Maine Hockey Journal

Junior Hockey undergoing another facelift

534750The landscape of junior hockey in Maine is once again undergoing change.

The Northern States Hockey League announced on Friday that it would join forces with the North American Hockey League, USA Hockey’s only Tier II Junior level league, to form a new Tier III junior level hockey league in the Northeastern United States.

The new league, comprised of the 10 teams that currently make up the NSHL, will be known as the North American 3 Eastern Hockey League beginning immediately.

The NA3EHL will be a sister league to the NAHL’s NA3HL, another Tier III junior level league with teams based throughout the continental United States. The NA3EHL will give the NAHL an eastern footprint with franchises in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

“We feel this is a unique opportunity to operate the NA3EHL in our family of leagues and continue to provide more opportunity for players across the United States who have aspirations of playing college hockey,” said NAHL President and NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld in a press release.

“The Northeast is an area of the United States that has extensive hockey tradition and talent, as well as, a wide range of college programs that are always on the lookout for players. We will continue to make decisions for what is best for players that are advancing through our unique ladder of development, and combined with our professional management and staff, we feel we can take the NA3EHL to a heightened level of competition and organization.”

The Maine Wild, who are entering their second season playing at the Biddeford Ice Arena, is not on level ground with Maine’s other Tier III Junior level program, the Portland Junior Pirates. The Junior Pirates operate in the USPHL with teams in the Premier league and Elite league.

Wild GM Dan Fontas is thrilled about the move to USA Hockey and the formation of the NA3HL.

“I am very excited about our new partnership with the NAHL and the creation of the NA3EHL,” said Fontas. “It is the right move for our team and our league in order to continue to strengthen our overall brand for our players. We have been working on this transformation for a while, and it is great to see the launch.”

The NSHL initially began as the International Junior Hockey League in 2005 as an AAU sanction league. It ceased operations in 2012, and the remaining teams in the league formed the NSHL. The 10-team league continued to operate on the East Coast independently outside of USA Hockey.

The league decided to become independent this season after the board expressed concerns over United Hockey Union rules and regulations, namely over imports and insurance.

The plan is to bring the NA3EHL under USA hockey umbrella as soon as possible, but since season has already begun, the NA3EHL will operate independently for the 2014-15 season and seek certification by USA Hockey for 2015-16.

The league will operate consistent with all USA Hockey Tier III junior rules and regulations with the only exception being the number of imports.

The NA3EHL will operate independently for the 2014-15 season and join USA Hockey for the 2015-16 season.

“From the outset, our key component has been trying to move players on to college hockey. We believe our new association with the NAHL will further assist us in accomplishing that goal,” said NA3EHL Commissioner Wayne Sheehan. “The cooperative agreement with the NAHL brings a new level of professionalism and organization to our league and provides a new level of credibility. In an area that is rich with hockey talent, we plan to show everyone that the NAHL brand is second to none. When it comes to exposure, awareness, education, organization and events, we believe the NA3EHL will be at the forefront.”

NA3EHL teams will compete in a 40-game regular season schedule and will take part in two Showcases throughout the 2014-15 season. There will be playoffs to determine a Champion in March of 2015.

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