With the North American Hockey League (NAHL) on the cusp of celebrating another record-breaking year of advancement of players to the NCAA, the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) can continue say the same in terms of advancement of players to the NAHL.
It is part of a growth pattern that continues to blossom between the two leagues, which reemphasizes that when it comes to Tier III junior hockey, no other league has had more movement and advanced more players to play in the NAHL than the NA3HL.
“We continue to provide more and more opportunities for development and exposure for the players, making it an environment where in just eight short years, we have a quantifiable and proven pathway of advancement from the NA3HL,” said NAHL Commissioner and President Mark Frankenfeld. “We are focused on player-first in the NA3HL, and we believe it is as competitive as ever and reflects a great avenue for development of future NAHL players.”
The advancement numbers continue to rise and impress, as a total of 51 former NA3HL players played in the NAHL during the 2017-18 regular season. In addition, 24 more current NA3HL players were tendered by NAHL teams to play in the NAHL for the upcoming 2018-19 season. The NA3HL is the only league that has an exclusive NAHL tendering system available only to NA3HL players.
The NA3HL had over 100+ college commitments in 2017-18 and has over 300 alumni currently playing NCAA hockey.
Heading into its ninth season, the NA3HL is one of only two Tier III USA Hockey-certified Junior Hockey Leagues. With 37 teams slated to take the ice for the 2018-19 season, the NA3HL is also the largest and most diverse with teams from Montana to Texas, and Minnesota to Maine.
“The NA3HL is all about players getting a chance and putting them in an environment to succeed. There is a steady progression, development pattern, and long list of alumni that we can track each season that tells us we are doing the right things for our players,” said NA3HL Commissioner and President Denny Scanlon. “Some of the most elite-level players this year in the NAHL are alumni of the NA3HL, so not only are we seeing players advance, but we are seeing them become key contributing members to their NAHL teams.”
Some of those NA3HL alumni who made big contributions in the NAHL this year include Austin Bruins forward Travis Kothenbeutel, who was 2nd in scoring this season in the NAHL and made the All-NAHL 1st Team with 67 points. Kothenbeutel, who is committed to play NCAA Division I hockey this upcoming season at Nebraska-Omaha in the NCHC, spent a season and a half playing in the NA3HL from 2013-15. The list also includes Bismarck Bobcats forward Andrew Bellant, who had 41 points this past season in the NAHL. Bellant played in the NA3HL during the 2013-14 season and will play NCAA Division I hockey next season at Michigan Tech. Louis Boudon, who was the NA3HL’s Most Valuable Player during the 2016-17 season, posted 49 points this season and helped the NAHL’s Northeast Generals to a playoff berth. He also committed to play NCAA Division I hockey for Lake Superior State. Former NA3HL netminder Josh Benson backstopped the Fairbanks Ice Dogs to the best record in the NAHL during the regular season and led the league in wins during the 2017-18 season with 28. Benson, who played in the NA3HL during the 2016-17 season, recently announced this commitment to play NCAA Division I hockey to Sacred Heart.
In recent years, the NA3HL has also seen a growth in the relationship with the NAHL when it comes to owners and coaches. Of the 24 current NAHL head coaches, five of them were former coaches in the NA3HL, a list that includes: Steve Howard (Austin), Al Rooney (Chippewa), Joe Coombs (Philadelphia), Karlis Zirnis (Shreveport), and Tyler Rennette (Springfield). In addition, there are several NAHL assistant coaches, who also have experience coaching in the NA3HL.
Zirnis, who recently guided his Shreveport Mudbugs to the NAHL’s Robertson Cup National Championship in just their second season, is a full advocate of the NA3HL and the process of development for players. “NA3HL players that advance up the ladder are typically those that are improving at every level and stage of their junior hockey careers. They are always willing to learn, work hard and take advantage of the developmental process and relationship between in the NA3HL and the NAHL. Every player’s journey is different and the NA3HL is one of those paths,” said Zirnis, who was a head coach in the NA3HL for three seasons.
There are also a total of nine current NA3HL teams that are operated by NAHL owners. One of those ownership groups include Craig Patrick and Mike Cooper, who own the NAHL’s Austin Bruins and the NA3HL’s Rochester Grizzlies. “The NA3HL is a great opportunity for players to advance to the next level. Having a direct connection to a NAHL team helps our players climb the ladder of development and reach their full potential. We believe the NA3HL is the best league of its kind in North America and our goal is to make it as successful as our NAHL team. It is a chance for everyone, players and coaches included, to develop and gain valuable experience in junior hockey.”
“We are seeing more and more integration with the NAHL and the NA3HL at the ownership level. Additionally, we are seeing an increase in coaches moving up from the NA3HL to the NAHL. They understand the importance and relevance of the NAHL’s relationship with the NA3HL, and that is very beneficial to the players who are trying to climb the ladder,” continued Scanlon.
Another one of the main benefits of the direct relationship with the NAHL is the presence of NAHL Central Scouting at all the NA3HL events during the season, which includes the NA3HL Showcase, the NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament and the NA3HL Fraser Cup Championship.
NAHL Central Scouting is solely dedicated to finding NA3HL hockey players, evaluating them in a true unbiased manner and then organizing and providing that information to NAHL teams and college coaches. Individual player scouting profiles are then uploaded into Rink Net Database, used by all NCAA and NHL Teams. No other junior league in the United States has a system like it, where its primary mission is the advancement of players. All of it provides NA3HL players and teams with the maximum amount of exposure that is unparalleled at the Tier III junior level.
With over 250 NA3HL players promoted to the NAHL during the past four seasons, NA3HL and St. Louis Jr. Blues head coach Chris Flaugher says that the process is working and continues to get better each season. “I know that all of the players from the NA3HL that get promoted and spend valuable time playing for NAHL clubs are learning about what it takes to make it at a higher level and being able to apply it both on the ice and off the ice as dressing-room leaders. We as coaches try and give them the tools and experience to succeed at the next level, and we’re proud of all of our players moving on.”
* Disclaimer: This site may contain advice, opinions and statements from various authors and information providers. Views expressed in this article reflect the personal opinion of the author, Alex Kyrias, and not necessarily the views of JuniorHockey.ca. JuniorHockey.ca does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other info provided in the article, or from any other member of this site.