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kwey24

NAHL Expansion in Minnesota

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kwey24

The NAHL announced today that the league has accepted the Minnesota Wilderness into the league. The Wilderness had previously played in the SIJHL and were a powerhouse team there. This past season was the team's first season in Cloquet, Minnesota, after two seasons in Spooner, Wisconsin.

 

http://www.nahl.com/news/story.cfm?id=8570

 

The addition of the Wilderness follows the addition of the Minnesota Magicians, who are to play in the Richfield Arena (Twin Cities--between Bloomington and Minneapolis). The Richfield Arena is where Holy Angels and Richfield play in Minnesota high school hockey. It's a nice place to scout a game.

 

http://magicianshockey.pointstreaksites.com/view/minnesotamagicians

 

Interesting moves for the NAHL, as it's going to put the NAHL in prime view of Minnesota high school players in both the Twin Cities and the Duluth area (Cloquet is just south of Duluth). Both of these teams could field very competitive teams just icing players from their areas. If the NAHL is looking to improve scouting opportunities for the NHL, these are two prime locations, because every NHL team has at least one amateur scout based in this area. Also makes it even easier for a number of NCAA DIII schools to recruit,

 

Then, selfishly, it also adds to prime locations for Iowa State to recruit NAHL players. :)

 

It'll be interesting to see if the Duluth Clydesdales organization can regroup to become an NAHL team. They had their SIJHL franchise revoked in late January because they had trouble fielding a full roster (that's sad). But, an NAHL team shouldn't have that problem. The Clydesdales played in a nice arena, but it's tough to compete with UMD hockey and high school hockey.

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Mr Ricochet

Kwey, the SIJHL is Tier III? Also how well does junior hockey do in Minnesota competing with HS for fans? How many junior teams/leagues are in Minnesota right now?

 

Also, if the NAHL does well in MN do you think the USHL would try to get into that hockey crazy state?

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kwey24

The SIJHL is Tier II, if in name only. There are teams in the SIJHL that are worthy of the Tier II label, and there are others that are really Tier III in terms of caliber of roster. In my opinion, the Rochester Ice Hawks and Twin Cities Northern Lights would do pretty well in the SIJHL. This is to say nothing of the North Iowa Bulls of the NA3HL, a team that was more like a Tier II junior A team in caliber. Seriously, North Iowa could have competed with NAHL teams, in my opinion.

 

Junior hockey in Minnesota competes fine in areas where 1) they are not hotbeds of high school hockey or 2) former USHL markets. I'll add the stipulation to number 1, though, that Tier III junior hockey does good enough.

 

Rochester, Minnesota, which is the second largest city in Minnesota now (ahead of Duluth) used to have the Rochester Mustangs of the USHL and the Ice Hawks have become one of the crown jewels of Tier III junior hockey by rostering excellent teams and averaging around 1,000 fans per game. A lot of NAHL teams have reason to be jealous of the Ice Hawks. I have no doubt that Rochester would get even more support if it were NAHL hockey, but it wouldn't be enough to warrant going from kids paying $3,500 or so per year to play to only paying for their billeting.

 

Austin, Minnesota, has been warming up to the Austin Bruins of the NAHL, and the Bruins now are close to the same attendance as the Ice Hawks, which is great. I have to admit I have been concered for Austin, because they are proving to be the only team viable in their area. Coulee Region and Janesville exist, but for how long? I feel it's only a matter of time before both are NA3HL teams. Solid, solid NA3HL organizations, like North Iowa, but NA3HL nonetheless.

 

Former NAHL market Owatonna supported the Steele County Blades reasonably well this past season, as far as MnJHL teams go. The NAHL gave it a go in both Owatonna and Albert Lea, and Owatonna couldn't average enough fans and Albert Lea was heading that direction, too, if the team hadn't been taken from the owners and then folded before a likely inevitable demise. I'm hopeful that Albert Lea one day has an MnJHL team. For now, it has its high school team, youth program, and Waldorf College's burgeoning ACHA program. It's my hope that Waldorf eventually has a rink like what Dordt College has up in Sioux Center, Iowa. Dordt hockey games are the thing to do on Friday nights for the student body. Tier III teams that can average a few hundred fans per game are great. That's what I think the NA3HL can become. For the MnJHL, it's going to be tough, just because of where many of their teams are located.

 

Former NAHL market Alexandra supported their NA3HL team reasonably well this year. The drop in attendance wasn't too bad, which could bode well for future NAHL markets that drop down to NA3HL, and in the future the NA3HL could be choosey and drop certain markets so that the league is comprised of, largely, former Tier II markets that prove they can average a few hundred fans per game in arenas that, generally, don't see too much more than 1,200 people. A half-full arena for Tier III hockey is enjoyable and creates an atmosphere.

 

The NA3HL also has the Granite City Lumberjacks (near St. Cloud, Minn.), the Minnesota Flying Aces (Little Falls, Minn.), and the Breezy Point North Stars (Breezy Point, Minn., and between Duluth and Brainerd). Granite City receives decent attendance, but it's, for all intents and purposes, in a decent-sized market, notwithstanding St. Cloud State NCAA DI hockey. St. Cloud high school hockey is decent, but it's not the Twin Cities or Duluth, or even Rochester.

 

The Minnesota Owls of the MnJHL play in Isanti, Minn., which is close to the small town of Cambridge, Minn. The Owls don't pack them in, but their attendance is certainly better than when they played in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities (North Metro Owls, playing primarily out of the Schwans Super Rink).

 

The teams in the Twin Cities are afterthoughts in the hockey world there. The Edina Lakers organization has existed for years, for many years as the East Metro Lakers, and wherever they've played out of, they've had little attendance. The Twin Cities Northern Lights, one of the best teams in Tier III junior hockey the last three years or so, don't get that many fans at the Bloomington Ice Gardens. The MnJHL has had a team playing out of the Ice Gardens for years. When I played in the MnJHL, it was the Minnesota Kodiaks. The NA3HL now has the Twin City Steel playing out of Vadnais Heights (a bit north of St. Paul), and they get typical Tier III attendance, which means not that much. Back when I played, there was also an MnJHL team named the South Suburban Steers, which played in South Saint Paul, and that team existed for a good number of years. Like all junior teams, there'd be some fans, but only a few dozen each game. When I played for the Ice Hawks, when they played in LeSueur, Minn., it was imperative that any player who broke up with their girlfriend quickly find someone else, otherwise attendance would drop by a noticeable mark. How things have changed for the Ice Hawks.

 

The Minnesota Wilderness have a chance at averaging a reasonable number of fans per game in the NAHL. Cloquet is a town of some size, and Proctor isn't too far away, either. High school hockey is pretty big around Duluth, but there's room for an NAHL team under the Upper Midwest NAHL model. I'm not sure it'll average the 1,000 fans per game I like to see NAHL teams draw, but it's not going to draw flies, either. The Magicians are the real question. The St. Paul Vulcans of the USHL were the last Tier II team to play in the Twin Cities (the USHL was Tier II then), and that was over 15 years ago. The Vulcans, like the Austin USHL team, bit the dust years before the USHL went Tier I, which is when Rochester was no longer viable as a USHL market. USHL budgets hovered around $500,000 per season and quickly rose to nearly $1 million when the USHL went Tier I, and that's why teams like the Heartland Eagles, the Mustangs, and the original Dubuque Fighting Saints became unviable. The Vulcans collapsed before the Minnesota Wild existed. Now that the Twin Cities again has NHL and NCAA DI hockey, in addition to all its high school hockey and NCAA DIII hockey...

 

The Richfield Ice Arena, specifically the sheet the Magicians will be playing on, can hold about 2,000 fans. If the Magicians can get half of that, they'll exceed my expectations. No my desires, but my expectations. The NAHL can really use a team in the Twin Cities, though, so that players and their families can see the caliber of hockey. I will be interested in seeing if the Magicians go with a roster heavy on Twin Cities kids and try to establish themselves as the community's team that way, making it a natural destination for all-state players who don't go on to the USHL.

 

Richfield is an aging suburb located between Minneapolis (which has declined so much it has only one high school team for a city that has over 380,000 people) and Bloomington, which is also an aging suburb. The wealth in the Twin Cities is becoming increasingly focused in the western suburbs. In that regard, the costs affiiliated with going to an NAHL game (I suspect parking will remain free there) may be just right with an area that has a rich hockey history, but increasingly struggles to afford going to Wild games and, to a lesser degree, Gopher games.

 

The Richfield team is a scouting dream, though. An absolute scouting dream for the NHL, for NCAA DI, for NCAA DIII, and for select ACHA teams, particularly Iowa State.

 

In my opinion, the NAHL is the second-best Tier II league in North America, behind only the BCHL. You can argue that the AJHL is equal, and make a very legitimate argument, but I give the NAHL a slight, slight edge. There is enough talent to support the NAHL, without problem. The only thing that separates the BCHL from the NAHL is some of the high-end talent in the BCHL, but the bottom of BCHL rosters isn't much better than NAHL rosters. These Minnesota players going to the BCHL instead of the USHL, yeah, it helps to pad your offensive stats, but there's a reason why somewhat unheralded USHLers like Dan DeKeyser, Tommy Wingels, and Matt Tennyson go on to the NHL with as much regularity as the top players from the BCHL. All sorts of former USHLers are signed under NHL contracts these days. I would argue that the USHL prepares players better for NHL futures than the QMJHL, what with the style of play the USHL has. The USHL, as a league, is very organized defensively. It can produce second-line NHLers and churn out third-liners, fourth-liners, depth-players, and quality AHL players.

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minor life

Duluth Clydesdales are dead, no way they come back. Absolute S### Show there. I agree with much of what Kwey has to say here. North Iowa would have been an NAHL playoff team IMO. They were clearly better than any other Tier III team in the country including anyone from the EJHL.

 

Only thing I will disagree with is I no longer believe that the BCHL is any better than the NAHL. They may have a little more high end forwards, but I think the NAHL has caught them in the depth department. Looking at NCAA commits this year, the NAHL is doing an amazing job.

 

With import restrictions being increased by Hockey Canada, look for more US players to go NAHL over BCHL in short order. Less imports allowed means they have to go somewhere. This will be a gradual reduction over the course of three or four years to bring the imports in line with what USAH allows, 4.

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kwey24

Minorlife, I might have been unclear in my post that I didn't think there was much difference in the depth between the NAHL and the BCHL. The lower end NAHL goalies are no worse than the lower end BCHL goalies. I personally am inclined to give the BCHL a slight, slight edge in difference between lower-end forwards and lower-end defensemen. That said, take out a couple particular NAHL teams from the equation, and it's probably equal.

 

The things is, if I'm an American looking to play in the BCHL, I'm setting my sights for Wenatchee.

 

On the flip side, there is no real reason, in regards to competitiveness of play, to choose the BCHL over the NAHL. Every now and again we get some BCHL hype on a guy, like Kyle Turris, but he hasn't turned out to be any better than Kyle Okposo. Yes, Turris is a viable second-line NHLer, but the hype... It was unfair to Turris. It's unfair to hype anybody from North America not in major juniors that much. Maybe the odd USNTDP player...

 

The NAHL is pretty close to the USHL in depth, in my opinion, just because the age of the NAHL is older. What the USHL has is some higher-end talents. But, you the vast majority of NAHL players and put them in a USHL camp, and they're going to look fine. The NAHL is grinding, two-way hockey. The USHL is a very defensive league, too, and not a very open league in terms of style of play. Again, I feel the USHL prepares players very well to play minor pro and pro hockey.

 

The USHL and NAHL are reflections of what the USA is now, in terms of hockey: a lot of skilled players, but that don't have elite hockey sense (and I mean elite as in translating to NHL superstar someday). Creativity is largely quashed, because you get yelled at in practices for making "mistakes," let alone games. Plus, the opportunities for most kids in the U.S. to be able to just play are few and far between what with outdoor rinks unavailable most places and becoming less available in the places that once had them. You can develop bad habits on outdoor rinks, too, but unstructured, fun hockey now and again is helpful. It can be recreated in and indoor arena, though, if coaches step back now and again and just let the kids play and worry far less about winning squirt A championships. Record should matter much less than the number of players you help get to higher levels and the number of players whom you instill a life-long love of them game in.

 

One team I forgot to mention in the discussing of Tier III teams in the Twin Cities is the Maple Grove Energy, a team that improved by leaps and bounds from Year One. This isn't surprising, as the Ballards have shown in the past they can develop Minnesota Junior Hockey League teams (read Iron Range Yellow Jackets).

 

Kids in the Twin Cities who play multiple sports in high school and who don't play in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League, but who decide they want to play college hockey (be it NCAA DIII or high-level ACHA), need to be aware of the opportunity they have to develop their games in the MnJHL while going to college at one of the schools in the area. It's real hard to make NCAA DIII or a high-level ACHA team anymore without having played juniors and truly concentrating on hockey. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being a multi-sport athlete in high school, though, and I'd encourage it. That's why it's nice the MnJHL is there as an option after high school, but not nearly as many kids take advantage of it as could or should.

 

And, again, while the NA3HL is a fine league and probably only going to get better, I still really like the Minnesota division of the MnJHL, because it's compact and allows young men to still go to high school or college and not miss a great deal of classwork while being a part-time student and setting yourself up to only have to take 12 credit hours or so each semester while playing NCAA DIII or ACHA hockey, which is setting yourself for success in terms of GPA and on the ice.

 

North Iowa as NAHL playoff team: Maybe. They were incredible. To let people know how good the Bulls were, they released a kid named Preston Blanek mid-season. Blanek was picked up by the Maple Grove Energy and became an impact player in the MnJHL. Blanek was a fourth-line/depth player for the Bulls. He's a kid who played junior gold his senior year of high school, but had previously established himself as a depth player for Edina's high school team (when Edina had a TON of highly-touted players). Blanek would have been a decent player for many other high school teams in the Twin Cities area. (This is true for North Iowa's Patrick Sivets, too, who also played junior gold his senior year, and he's a fine two-way player any NCAA DIII team or ACHA team would be happy to have as a two-way fourth-liner or depth players as a freshman, and probably working his way up the line-up over time.) The Twin Cities Northern Lights' depth has been exceptional the last two years, but North Iowa was a step above that, particularly in defense. If every Tier III junior A team could be like what the Rochester Ice Hawks are now, and the good teams like the Northern Lights, and then have even more elite teams at the level of North Iowa, man would the view of Tier III hockey increase significantly.

 

You don't get many marginal players in Tier III anymore, though. Some teams have players at the beginning of years that make you raise an eyebrow, but by the end of their first year they've become viable Tier III players, which is great.

 

Clydesdales dead: Wouldn't be surprised. I haven't heard anything from them for a few months. Again, it's unfortunate, because I like the arena they play out of and would be very pleased if a high-end MnJHL team played out of their. Might not average a ton of fans, but an MnJHL presence in Duluth would be huge. Again, Duluth, Proctor, Hermantown, Superior (WI), Virginia, Cloquet-Carlton-Esko, and other Iron Range towns have a lot of players that could feed into such a team.

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minor life

Kwey, I was sold on Tier III last year. Not because its elite junior hockey, but because it reminded me of minor pro from the standpoint of the kids being hungry. A Tier III player cant take nights off or they wont be on the team. I pull for the under dog in most cases anyway, and I cant help but pull for many of the kids I see at this level that are getting over looked. Too much weight is put on resume at the NAHL and USHL level. Jake Zarzycki from Rochester Ice Hawks has elite level speed, and NAHL skill. Unfortunately he is smaller, but he is a quality player who should be at a higher level. There are a ton of these players at Tier III throughout the country.

 

I digress....NAHL could be adding two more teams within next few weeks. Hearing Tulsa still talking to NAHL, and Laredo is nearly done. RGV looks like they will go. Should be interesting leading up to USAH summer meeting.

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WIhockeyfan

how does the travel work with these new teams going to play in Alaska? I would think the costs could sink some of these teams?

 

Does the league help or is each team paying there own way?

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Mr Ricochet

what division are these new teams in?

 

Don't know but from looking at this, http://nahl.stats.pointstreak.com/standings.html?leagueid=164&seasonid=9507 , I'm guessing Minnesota will play in the Central.

 

Welcome to FYC, WI fan. :beers: ...... Going by your posts in such a short time frame it looks as though you have multiple hockey interests. Can I ask which league you see most of?

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Mr Ricochet

I have heard rumors of NAHL expansion into Louisiana for the 2014-15 season. Anyone know about this?

 

I would believe you if you told me the NAHL was planning on expanding to Kazakastan. .......Welcome to FYC, jrDad.

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