The thing I don't understand, minor life, is how people were/are so naive as to where Tier III juniors typically leads. All it takes is some simple research to see where people end up.  That said, we (Iowa State Cyclone Hockey) end up with some kids contacting us who seem oblivious to the fact that our ACHA D1 team is comprised of guys who played Tier II or were impact Tier III players (well, this season we have some depth guys who probably would not have normally made our D1 team out of tryouts and don't fit that mold, but they've actually turned out okay, thank goodness.  I guess the answer is there really aren't a lot of people who really study these things.  I just wouldn't expect most people who could afford all of this to not do their own research.  Your kid has been playing high level bantam and midgets, most likely, and over those years you never started researching players who know where other players in your club ended up?

There was a time when juniors was the route--that was where you got the edge to be able to make those NCAA DIII teams or the top-end ACHA teams.  But, the expansion of Tier 1 midget hockey has changed that.  While there is some reason for cynicism with so many things claiming to be AAA, the teams in the Tier 1 midget leagues (we all know which ones) are almost all, to a number, legit.   The landscape in the Northeast has changed dramatically.  It used to be that you'd play Tier III in the Empire or the Metropolitan League and move up to the EJHL or the USNTDP or possibly up to the USHL (it's been about 15 years, though, since hot-shot 17-year-olds came out of the Empire or the Met to play in the USHL).  A lot of kids played prep hockey, too.  And, Massachusetts high school hockey used to be a bigger player.  Now, there are a number of Tier I midget teams in the Northeast, many of which are within the NCDC/USPHL umbrella or the EHL umbrella. Bummer is, though, it costs $10,000 or more to play at the vast majority of these Tier 1 programs. 

While Tier 1 midget hockey is the route to go most places if you want to play USHL or NAHL hockey, there are a lot of Tier 1 midget players who only end up playing Tier III juniors. 

What's really necessary is for the different juniors leagues and divisions to understand where they fall and just accept it.  It's okay if some leagues and/or divisions are designed to allow guys who played Tier 2 midgets or were above-average high school players to keep playing juniors for a couple seasons before ACHA or maybe even NCAA DIII hockey.  But, hopefully those leagues are compact and costs are kept reasonable, because spending $8,000 a year to go on to be an ACHA D2 or ACHA D3 player or to play at a weak ACHA D1 team is ridiculous.  

Again, ACHA programs, if smart, can operate two teams and poach some good Tier 1 midget players to play for their ACHA D2 or ACHA D3 team for a season or two and develop those players themselves before moving them up to ACHA D1, if they prove capable.  Playing ACHA hockey typically costs a lot less than Tier III juniors and you can still develop quite a bit at the right school/program.  The Tier 1 midget players good enough to play Tier II juniors generally do so and the Tier 1 midgets not good enough to do so typically are not good enough to play for the better ACHA D1 programs.  So, then you have a choice to make as a player and a family. 

Minor Life: Do you think the better NA3HL teams in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Iowa could operate at tuition of $5,000? 

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