So much for the restful offseason, at least for the Midget hockey ranks in California.
Several developments have taken place that will profoundly affect the 2009-10 season.
This starts with the Jr. Kings, who participated in the Tier I Elite Hockey League this past season at the 18U level. Their 16U team will join the league this coming season. This adds a travel burden, but the pay off, and Jr. Kings coaches told me this all season, is their teams will play five games guaranteed in three days, and play them against a quality caliber of competition. Those are important distinctions because most tournaments only guarantee three or four games, and unless it’s an elite tournament, it’s tough to anticipate what level of competition you’re going to face.
Shortly thereafter, the LA Selects 18s and 16s were invited to join the Tier I Elite league. This makes sense given that program’s track record of success and the desire to cluster teams geographically. What I will be interested to see is how they match up at 18s because the Selects are typically so strong at Bantam and 16U that most of their best players move on at 16. But it can only help hockey in Southern California to have two teams in that league. The Jr. Kings played host to the Detroit division in a showcase event last December, and it featured some terrific hockey.
This past week, the Southern California Titans and San Jose Jr. Sharks announced they were joining the new North American Prospects Hockey League at the 18 and 16 Tier I levels. That league includes 20 programs from all over the country. Just like the Tier I EHL, the NAPHL will have showcase weekends, though not nearly as many to start. One of those will be in San Jose in February, just before the state tournament.
The new league is part of the NAHL junior circuit, which battles the perception it is inferior to the USHL. In theory, this could give NAHL teams a distinct recruiting advantage with some programs. Really, it gives Jr. A hockey a bit more of a foothold in a state where the trend of late has been to have top-end prospects head to the WHL.
The fifth 18UAAA team last season was the California Wave, and I wondered aloud over the weekend – what about the Wave? That question was answered Sunday night when the Jr. Kings announced a partnership with the Wave at the 18U Tier I and Bantam Tier II levels for the 2009-10 season.
I have a few more questions – what about beyond next season? Could it become a permanent merger? Team managers I’ve spoken with recently expect numbers to be down in travel hockey because of the economy.
My other question is what about the “mid majors”, programs like the California Stars, OC Hockey Club, Tri Valley Blue Devils, California Heat, San Diego Jr. Gulls? All have had very good AA and AAA squads, though not at every age level every year. How do they fit into this new midget world order?