There is strength in numbers within the North Division of the North American Hockey League. The NAHL has become a four-division league with 24 teams, eight of which now reside in the North following off-season re-alignment. And while there are eight teams in the North and six in the Central, membership in the South and West divisions has been reduced to 10 in total, with six in the South and four in the West.
Is the balance of power in the NAHL shifting from the southern states to the northern states? Let's just say that the NAHL was a five-division league in 2011-12 with 28 teams, seven of which were located in the South with six more in the West. Meanwhile, the North, Central and erstwhile Midwest divisions were all made up of five teams apiece in 2011-12.
While the general feeling among NAHL insiders is the South and West divisions are where the more-influential owners and power-brokers are, the fact is there are three fewer teams there now than there were a year ago. In fact, the West lost one of its franchises to the North when the Alaska Avalanche were sold and became the Johnstown Tomahawks.
To be sure, the North is now home to eight of the NAHL's 24 teams, making it the biggest division, at least for the forthcoming 2012-13 season. Based on size alone, the fortified North Division is where the action is.
Anticipation and expectation are apropos with reference and regard to the upcoming season, especially in an eight-team North Division that spans five states: Michigan, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Michigan remains the apple of the North with four teams: the Flint-based Michigan Warriors, Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings, Port Huron Fighting Falcons and Soo Eagles.
An ongoing storyline is whether fans in Flint and Port Huron will take to the junior game and the NAHL the way they did when both towns were home to minor-league teams in the good old -- albeit goon -- days of the International Hockey League. It's been stated and repeated that Flint and Port Huron are good hockey towns and it's up to those who market the Warriors and Fighting Falcons to properly promote their teams and the NAHL.
Minor-pro hockey is a thing of the past in Flint and Port Huron and the market is there for the NAHL's taking. The 2012-13 campaign will be the third in the NAHL for both the Warriors and Fighting Falcons and this season could mark the crossroads of continuance.
Not to tell the folks associated with the Warriors and Fighting Falcons how to market their teams but the Eagles of the Soo are an example of ownership spending money to increase fan awareness through significant radio and newspaper advertising and promotion.
The Eagles joined the NAHL after four years in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, including the last two under current ownership which increased average attendance from 377 in 2009-10 to 638 in 2011-12 in a small Michigan Soo market that also includes the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Associaion Lake Superior State Lakers.
On ice, the Eagles expect to roster a competitive NAHL North team in 2012-13 with a number of veteran players inherited from the purchase of the Traverse City North Stars along with an incoming crop of fresh plums.
And in talking to a cross-section of NAHL contacts that includes coaches, managers, scouts and media, the reigning North Division champs from Port Huron also figure to be better-than-average in 2012-13 as do Kalamazoo, Michigan, the new Johnstown entry and the two transplants from the erstwhile Midwest Division -- Janesville Jets and Springfield Jr. Blues.
And what about the other team in the eight-team North, the Jamestown Ironmen, you ask? Ah yes, what about them?