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Cover Story: A Continent to Command

October 6, 2014
By Joshua Boyd
J.C. MacLean was once a young tyke wandering the halls of Madison Square Garden, and New Jersey’s Continental Airlines Arena.
He was able to see, from a young age, the preparation and commitment to the game of players like Martin Brodeur, Brian Leetch, Zach Parise and Eric Staal.
Now, with his name on the NHL Central Scouting List’s Preliminary Players to Watch list, released on Sept. 23, the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and Austin Bruins forward may be embarking on his own potential pro career path.usajhm_Oct14Cover_150
MacLean joined 12 others either currently or formerly in the NAHL – the United States’ only recognized Tier-2 junior league – to make the list. The NAHL features 24 non-pay-to-play teams from Texas up to Alaska and just about everywhere in between. It was already a hoping to land a college commitment, and now its profile “It’s a great honor, obviously, to be put on that list,” said MacLean. “I’m very excited about that. I have a lot of hard work in front of me, and a lot to accomplish this season.”
MacLean is the son of John MacLean, a prototypical power forward playing in the NHL from the 1980s into the early 2000s, mostly for the New Jersey Devils.
He was later an assistant and head coach for the Devils and a Carolina Hurricanes assistant.
“It helped me a lot [growing up around the pro game], watching the guys and how they treated their bodies right – their warm- ups, what they ate before a game, what they ate after, all of that,” said J.C. (John Carter.)
The placement of 13 players on the preliminary list is an all-time high for the NAHL. It goes with what has been a momentous year for the North American Hockey League.
The league saw 221 players commit to NCAA Division 1 and 3 colleges during the 2013-14 season, a new record. More than two-thirds (145) were Division 1 commits. That broke the previous record of 193 during the 2012-13 season.
No other league in North America saw as many commitments for their players, while they were actually playing in that league. The NAHL finished second only to the Tier-1 United States Hockey League in total NCAA commitments for 2013-14.
Six players with NAHL ties were selected in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, as well.
The NAHL also plays host to one of the largest and most well attended events on the junior hockey calendar – the annual NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn. With its eight rinks, the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine allows scouts and fans alike to take in hockey at many different levels.
But what it comes down to is simple – it puts the players on all 24 NAHL teams in front of hundreds of junior, college and pro scouts. This past month, the NAHL registered a record 352 scouts at the Showcase, including 46 from NHL teams.
“The hockey world is a small fraternity and almost everyone within that fraternity was at the NAHL Showcase,” said commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. "In addition to seeing many familiar faces each year at the Showcase, it is equally exciting to see the new faces as well. No matter who attends, they all state how remarkable the event has become and attribute that to the level of play on the ice. This Super Bowl of Showcases has something for everybody.”
The Place to Be Before College
The North American Hockey League welcomes players from across the country and from countries around the world to play to packed houses in hockey-hungry areas.
The league will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2015, and will remember the days when it was known as the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League, a five-team circuit.
This year, however, marks 30 years under the North American Hockey League name. Chuck Robertson – namesake of the league’s championship trophy, the Robertson Cup – dominated the league as his Paddock Pools Saints won all championships between 1977 and 1984.
The next powerhouse to emerge was the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors, which won eight of 10 titles between 1986 and 1995. During these years, future NHL stars Eric Lindros and Doug Weight cut their teeth in the league.
The Springfield Jr. Blues, still icing a team today, won the title in 1996 and 1997.
The arrival of the U.S. National Team Development Program in the late 1990s served to elevate the status of the league.
This period was the start of a golden era that continues more than 15 years later.
The league has seen the likes of NHL standouts Ryan Miller, Craig Anderson, Ben Bishop, Patrick Kane and Ryan Kesler skate through on to greener pastures and, for Kane, two Stanley Cups.
The league is in the midst of one of its most productive and stable periods.
The league remained at 24 teams, with all franchises in strong places – the former Port Huron Fighting Falcons moved to become the Keystone Ice Miners, the only change for 2014-15.
“First and foremost, our owners’ primary commitment is to the players.
They take a large financial risk to provide an unbelievable opportunity to play NAHL hockey, an experience that each player will cherish for life,” Frankenfeld said. “They are all sharp, sophisticated team operators who understand what is best for their players, teams and communities.
“They invest in the players, the team, the coaches and the community,” he added.
“Their reward may simply be giving back and making sure that they are providing a path for these young men to earn a NCAA or NHL opportunity.”
Read the rest of the cover story here
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