The USA Hockey Winter Meetings here in sunny (but not so warm) Orlando went surprisingly well. Yes, it helps when the three factions are in general agreement when it comes to the state of the level of play. You will see more about all that in the Cheers and Jeers section of today’s Mash.
NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE
Central Division leading Aberdeen extended their insanity laced winning streak to a sweet sixteen games after the weekend dismantling of the Bobcats. The visiting Wings outgunned Bismarck 11-1 in the two games at the VFW Sports Center. Austin remains in second place despite going winless in their last five games. The Minotauros are just three-points behind after the home sweep of the Bruins. It was suggested that we not make such a big deal out of Brookings’ road sweep of the Wilderness. Where’s the fun in that?
While it’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to knock the Johnstown Tomahawks off the top of the East Division heap, and Jamestown appears to have a relatively solid hold on the #2 spot, the story here is all about the race for third and fourth place. The currently third place Titans are just eight-points ahead of the sixth place Knights. Simply said, any of the four teams can easily finish in fourth or last place.
The Magicians of Minnesota tightened their hold on the top spot of the Midwest Division with back-to-back sweeps of Janesville. Fairbanks sputtered in a pair of consecutive losses (1/12, 1/17) at home before bouncing back with a pair of wins over Chippewa. The Ice Dogs now have a five-point cushion over a suddenly struggling third-place Jets team. Springfield has won four in a row up in Alaska and now sits just three-points behind Janesville in fourth place. Kenai River has dropped six-straight games and is the worst team in the league (1-8-0-1) over the last ten games. Look for Chippewa push off the bottom of the division pool quickly (two-points behind the Brown Bears now) if they can continue their recent success (5-5 in last ten).
The Amarillo Bulls got pinched at home by Shreveport (6-0) Friday night before returning to stomping mode with a 6-2 win on Saturday. Their 16-point lead in the South Division overshadows the all-out war for the division’s last three playoff spots. As of today, only two-points separate currently second place Lone Star from fifth place Topeka. Somebody’s not getting asked to the playoff prom. Even Odessa, currently ten-points out of the race, could get back in it. That’s highly unlikely. The smart play for the ‘Jacks would be to reload for next season and let the youngsters gain confidence as the spoiler in the big playoff positioning battle. Just sayin’.
CHEERS AND JEERS
Today’s edition will come exclusively from the USA Hockey Winter Meetings that took place in Orlando this past weekend.
-Cheers to USA Hockey’s Jon Vanbeisbrouck for making a surprise appearance at the Junior Council meetings this weekend.
-Jeers to the Grand Forks group that was hoping to get approved to have a team play in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. It’s important to actually make a presentation to the Junior Council if there is real hope of getting approved. Somebody seriously dropped the ball here.
-Cheers to the Superior International Junior Hockey League’s Spooner (WI) Lumberjacks getting approved as the third USA based team in the league.
-Jeers to the Eastern Hockey League for shooting down the idea of a true Tier III National Championship. It’s much easier to say a league is the “best” than to actually play for it. The most practical solution? USA Hockey sends the champions of EHL to visit the champions of NA3 for a best of three weekend. Simply reverse that for odd years. It’s a very simple solution, it’s cost effective and a true national champion is crowned each year.
-Cheers to USA Hockey and NAHL getting their affiliate agreement hammered out in stone.
-Jeers for the need for dramatic over reach by SafeSport. Casey Jorgensen (General Counsel for USAH) discussed rules changing to include SafeSport training for all adults coming into direct contact with any minor aged players, this includes adult aged teammates.
-Cheers to Mark Frankenfeld and USA Hockey’s deal that sends NAHL team to Russia for International Invitational event.
-Jeers to the charade that wasthe revival NAIA ice hockey. It turns out that the NAIA never approved of the formation at all, causing a ton of misinformation in the process. So those NAIA scholarships for hockey... not allowed at ACHA level those schools are actually playing in.
-Cheers to Team USA players’ decision to pool meal money as a gift to the trainers during the World Juniors Championship in BC. Classy move boys.
-Jeers to the Eastern Hockey League’s bid to revive a number of teams and adding a new one. The Jersey Wildcats, Leigh Valley, Long Island Royals and New York Apple Core want to reactive. The expansion Troy NY. Will be new. We need more pay-to-play hockey as much as we need hurricanes to hit New Orleans, Houston, Boston, and New York City all at the same time. As of this season, even marginal skaters need to do is hang tight until October 1st in order to get tremendous discounts from any of the few fee-dependent leagues. We have seen those fees fall far below $5,000 by October and even absolutely free by Halloween. The harsh reality is that the market dictates price, not the teams’ operating budget. Adding more pay-to-play clubs will only drive the fee to further depths.
-Cheers to United States Hockey League’s unprecedented cooperation with the NAHL. Having former NAHL deputy commissioner Denny Scanlon in that same job for the USHL has been instrumental in building that bridge.
-Jeers to the continued SafeSport discussion. In a backlash of our present culture of ridiculousness, coaches and staff will have to dramatically change the way they communicate with players. Even sexually explicit language can be cause for a SafeSport investigation. So that favorite four letter word, that’s heard way too often around the game, is now a huge problem.
-Cheers to College Hockey Inc presentation. There were 154 American players in Canadian Hockey League (major junior) four years ago compared to just 99 this year. 33% of NHL players come from NCAA now. U of Illinois is seriously exploring icing teams at the NCAA Division 1 level.
-Jeers to NCAA recruiting rule changes regarding recruiting communication between prospects and coaches. No verbal offer until AUG 1 of players’ junior year of high school. Rule leaves door wide open for major juniors to have a heavier influence on the decision of young players selected in bantam drafts. I’m thinking David Branch (CHL President) is laughing his backside off.
-Cheers to new junior council chair(wo)man Donna Kaufman. The meetings were highly organized, efficiently managed and Saturday’s session was completed in just under 35 minutes. That has to be a record.
-Jeers to me for casting so much dissent when Kaufman was elected to the post last summer. It’s more than obvious that I was dead wrong. Who knew that a woman’s touch was all that was really needed in the first place.