There seams to be a ton of interest from prospective operators of free-to-play hockey teams and communities these days. Unlike inquires from years past, the latest trend may actually find itself from the talking stage to reality.
Here in the United States, the reality of free-to-play junior hockey has been limited to acquiring existing teams, or taking the expansion route, within the United States or North American Hockey Leagues.
Today I'm hearing about the idea of a few teams taking a different route, as a soft entry into the junior hockey landscape as independent clubs. And it's not a bad idea.
A few years back we ran a series regarding the non-sanctioned United States Premier Hockey League's Eugene Generals ability to register under USA Hockey's umbrella as an independent team.
The Generals were allowed to join a number of United States based border area teams that compete in one of Canada's leagues. Although Eugene did not fit that criteria, USA Hockey allowed to team to compete against other USA Hockey sanctioned programs from the youth and college club levels of play.
With that precedent set, how will the junior council be able to say no to a group of other operators wanting to do the same thing?
With geographical restrictions, and the lack of sanctioned leagued in many areas, taking the independent path simply makes sense. There are a who slew of operators, from across the entire country, that would seriously consider operating independently if USA Hockey would open that door to their existence.
Teams are smart enough to schedule their own referees, pay their USA Hockey dues and get players properly registered. It's not brain surgery. Proving the ability to properly fund and operate a team independently is a great way to prove to the NAHL (or USHL for the heavy hitters) that the team can compete financially within the structure of the league.
I'm always going to be an advocate for additional free-to-play junior hockey, but after others ventured in with ulterior motives and broken promises, the only group I'll be supporting are the ones playing within the structure of USA Hockey or Hockey Canada.
For those seriously considering such a move, it's time to contact USA Hockey's Marc Boxer to get on the winter meetings' agenda.
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