Proven Pathway: NAHL sets new record for NCAA commitments

    The following is an excerpt from an article by Alex Kyrias on NAHL.com. To read the full article, click here

    Every young hockey player grows up with a dream. For the majority of those players who are playing junior hockey in the United States, that dream is to one day play college hockey in the NCAA.

    There are several paths for a player to accomplish this, which are accompanied by various opinions and theories of what league or what team may be the best fit for a player if he is looking to his extend and advance his career to the NCAA level. In the ongoing case for the North American Hockey League, the proof and proven pathway in is numbers. Record breaking numbers to be exact, as the 2013-14 season was the best ever for NCAA commitments in the 38-year history of the league. As of July 22, exactly 211 players had committed to universities and colleges at both the NCAA Division I and III levels.

    No other league in North America saw as many commitments for their players, while they were actually playing in the league, and the NAHL finished second only to the United States Hockey League in total NCAA commitments for 2013-14. It shatters the old record of 193 set back during the 2012-13 season. Of the 211 players making commitments this year, 142 of those (over two-thirds) are moving on to the Division I ranks, and 79 are going to play at Division III schools. Additionally, 32 of the 210 are alumni of the NAHL, playing in the league prior to the 2013-14 season. It is all part of a larger trend that proves and shows that the NAHL and its teams are as successful and effective as anyone in junior hockey in providing opportunity and creating exposure events that are proven to showcase players and move them onto the next level.

    “Over the course of the past few seasons, the NAHL has put a premium on providing more opportunities for our players in markets that are sustainable and stable,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “Because of that stability, our owners have been able to watch their teams grow and thrive in their respective markets and as a result, we have seen the NCAA commitments go up.”

    Events such as the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota, and the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, held in Troy, Michigan, help to bring in hundreds of scouts per event. The Top Prospects featured a record number of scouts for the fourth straight year, while the record set at the showcase in Blaine last September saw over 340 NHL, NCAA and junior scouts come through the doors of the Schwan Super Rink during the five days.

    “The NCAA schools are able to see a maturation and growth process that begins with events like the NAHL Showcase, then continues with a rigorous regular season schedule and events like the Top Prospects Tournament, and culminates in an exciting Robertson Cup playoffs,” continued Frankenfeld.

    “The record number of commitments is also a huge testament to the amount of work that the teams put in to advance their players to the next level,” Frankenfeld continued. “It starts with the owners and continues with the talented group of coaches we have in the NAHL, who work tirelessly to not only develop the players, but are doing the leg work to keep in constant contact with the NCAA coaches to ensure they are communicating information about their players. Finally, I believe that the competition on the ice is at a very high level right now and that is a testament to the type of talent we have in our players in the NAHL,” he added.

    The NAHL will charge forth into the 2014-15 season, hoping to top even the record number of 211 commitments from this season. “The fact that we are able to claim over 200 NCAA commitments in one season is a testament of all the above factors,” Frankenfeld said, “and it is further proof that when it comes to NCAA commitments and opportunity, the NAHL is one of the best in North America.”

Consider the following statistics:

• With 211 commitments and 179 of those from current NAHL players and not alumni, that means on average, a third of the players from each NAHL roster are getting an NCAA commitment each season.

• Two-thirds of the NCAA commitments are to NCAA Division I schools.

• 135 of the 211 total commitments to date came after the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in February, further showing the benefit of the event.

• In the last two years, the NAHL has not only had 400 NCAA commitments, but also seen over two million fans go through turnstyles.

• Over 650 NAHL alumni played in the NCAA this past season with over half of those playing Division I hockey.

    However, it isn’t just Frankenfeld that believes in the system, it is just about everyone else in the hockey community as well.

    All of it, including both high-profile exposure events, helped Wenatchee Wild goaltender Chase Perry, who had a tremendous rookie season in the NAHL. In September, the scouts were buzzing about Perry being an exciting and new prospect. In March, just weeks after playing in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, Perry committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at Colorado College. On June 28, Perry was drafted 136th overall in the 5th round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings. Perry was one of six players with NAHL ties selected at the 2014 NHL Draft.

    No coach has a longer tenure in the NAHL than Topeka’s Scott Langer, who has been at the helm of the RoadRunners franchise for over a decade. While the RoadRunners won the NAHL’s South Division Playoff title and made the NAHL’s final four this past season, the RoadRunners also had nine NCAA commitments and Langer subscribes to the theory that winning and making sure your players are moving onto the NCAA is a cooperative effort.

    “We feel that players moving onto the NCAA is the most important thing for our organization. However, I think that on-ice success is a byproduct of that because it is a matter of combining the team chemistry and talent to make a championship team. I think if you subscribe to that philosophy, it is only a matter of time before you win a championship,” said Langer. “We make guys understand that they have to work hard every single day in order to make something like an NCAA commitment happen. Our players are being pushed to their maximum effort and potential because every single night in the NAHL, your opponent is doing the exact same thing. The NAHL has a network of very good coaches, who are not only the extra mile to develop these players, but to also ensure that they are doing everything they can to move them onto the next level. It makes every one of us better and I think the NCAA coaches notice that.”

    Langer also spoke about the importance of staying in communication with coaches across the NCAA landscape. “I think we spend about 60% of every day of the season communicating in some fashion with NCAA coaches. It is of the utmost importance to not only provide them with the most information on players that you can, but also to be honest during the process. We know their time is valuable because they are looking at players from all over the world and competing junior leagues. We want to set ourselves apart from those other leagues in the effectiveness of our communication and our honesty to them. That type of regular communication is just as important part of the process as anything we do.”

About the NAHL

    The NAHL, the only USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier II Junior league boasting 24 teams from across North America, prides itself on the social maturity and skill development of student-athletes ages 16-20 with aspirations of advancing to collegiate and/or professional hockey. During the 2013-14 season, a record number of 211 NAHL players committed to NCAA schools. NAHL alumni Justin Williams was named the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs alumni Connor Hellebuyck won the first ever Mike Richter Award in 2014, honoring the top goaltender in the NCAA, eight former NAHL players signed NHL contracts in 2014 and six players with NAHL ties were selected in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. For more information, visit www.nahl.com.