Tier III junior hockey, or pay to play junior hockey in the United States and Canada has exploded in size over the last decade. While most of these programs are designed for the right reasons, to develop players and move them on, many new expansion teams in the last few years are nothing more than a business.
The 2013-2014 season saw many teams unable to fill a 25 man roster. It also saw a few teams fold before ever getting off the ground. This 2014-2015 season will not be any different, and it could end up being much worse.
This year we have seen the addition of multiple Tier III USA hockey teams, additional teams in the AAU’s WSHL and NSHL, along with the addition of two new AAU leagues in Canada that add 14 more teams to the pay to play landscape.
The 2015-2016 season will also see the addition of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League and six more teams. These teams though are expected to be an extension of high level Midget AAA organizations that are already in existence.
The question is, where are all of these teams expecting to find players to fill rosters?
The NSHL has already reportedly had one expansion team drop out, several other leagues with existing organizations are very concerned that existing and expansion teams are not even close to having a full roster, or even one where they could start the season. In the last three days alone, I have had no less than eight teams call me personally in need of players.
Couple in the fact that Tier II or Canadian Junior A hockey had expansion this season under Hockey Canada, leaving more options for both Canadian and United States based players, and you have a recipe for teams to fail. Those expansion teams are having no problem finding players to fill rosters, and those players would have gone to high end Tier III teams in the past.
While opportunity is a great thing, at what point does opportunity cease to exist in what already is an over saturated pay to play market? When these teams who do not have enough players to have a full roster try to move forward with low roster numbers they can not meet their budgets, and therefore can not keep the promises they make to players. When players and parents sign up for something and pay for it they expect it to be delivered, and there is nothing worse than a disappointed customer to talk to other potential future customers.
For those leagues, teams, and governing bodies that don’t know this, or haven’t looked at the calendar lately, we are at the end of July and the season starts in about six weeks. Any team that does not have two thirds of their roster by the end of July is in serious trouble.
The high end, most well known Tier III organizations will always fill their rosters. Many could be full already but they keep a few spots open at this time of year in order to pick up a few Tier II players who were on the bubble. Its easy to find those teams, they win and move players on every year.
Other teams who think they will be able to do the same thing without that type of history, are dramatically over estimating the availability of players that will be willing to come to their program. Expansion teams, and teams that do not show a record of success are the last choices players will make. New leagues will struggle to recruit against established leagues.
A lot of these new programs are also ridiculously over priced. We have been getting information about new programs charging in excess of ten thousand dollars a season. In fairness we have also had reports of teams charging as little as two thousand dollars, but that number is limited.
The addition of two new AAU leagues in Canada will hurt existing AAU leagues in the United States. The import player advantage AAU teams in the United States once held over USA Hockey Tier III has effectively been eliminated by their own expansion. Canadians who would have otherwise gone to the WSHL, NSHL and MWJHL can now in many cases stay closer to home and play.
In the same respect, expansion of USA Hockey Tier III programs has effectively limited recruiting for some teams geographically.
The player pool, was diluted last year. This year it has not only been diluted further, but there are more teams trying to draw from that same pool.
The damage of over expansion is having an effect on Midget AAA hockey as well. Several very good programs are still looking for players to fill their rosters. Those rosters are traditionally full in May or June at the latest.
At what point does everyone look and say to themselves; “Is this good for hockey?”
Put away the arguments between AAU, USA Hockey, or AAU and Hockey Canada. There is no argument that can be made and supported by facts that would support the ridiculous amount of pay to play expansion taking place.
There are no proofs that college hockey, the NAHL, or Canadian Junior A is expanding enough to accommodate the expansion and development of that many more players.
The number of Tier III or pay to play players moving on to higher levels of hockey every year is a measurable thing. The numbers of expansion teams and the amount of players needed to fill those rosters is also measurable. The two numbers do not come remotely close to being equal.
As coaches we teach players to be responsible with the puck. Why then are leagues not being responsible with the puck?
Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher