What do the teams from the EJ-South
and Great Lakes division of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League have in common?
Both are non-voting step-children of other leagues. Now both groups may have
something else in common; each other.
North American Hockey League
commissioner Mark Frankenfeld extended an invitation to all the EJ-South teams
to join his NA3HL. That proposal is being countered with another that would put
the southern and Great Lakes together into a single league.
Frankenfeld has spread his invitations
around. The issue is the various price quotes. Individual teams are being told
the price is $75,000 with the EJ-South teams have been told $25,000 for each
team. That's just to get started. What
he does not talk about is all the extras, those are the numbers that seem to
Here is a proposal that simply makes
The American Hockey Association
Let's start over here. The EJ-South is
already a recognized league within USA Hockey's Junior Council and can easily
re-brand itself as the American Hockey Association.
Instead of paying $25,000 to
Frankenfeld, the Eastern Junior Hockey League, or even the Minnesota Junior
Hockey League, simply pay the agreed upon monthly fee to the AHA for full
membership. Teams in good standing with the league can vote, those who are not,
cannot. Simple enough.
The AHA should invite everyone to
join. Have 5-6 teams in any reasonable geographical area? Welcome to the group.
The AHA should stay out of the
business matters of member clubs. We are talking about pay-to-play hockey here,
not the National Hockey League. In most cases, the customer is the player. The
AHA player agreement should also be very simple.
If a player wants to pay by the month,
than his agreement is month-to-month. If teams want to lock in a player for the
entire season, and the player agrees to that, so be it. If that same team fails
to collect all the money while allowing the player to continue playing, that's
on the team, not the player.
Every player needs to be a free-agent
at the end of the season. Player retention should be based on providing a great
customer experience and not anything else.
Now back to the league formation. The
group needs eliminate power struggles and operate democratically. It's not
about control; it should be about creating a competitive environment that
accelerates development. The power comes
with the numbers. Power is also shifted from administrators, like Frankenfeld,
to those with real skin in the game, the team operators.
New (and pre-existing) teams should be
encouraged to join at all times. The simplicity of operation will make the
group attractive to others. If an operator has the financial strength to
personally guarantee (with a letter of credit or cash deposit that can be
returned as the season progresses) that the team will play all its games and
meet its financial obligations, than by all means welcome that team with open
We already know that USA Hockey is
going to limit the number of teams in any certain geographical area, so
over-expansion is unlikely. If a situation develops and the group has too many
teams in a single division, I like the idea of splitting that division into "A'
and "B" sets. Doing so gives more teams the opportunity for success during the
Now for the real meat and potatoes,
I'd encourage current EJ-South clubs to discontinue their Empire Hockey League
operations and switch to teams at both the 18u and 16u levels of midget. Yes, there will be some resistance from
existing area youth programs but ultimately it can be done. Operators doing
things the right way will find that filling these youth roster spots will not
be difficult when players are being moved onto higher levels of play or college
Clubs from the other divisions should
also be encouraged to follow the south's lead and do the same thing.
The costs of operation at the youth
level should be at, or just a step above the junior programs, especially if the
teams are travelling together like the EJ-South and Empire teams are often
Frankenfeld's North American Prospects
Hockey League is a pretty lure, but profitability is heavily dependent on a
huge player contribution. The AHA can counter that with a tighter geographical
schedule, lower costs, and success at the State, Region, and National levels.
The idea of the AHA will meet a ton of
resistance, especially from Frankenfeld, the EJHL, MnJHL, and others. In
today's environment, I'm not sure if USA Hockey has a choice but to accept the
concept if presented, especially when they know that there are now other
Now is the time to make the smart
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Stephen Heisler resides in Puerto Penasco, Mexico with his wife,
Maria, and their two children, Sonia and Tomas. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHeisler for up to minute updates from the world of junior