In what can only be considered as one of the biggest moves in the last few years, the Eastern Hockey League and their EHLP will leave USA Hockey this week. An official announcement is expected within hours.
While the reasoning behind this move will likely be laid out in the official EHL press release, it is being speculated that the reasons are largely two fold.
First, teams, specifically expansion teams believe they need access to more import players in order to increase their roster numbers with a larger player pool to recruit from. Second, existing teams are tired of always being told “no” by USA Hockey.
The second reason makes sense when the USA Hockey Junior Council is controlled by the USHL, NAHL, NA3HL and EHL, the EHL gets out voted on everything. USA Hockey’s junior council has turned into a monopoly on rule making in the United States because it is essentially controlled by the USHL and NAHL. An EHL vote essentially means nothing.
The idea that some people are talking about, that import player access will help expansion teams, and teams with lower roster numbers is simply an idea that has proven time and again to not hold water. Import players are not coming to North America to pay to play when they can play for free at home.
Canadians are not coming to pay to play or they already would have. Losing 25% on the US Dollar exchange rate is not an attractive option for most people. Europeans are not coming or they already would have, playing junior hockey in Europe is almost always free or very low cost.
The USPHL has no import player restrictions. Not one USPHL team is dominated by import players, and the USPHL is the non USA Hockey model.
Speculation from anyone pushing the import player idea is simply unfounded. Multiple sources connected to the EHL are saying this is not one of the primary reasons.
The EHL’s real problem is that it does not have a Tier II division. The NCDC has the USPHL, and the NAHL has the NA3HL. In Canada, Junior A has Junior B and Junior C. The “call up”, or development ladder is the primary recruiting tool.
The EHL has been losing the recruiting battle with the USPHL and NA3HL in the last few years because both of these other leagues can dangle the offer of a “call up” to a player in the recruiting process. The EHL simply does not have this option.
Frankly, in my professional opinion, leaving USA Hockey is a world class mistake. There is no way I would have recommended this as a consultant. This is the kind of mistake that causes leagues to collapse over time, and I would bet this is what will happen in the next few years, unless the EHL suddenly adds a Tier II level of programming.
USA Hockey was the only roster protection that the EHL had when dealing with NA3HL recruiting. And now there will be no protection. While the EHL is very good at developing players, they will not be able to withstand recruiters poaching players. Standing alone, when you are a smaller organization in the world of junior hockey is not a good idea over time.
That said, leaving USA Hockey would allow for the EHL to declare themselves Tier II and use the EHLP as Tier III, but affording this move financially is not likely.
USA Hockey has created this problem themselves. The problem begins and ends with the “junior council”. It should not exist, and has been the downfall of many leagues over the last dozen years. The idea that two leagues, the USHL and NAHL can basically dictate what any other league can or can not do amounts to a monopoly.
Gone are the days when Tier III leagues could stand on their own. The Atlantic, Eastern, Eastern South, Minnesota, Mountain West, Western States, Nor Pac and others are all gone now largely because of the actions of the “junior council”.
Good leagues, with good people are simply gone due to the consolidation efforts of those in control of the “junior council”, and the actions of USA Hockey to not only allow this to take place, but a complete failure to act to prevent what amounts to abuses of power.
With recent changes in USA Hockey affiliate rules limiting import players in many States and associations, there is more talk of teams leaving USA Hockey and those affiliates now. An import player being defined as not only a foreign born player but an out of State player. Heavy handed rulings are not sitting well with those people who are actually on the ground.
While we wait for the EHL official announcement, this move should give every person reason to think about the state of hockey leadership in the United States. Change is inevitable, and its time for USA Hockey to change or die.