If we have learned anything from the disastrous impact COVID has had on hockey in the last ten months, it's that we are now prepared for just about anything. The hockey brain trust of the Pacific Northwest is also learning that the concept of anything related to returning to normal could be little more than a fairy tale.
Before getting back into the nuts and bolts of today's Dish, I want to bring you back to the spring of 1995 when a group of USA Hockey Senior Elite teams were discussing the formation of what became the West Coast Hockey League. This conversation took place in Fresno at the conclusion of what would be the final USA Hockey National Championship for the Senior Elite level of play.
My argument that day was for the guys to consider the same idea but at the junior level of play instead of professional. Fresno Falcons owner Bruce Taylor and Fairbanks Gold Kings' John Rosie were not going to have any of it. It was going to be professional or nothing at all.
Shortly after returning to Anchorage, I resigned from my position with the Anchorage Aces and begun work to bring the junior level of play to Alaska. In one form or another, junior hockey has been played in the state ever since.
To be fair, professional hockey on the Pacific coast has done it's fair share of sputtering before now featuring a superior product (American Hockey League) and having a brighter future.
COVID has tossed a monkey wrench into the wheels of hockey development across the continent, but it's been USA Hockey's Pacific District that has been among the hardest hit. As we start to look past the current season in anticipation of next year, I can't help but wonder if now is the perfect opportunity to introduce a major change.
The National Hockey League has separated the Canadian clubs into their own division for the season and I can see where the United States based teams, from the Major Junior and Junior "A" levels, will have to explore other competitive options to stay in business.
The other problem is political. The border is shut down now for COVID, but what happens when the next little bug makes its way to our shores? Another shutdown? Once the politicians have a new toy, it's always going to be difficult trying to stop them from playing with it.
The five United States based teams from the Western Hockey League are Portland Winterhawks, Tri-City Americans, Seattle Thunderbirds, Everett Silvertips, and Spokane Chiefs. It has been suggested that the British Columbia Hockey League's Wenatchee (WA) Wild could join those five WHL teams to form a new Pacific Hockey League under USA Hockey.
Today, the United States Hockey League has been declared USA Hockey's only Tier I league. The North American Hockey League has Tier II sewed up. But lets be real here, do we really think that players are going to be too hung up on the labels?
If such a Pacific Hockey League requested USA Hockey sanctioning for the 2021-22 season, it would have to be for the Tier III level of play. Some feel recruitment would be a serious issue if forced to label as Tier III. But does that really matter? If a Pacific Hockey League is offering free-to-play agreements with no billet fees or equipment costs, it's fairly clear that players will be able to see the value.
The absolute key to the success of such a league would be to maintain existing operational and developmental standards while eliminating business practices that jeopardize NCAA eligibility. What that basically means is that NHL signed players would have to go to one of the minor professional leagues and player stipends should be eliminated.
It's my opinion that the elevated standards, and historical reputation of the clubs, would be dominant drivers of talent to such a league. I also feel that such a group would be an excellent option for higher end American talent and guests from around the world.
That's just my opinion...what do YOU think?