The North American Hockey League (NAHL) has announced that it has assumed operations of the Tier III Junior A Central States Hockey League (CSHL) effective November 1, 2010.
The league, which will restructure to serve as the top training ground in the country by providing the best coaching, exposure and developmental vehicles available for student-athletes in the Tier III Junior A category, will be renamed the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL).
“Our mission, as a league, has always been generate more avenues for all players as they pursue their dreams on the ice and in the classroom, and the creation of the NA3HL, in cooperation with the CSHL and its member clubs, helps foster that initiative,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “For years, the CSHL has undeniably operated as one of the top Tier III leagues in the country, and we’re looking forward to bringing its strong history of development to a new level.”
The NA3HL, managed organizationally by the NAHL, operates with 12 teams in six states (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania). The St. Louis Jr. Blues, a member of the league, won the Tier III Junior A national championship last year.
The CSHL was born in the early 1970s and evolved into the Metro Detroit Junior Hockey League in the early ‘80s. In 1994-95, the circuit became an autonomous USA Hockey-sanctioned Junior B league before elevating to Tier III Junior A status in 2008-09.
The CSHL has helped develop a handful of higher-level junior, college and professional players, among them the Colorado Avalanche’s Paul Stastny, a Calder Memorial Trophy finalist as the NHL’s top rookie in 2006-07 and a member of the 2010 silver-medal-winning U.S. Olympic Team.
Another graduate, Eric Ehn, played four seasons at the Air Force Academy and was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given annually to college hockey’s best player, in 2007. Ehn also played in the NAHL.
Jim Rufo, commissioner of the CSHL, will continue to serve in the same capacity with the NA3HL.
“Our league is excited about the prospects of joining forces with the NAHL based on their national presence and commitment to development,” said Rufo. “We view the NAHL as a strong partner with a long-term strategy for stability that can provide us greater support through its wide array of resources.”
Given the ever-changing junior hockey landscape, the NA3HL’s primary mission is to provide a structured developmental environment for student-athletes whose youth options are limited but are still reaching their potential and have aspirations of playing in the NAHL or United States Hockey League and eventually the NCAA or American College Hockey Association.
As such, in addition to its regular-season schedule and playoffs, the NA3HL, which boasts a tight geographical footprint allowing players to compete and excel academically at home, will participate in the NAHL’s high-exposure events, which attract hundreds of college, junior and professional coaches and scouts.
“The NAHL bills itself as the league of opportunity, and creation of the NA3HL provides another worthy path for players to grow, on and off the ice, while being showcased in front of the entire scouting community,” said Frankenfeld. “It also allows us to work with USA Hockey’s youth affiliates regarding junior-youth conflicts of same-age players.”
“Together, we expect to minimize the gap that existed for players making the jump from Midget to junior hockey,” Rufo added. “The goal is to continue to focus on player development in our current markets to provide our student-athletes with more opportunities to succeed, on and off the ice.”
The NA3HL will also have representation at the NAHL Divisional Challenge and Championship Tournament Series of the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL), a second-year Tier I Midget and Bantam league, both of which will be held from Feb. 18-22, 2011 at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Troy
Sports Center in Troy, Mich.
At the event, two NA3HL all-star teams will compete against each other, with the NA3HL also extending invitations to other USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier III A leagues to participate with all-stars teams.
Next season, the NA3HL will be part of a retooling of the NAHL and NAPHL events schedule. Preliminary plans include creating a large showcase in Michigan over Martin Luther King. Jr. Weekend.
“There are so many talented players in the NA3HL who will benefit tremendously from the enhanced exposure we provide,” said Frankenfeld. “The scouting presence at all of our events is unmatched and grows year after year.”
The NA3HL will also participate in the NAHL’s wide menu of marketing partnerships, including its relationships with SBK Hockey, the Official Equipment Supplier and Preferred Goaltender Supplier of the NAHL, FASTHockey, the Official Internet Broadcast Provider of the NAHL, OT Sports, the Official Jersey Supplier of the NAHL, and The Messier Project, the Official Helmet Supplier of the NAHL.
What’s more, the NA3HL will benefit from the NAHL’s player procurement system, whereby one NAHL tender form will be allocated to each of the league’s 26 teams for use on NA3HL players only. In addition, one NA3HL tender will be reserved for NAPHL players who have aged out of their youth options.
The NAHL’s recent roster reduction initiative from 25 to 23 players will also serve the NA3HL to help expand its player pool.
“The new NA3HL branding will have an immediate positive impact,” Rufo said. “Being the piece of the puzzle that connects the NAPHL with the NAHL will allow the NA3HL to improve from the bottom up year-in and year-out.”
“The NAHL is a strong advocate of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, and our platform mirrors its objectives to the fullest,” said Frankenfeld. “By providing more opportunities for U.S.-born players, namely those in the NA3HL, we’re helping support the game, its growth and its future on a number of levels.”
For more information on the NA3HL, visit NA3HL.com.