NAHL sets another new single-season NCAA commitment record
July 12, 2018
The North American Hockey League (NAHL) went and did it again. For the fifth straight season, the league has set a new NCAA commitment record, this time with 312 (and counting) during the 2017-18 season. That also includes a new record number of 224 NCAA Division I commitments this past season. On top of all that, NAHL teams did it with one less team than the season prior.
The number of NCAA commitments is actually expected to continue to rise as players who have aged out continue to make college plans for the 2018-19 season. It once again re-emphasizes that no other junior league in the world saw as many NCAA commitments for their players, while they were actually playing in the league. The NAHL finished second only to the United States Hockey League (USHL) in total NCAA commitments this past season.
“I think the thing that stands out is that our commitment numbers continue to rise because the level of play and talent getting better each season,” said NAHL Commissioner and President Mark Frankenfeld. “There is a better and more balanced level of competition because the players are being educated and trained at a higher level. There also been a collective effort and commitment by our owners and coaches to really emphasize and place a priority on player development and advancement.”
Of the 312 current NCAA commitments, 224 of them (72%) are NCAA Division I commitments and 88 are NCAA Division III commitments. Of the 312 players committed this season, 66 were alumni of the NAHL, who played in the league during the 2016-17 season, but played in another league in 2017-18.
It is part of an ongoing and rising development path that has seen more than 1,300 NAHL players make NCAA commitments during the last five years. In addition, 25% of freshmen that played NCAA Division I hockey this past season were alumni of the NAHL.
“The NAHL is the league of development and you are seeing more and more examples as to why, be it our impressive commitment numbers or players taken in the NHL Draft. It is a great place to start and more and more players are getting noticed,” said Janesville Jets Owner and Governor Bill McCoshen, who is also the Chairman of the Board of the NAHL. “The level of our coaching is outstanding and the development of players is happening quickly because we have such a great network of coaches who are 100% focused on making the players better and then advancing them onto the higher levels. The NCAA and NHL scouts recognize that and understand that a player’s development in the NAHL is one that happens pretty fast.”
One of the more impressive things about this year’s commitment numbers is over half of the NCAA commitments made this season came following the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in late February. Heading into the event, the league had roughly 150 NCAA commitments. Following the event, the league saw a spike in commitments later during the regular season and playoffs, which also included an impressive showing of 56 commitments (and counting) following the conclusion of the Robertson Cup Championship in mid-May.
It is a reflection in the popularity of the league-wide events, which include the NAHL Showcase, the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament and the NAHL Robertson Cup Championship, which all annually see hundreds of NCAA and NHL scouts at each event during the season.
“The fact that over half our NCAA commitments came after our Top Prospects event is a testament to the model. Scouts now have an established roadmap to track a player’s development, which includes assessments throughout the season and then making a determination based on his progression,” said Frankenfeld. “The fact we added 56 of those NCAA commitments after the Robertson Cup is incredible. During the Robertson Cup Playoffs, teams are playing at a very high level and the scouts not only get another opportunity for evaluation, but also see a player compete when pressure is at its peak. The scouts are getting a look at a player who has evolved, matured, and excelled throughout the season.”
All of the NAHL coaches, who recently had their head coaches meetings in Dallas, Texas, during the NHL Draft, were also complimentary of the way their players develop and their commitment to hard work. It was a major talking point at the meetings and part of a continued commitment among all of them that is focused on a common mission revolving around their player’s development and advancement. Part of that commitment to their players was that they all attended the NHL Coaches' Association Global Coaches’ Clinic. The event provided education to all of the NAHL coaches through a variety of presentations and small-group sessions conducted by NHL coaches.
“I think we as NAHL coaches are working as hard as anyone out there,” said Fairbanks Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart, who was named the NAHL Coach of the Year in 2017-18 and whose team had 11 NCAA Division I commitments this season. “We are in it for the players and it is competitive among us. We are all in it for the right reasons, which gives us all a sense of professionalism. We are all in the rink each day trying to outwork our peers because we all know we are behind the scenes doing what it takes to better our players and better ourselves.”
“Everyone is doing their part and working hard,” said Aberdeen Wings head coach Scott Langer, who is the current active NAHL wins leader. “It starts at the top with the league staff and ownership. There are also some really high-end coaches in this league who spend countless hours not only developing their players, but also establishing and growing those relationships with NCAA and NHL coaches and scouts. Our commitment to our players extends well beyond the rink.”
“It starts with all the people involved. There is a passion among the owners and coaches about what they do. They care about the kids and the programs. We see that first hand and it shows with the product on the ice. The coaches are the ones that strive for daily success and keep pushing the players to be the best they can be and players know if they buy into that, an NCAA commitment is very possible,” said Janesville Jets head coach Gary Shuchuk, who is also a former NCAA Division I assistant coach, formerly with the University of Wisconsin.
“The amount of commitments is pretty special. It makes your feel proud to have witnessed the growth that has taken place the last 10 years. The opportunity the players are getting now is second-to-none and the feeling of the NCAA coaches echoes that sentiment,” said Bismarck Bobcats head coach Layne Sedevie.
“The number of commitments speaks for itself. Players are getting seen and the exposure is incredible. It is the League of Opportunity,” said Shreveport Mudbugs head coach Karlis Zirnis, whose team captured the 2018 NAHL Robertson Cup National Championship and had 13 active players committed during the season. “The level of the coaching really is leading to the player’s development and advancement. There wasn’t a time this season that some coach at a higher level wasn’t inquiring about one of our players. We are doing everything we can to make them better and give them an experience they will remember.”
“The investment that our owners and the league has made in us is incredible. We got the spend time during our meetings in Dallas with established NHL coaches and we are just talking hockey and the common theme and message is trying to make us better coaches for the betterment of our players,” said Austin Bruins head coach Steve Howard. “There are a lot of good hockey players out there and every one of them develops at a difference pace. There is a lot of things that people don’t see behind the scenes that goes into their development and trying to move them onto the next levels. All of our coaches and staffs in the NAHL work very hard to accomplish that goal.”
“When you look at the numbers in North America, the most impressive thing is that the players are committing while developing in the NAHL. We are all about the development of the players,” said Amarillo Bulls head coach Rocky Russo. “The number of commitments each season speak for themselves. Another impressive thing is that the commitments come during the entire season, which is a direct reflection of the league-wide events that take place.”
“The amount of exposure our players get is invaluable and to me, that’s how we convince them that the NAHL is the place to be. They get so much exposure, everywhere, and it lasts all season,” said Odessa Jackalopes head coach Greg Gatto.
New Minnesota Magicians head coach AJ Bucchino said that the league’s reputation for committing players is well known. “Coming from coaching a high school program in Minnesota, I can tell you that the reputation of the league is at an all-time high. Prospective players want to play there because they see the NCAA commitments happening each season and see their friends who are accomplishing their goals. There is a lot of great people involved in the league and the recent productivity speaks volumes for the NAHL.”