The long rumored Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League has been approved by USA Hockey for play in the 2015-2016 season.
With founding members of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League being the Aspen Leafs, Colorado Rampage (Monument), Colorado Thunderbirds (Littleton), Grand Junction Coyotes and Pikes Peak Miners (Colorado Springs). The five teams must add a sixth team to the league before beginning play.
The inaugural 2015-16 RMJHL season will feature a 40-game regular-season schedule for the teams. The RMJHL playoff champion will then be eligible for the USA Hockey Tier-3 Junior National Tournament.
The founding members of the RMJHL all represent highly structured travel hockey programs that are highly regarded throughout the country for developing players that have moved on to junior hockey across the country.
The RMJHL concept will allow those players who are not ready for Tier II or higher levels of play, to stay at home and play in a league that will continue to develop them, while working within a very condensed and responsible travel footprint.
The creation of the league in Colorado, where the USA Hockey national offices are based comes as no surprise. With the AAU sanctioned Western States Hockey League continuing to expand now having three teams located in Colorado, it was only a matter of time before USA Hockey had to react.
Colorado will likely become a recruiting battleground moving forward as USA Hockey sanctioned teams will now go head to head in the same geography with AAU sanctioned teams.
With more than a year before the RMJHL drops the pucks, and the relatively deep pockets behind the organizations, look for league and team marketing in the region to begin immediately. Recruiting from within some of the top level Midget AAA programs has already been discussed with some families.
With six more Tier III options in Colorado alone, the 2015-2016 season is shaping up to be one where many of the weaker, not so well operated Tier III teams will struggle to fill rosters, and this could likely spell the death of some franchises.
Player shortages last season caused many teams to have financial losses, and struggle to survive. With massive expansion in AAU sanctioned leagues for 2014-2015, as well as a few USA Hockey sanctioned expansion teams, the pressure on the players market is tremendous. Next season will the that pressure rise again.
TJHN will update this story as more information becomes available.