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Daily Dish: Confessions of a USA Hockey District Director Junior Hockey News

Published: Monday, 12 Dec 2011  
By: Stephen Heisler,

USA Hockey is hosting a junior league commissioner's meeting in Detroit today and tomorrow to go over a number of proposals that that are on the fast track to full implementation by USA Hockey. A few of these proposals are considered by many to be a direct attack on the Tier III leagues' ability to continue under USA Hockey's authority.

The power move behind the proposals is being orchestrated by the heavy hitters from the Youth Council. We have thought that the youth are throwing their membership weight around in order to eliminate the competition, which they see as the Tier III leagues.

One USA Hockey District Director has agreed to talk with us, with a condition of anonymity, to shed some light on the end goal.

SH: What is USA Hockey trying to do to the Tier III leagues?

USAHD: We need to keep youth players in the youth system. The Tier III clubs have decided to get greedy by adding a 2nd and sometimes 3rd team to their operation. These teams are stocked with all midget eligible players.

SH: This is nothing new, when we took our team from Alaska to Pittsburgh for the 1996 USA Hockey Junior C Championship, a lot of the teams were doing the same thing and stocked with players as young as fourteen. We destroyed those kids, and get labeled as a bully for doing so. My guys played an entire season of full check adult hockey before going to Pittsburgh. We had a roster stocked with junior veterans who decided to stay and play with us, or came back from juniors during the season. So why is USAH making such a big deal about it now?

USAHD: You want me to tell you the truth, or what USAH wants you to hear?

SH: The truth.

USAHD: Back in 1996 the junior teams were not undercutting our fees. Costs have gotten so far out of hand that junior teams are able to give our youth players more ice time and games for substantially less money. If we can eliminate Tier III junior as an option, we will have all the players we need.

SH: Or just drive them away to Canada.

USAHD: Or the junior leagues out of USAH.

SH: Is that the goal?

USAHD: We all know about AAU and we all know about the Western States Hockey League.

SH: Kids from the east coast are already chasing the dream to Canada, aside from the developmental advantages, the costs are tremendously lower as well. What can USAH do to reverse that trend?

USAHD: To tell you the truth, I don't care if we send kids to Canada, Europe, or even the moon. The very best players will stay and play with us if we are able to operate without the interference of the junior leagues.

SH: Legislative Proposal #2 (by John Tobin) is asking that 16 year-olds' eligibility be restricted at the Tier I and II levels, and eliminated from Tier III. How is doing this going to enhance development?

USAHD: The proposal gives Tier I and II teams two 16 year-olds each and I know there are not eighty plus top end sixteen year-olds that are going to come up every year.  Now next year we are going to push that age to 17, and again to 18 the year after that. I want to see a solid line between youth and junior hockey.

SH: Why are you so determined to eliminate the players' option to choose their own developmental path?

USAHD: We have spent a lot of time and resources evaluating the developmental system and have come up with the best model. Having a number of choices may sound like a good idea, but in reality, we know what is best.

SH: Do you expect the junior leagues to just accept the changes?

USAHD: That is not my problem. I also had to laugh at your article on Friday, those leagues can't get along at all, and you want them to combine to create a super league?  Adding a complete youth program to their system is also a train wreck waiting to happen. Any rink that facilitates an outlaw youth program will see their USA Hockey Programs completely go away.

SH: I think such a threat is actually illegal.

USAHD: All I am saying is that the junior leagues, AAU, or anybody else should not get into a battle with USAH. We take youth development very seriously and will fight to keep a firm handle on it.

SH: So you don't necessarily believe that competition is good for the game?

USAHD: Not if that competition is detrimental to the prospects' development. We have entirely too many of our top players in the Ontario and Western Hockey Leagues. Nine of thirty from our Wolrd Juniors roster are playing in Canada and that is too much. The system needs an overhaul.

SH: USA Hockey is hosting a junior commissioner's meeting Monday and Tuesday in Detroit, what do you expect to see come out of that?

USAHD: A chaotic and unorganized response to the proposals. That group can't agree on what to have for lunch, so anything beyond that is expecting too much. USAH is tired of having to deal with the bickering between the leagues, especially when considering their membership numbers compared to the youth and senior councils. Outside of the USHL, the rest of the leagues are all but worthless.

SH: The colleges don't think so.

USAHD: Well, that is about to change. Colleges can recruit from the midget ranks as well as they do from Tier II and III junior. I don't expect you to print this, but this site has become a problem. You are uncontrollable. You seem to have an agenda of your own.

SH: That agenda is very public, we simply try and advocate for the player. Oh, I promise we are going to run this interview on Monday.

USAHD: Do you think doing so is going to change anything?

SH: It is not my job to change the game, all we can do is help gather the information. But I do have faith that the leagues will continue, with or without USAH.

USAHD: They will get crushed outside of USAH, but I am more than happy to see them go because we certainly do not need them.

SH: The junior system works very well in Canada, what you guys are trying to do is going to hurt the game.

USAH: This is not Canada and USA Hockey, as an organization, is much stronger than Hockey Canada.

SH: Canada has a pair of current NHL players on their WJC roster and not a single player in the US system, so I have to disagree with you on that one.

USAH: We are done here.
What do you think?

Author: Stephen Heisler from
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.

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