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Published: Monday, 11 Jun 2018  
By: Stephen Heisler,

It’s official, USA Hockey’s Junior Council has replaced John Vanbiesbrouck with Donna Kaufman as chairmen after Sunday’s vote.

I’m not the only one wondering how the new chairwomen is going to keep the council together when it appears to be falling apart. 

With Vanbiesbrouck, we all knew and respected what the man had done on and off the ice. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what degree of hockey success led USA Hockey’s yahoos into thinking Kaufman was going to bring anything of value to the junior hockey equation. Imagine the conversation she could have with the North American Hockey League’s Mark Frankenfeld or the United States Hockey League’s Tom Garrity.

What in the world can Kaufman bring to a conversation with the National Hockey League or even the Canadian Junior Hockey League? The Canadian Hockey League’s David Branch must have dropped his glass of Crown Royal, in absolute laughter, when told of the news.

In all seriousness, this must be the beginning of the end for the junior council. The USHL has their own agreement with USA Hockey already rubberstamped and now it looks like the NAHL is about to do the same thing.

But is that really a smart move for the NA brand?

Now that the United States Premier Hockey League’s Richard Gallant has his gal firmly entrenched, maybe it’s time for the NAHL to reconsider the landscape.

The NAHL could easily become the United States’ best platform for development with a few tweaks of the wrench.

It’s been talked about in the past and now it looks like a very real opportunity has presented itself.

There are several teams that could easily raise the developmental bar a notch and compete at a higher level. How many teams? The entire south division is a good start.

Let’s get the ball rolling and say these teams would draft exclusively from the North American Prospects League.

For the teams that simply can’t afford the added costs associated with Tier I. This group would draft after the Tier I set and from the NAPHL and NA3HL.

Now this is where things could get interesting. Splitting the 3HL into two groups does make sense and here is why. Teams in traditional hockey markets have an easier time recruiting older players that want to stay close to home in their last years of junior eligibility. It’s also a good place for those players that are still developing their craft and are late bloomers.

I really like this idea for the divisions with States that don’t restrict the number of 16 and 17-year-old players on the junior rosters. These teams can reduce some of the costs while adding value to the overall brand. Montana and Wyoming are great examples.

Let’s face it, the 18U level is the least competitive of the group. By replacing the 18 with 14U, the market opens to an entirely fresh set of players.  Introducing these younger players to the NA brand makes a tremendous amount of sense.

In a move that would quickly double to number of NAPHL programs, why not open the brand to a 2nd tier (AA) group as well? This would allow programs to get an introduction to the NA platform. 

Allowing teams to play their way into to the upper tier (for the following season) is a great way for programs to have some degree of success while giving their players unparalleled exposure.

The NAHL Board of Governors can get the ball rolling with the adaptation of Canada’s Rule that bans participation by players moving from non-sanctioned leagues after October 1st.  If the NAHL collectively said they were not taking call-ups from any other leagues (aside from high school), the reaction from the hockey community would be epic.

That move would also be a very effective first blast across the bow while forcing the USHL into going into a nearly identical direction. It would also give players something to seriously think about before considering the other guys.

Like that Disney movie with all the dogs, I'm thinking we are going to see the same result. The players will come out on top.

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 the Heisler Group. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.

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