Did you miss me? Yea, right! Now that we are a few days into the new year, it’s high time to get back into the saddle and ride. North American Hockey League teams are getting back into the grind this week and so am I.
The Wings of Aberdeen (22-4-4-2) have a very tight grasp on the Central Division after going 14-0-0-1 in their last fifteen games. Bismarck (19-7-2-3), Minot (18-10-1-3), and Austin (17-9-2-4) are in a battle for the last three playoff spots. The Wilderness (16-16-1-0) have just a trio of wins in the last ten games and appear to be content with an at-par season. St Cloud (9-19-3-1) picked up a big win at Minot Saturday night.
New Jersey (24-5-0-1) is leading the East Division with the best record in the league. The Titans have a four-point lead over Johnstown (21-10-2-2) with five less games played. The Tomahawks have won four straight games (and seven of the last ten) but will not be able to take the foot off the gas in this division race. Maryland (16-13-5-0) has not been beaten in regulation in their last seven games and have proven themselves to be quick learners in the sophomore season. The Knights (15-14-2-1) have a five-point hold on the division’s final playoff spot. Earlier in the season it looked like the expansion Nordiques (14-21-2-0) would be able to hold onto a playoff spot but with just two wins in the last ten games they have fallen a bit out of the picture. The Generals (13-16-1-1) are the interesting dynamic in this picture. Just three games under par (.500), I could see this group making a bold move to close the season. The team is sitting in the perfect location to pick up a NCAA Division I walk-on that decides that going back to junior may be the answer to additional opportunities. Don’t discount the notion, the Generals have done it before. Then there is the Rebels (11-22-1-2). There was an interested buyer for the team before runaway Kenny
decided to put on his jogging shoes again. Meanwhile the team has all but quit on the coach…also again.
The Fairbanks Ice Dogs (24-9-1-2) are back on top of the Midwest Division with five wins in the last six games. Kenai River (22-10-1-3) is backsliding a bit; going winless in the last three games. Third-place Chippewa (17-11-0-0) has a seven-point lead on Janesville (13-19-1-0). With wins in just nine of 34 games, there’s nothing about this season that’s been satisfying for the Magicians (9-18-5-2). The truth is that the Twin-Cities based club has plenty of area talent needed to still make a championship run. Just a few points out of the playoff picture today, the Magicians certainly have to ability to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Springfield (10-22-2-1) is an entirely different story.
Could things have gone any easier this week for the South Division’s Lone Star (28-8-0-1) or Amarillo (22-10-1-3)? The Brahmas outscored Odessa 26-1 in a trio of wins while Amarillo dumped on Kenai 13-2. The Bulls are four-points behind the Brahmas (with three less games played). Even Topeka (23-10-1-2) and Shreveport (23-11-0-0) and playing exceptional hockey at this point. The division’s top four are 32-7-0-1 in the last 40 combined games. The problem with the top four doing so well is what’s happening to the bottom three. The IceRays (13-17-3-3) have all but imploded while going winless in their last six games. The Jackalopes (7-22-1-1) are winless in their last 13 games and find themselves just a point ahead of the expansion Ice Wolves (6-25-1-2).
Jeers to the North American 3 Hockey League’s Elmira Soaring Eagles for operating far below the standards set for the Tier III level of play. One of the key advantages that families get from sticking to USA Hockey sanctioned leagues is the clear definition of what the team is supposed to provide for their players. Basic necessities such as housing, nutrition, and adequate transportation is the rule and not the exception. So, imagine my surprise when informed regarding the grave situation in Elmira. The team has put four players into rooms at a college dorm for $500 per month from each player. That fee only includes one meal (dinner). Other issues included a player not having key access to the dorm for several weeks and having to depend on other players to open the door. I confronted the owner Saturday after learning that players have not been fed since returning to the team on New Year’s Eve. “I cleared our billet program with Blake (MacNicol) before the season started,” team owner Anthony Langevin said on Saturday night. Let’s take a look at what USA Hockey has to say about these standards.
**A system of family billets shall be provided by each team. All minors shall be housed with a billet family. The players are to be housed and fed as a member of the billet family at the player’s expense, which shall be reasonably related to the value thereof. Additional reasonable charges for room and board shall be the responsibility of the player and are allowed. It is mandatory that all billets must be screened.**
**No more than two players may be housed with any one billet family (at the Junior level, there may be exceptions to the number of players permitted in one billet home if approved by the USA Hockey Junior Council).
Owners, coaches, team/program management and staff are not allowed to host or billet players.**
I’m fairly certain that the league will find the time to address the situation this week. The right thing to do would be to force the owner to refund players for meal expenses in addition to getting billeting into compliance with both USA Hockey and SafeSport standards.
There is one funny part of this story. “Hey kids, whatever you do, don’t drop brown bombs into the bus toilet,” the team told the players. “We don’t want to spend the $60 it takes to clean out the system.” There’s cheap, then there’s this sorry situation.
We are also being told that the situation in Elmira is not entirely unique. Long Beach and Breezy Point both operate similar billeting situations. We have not heard about meal issues from Breezy Point in a few years but the players in Long Beach have made some inquires regarding meals.
Here’s the bottom line.
Minimum standards have to be maintained if the league wants to set itself apart from less organized entities. If shady operators want to run off and join the circus, just let them. It looks like a few of these yahoos will likely be doing just that. Good riddance.