The Soo Indians have been playing AAA
midget level hockey in Sault Ste. Marie for over twenty years but are facing
the hard realities of folding due to the lack of available players. The player
shortage is due, in large part, to the expansion of Tier III
Meanwhile, free-to-play Tier II junior
hockey has priced itself out of Michigan's Upper Peninsula in all communities
outside of Sault Ste. Marie.
So what's the solution? I think more
Tier III junior hockey. OK, stop screaming and hear me out.
The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey
League is at seven teams and is once again shut out of the United States. I
believe that a new six-team Tier III league should be formed that plays a "North
Lakes Cup" type of home and home interlocking schedule with the NOJHL in
addition to their standard league schedule.
Such a concept could give the NOJHL a
balanced twelve additional games for each team and fourteen for the new league.
Other teams from the Superior
International Junior Hockey League teams and the Michigan based North American
Hockey League could eventually be invited to also participate in the
What communities would be good fits
for such a league? Traverse City, Alpena, Gaylord, St. Ignace, Marquette, and
Houghton are the first to come to mind. Shattuck Saint Mary's has a history of
travelling to the UP for games against the Indians and Electricians and could
be talked to about joining such a league.
The NOJHL is a good league, the Soo
Thunderbirds managed to play their way to Canada's Royal Bank Cup last year and
represented the league very well, even getting a win against the powerful Penticton
Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League.
NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazucca
could easily manage both leagues, reducing the overall costs for teams in both
Personally, I like the idea of teams
in the UP based league offering some type of vocational training that goes
along with the hockey. The Marquette Electricians could easily provide
apprentice level training as a part of their program. Maybe other teams could
develop future police officers, firefighters, or other trades.
I think parents will look at these
teams as more than just hockey programs and realize that their sons are also
getting something out of it that they can use long after the skates are hung
up. Let's face it, not every player is going to be cut out for college or
college hockey. Shelling out $10,000 a year for a program that provides some
level of education could be a bargain if it means a decent job when they are
Now is the time to get the ball rolling. It will take an entire season to prepare for next year. USA Hockey is not going to put up much of a fight so this group needs to start now.
Is this just a fantasy? I don't think
so. USA Hockey is not keen on the idea of more teams crossing the border to
play in Canadian leagues or the sudden growth of AAU. Allowing a new league to
form in Northern Michigan simply makes sense and we would have to be in full
support of it here at JuniorHockey.com.
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Stephen Heisler resides in Puerto Penasco with his wife, Maria,
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