It has been roughly four and a half years sine Ron White and the WSHL left USA Hockey to become the first established league to fly the banner of the Amateur Athletic Union.
What a difference those four and a half years have made.
In its prior incarnation under USA Hockey it was a league who’s teams struggled to compete against other USA Hockey sanctioned leagues. It was also a league that really couldn’t expand in a way as to control its own destiny under what was then a moratorium on pay to play expansion.
Change presents challenges, and overcoming those challenges will be the measure of success.
The WSHL has seen its challenges. New and inexperienced operators. Expansion, contraction, and everything else that just about every other league goes through has been thrown at Commissioner Ron White. All while trying to establish AAU as a leader in the Junior Hockey community.
How has the WSHL lead?
Declaring that American and Canadian players alike are both considered “North American” and neither is an import player in the WSHL or under any other AAU banner.
Increasing the import limits for its member teams so that each team, if they wanted to, could be nearly full of European players.
These two critical moves concerning the players could be argued to be the most important factors in the WSHL’s success.
Some things are now certain though for the WSHL. The players and parents have taken note of the vastly improved level of play. Scouts have taken note as well from NCAA programs, and other junior leagues.
It is those user groups, players, parents and scouts that are the most important users to satisfy if you intend to grow your league and improve the level of play. That can be said for every league in North America. Some do a good job, and some do not.
Recent moves prove the WSHL is being respected by its peers, and potential customers.
With a recent trade between the BCHL and WSHL, a defection from the NAHL to the WSHL, and the Nations top scoring forward at the Tier III level jumping the USPHL ship for the WSHL begin to tell the tale.
Why would the BCHL look at a player from the WSHL? Improved scouting, improved level of play, and the ease of paperwork in not having to deal with any IIHF transfer agreements.
Why would a player leave the NAHL for the WSHL? Ease of transfer since it is not USA Hockey, and the improved level of play.
Why would the nations leading scorer decide to go to the WSHL instead of agreeing to a trade in the USPHL? The improved level of play, and the ability to chose his own destination.
All three of these instances happened in the last few weeks.
While its not uncommon for players to switch leagues each season, it used to be uncommon for players and parents to see anything other than USA Hockey or Hockey Canada leagues as an option. What a difference four and half years makes as AAU now seems to be a widely accepted sanctioning body by players and parents.
What a difference four and a half years makes for scouts as well. Scouts are now making the WSHL showcase and playoffs must attend events. This statement is true for NCAA, other junior leagues, and now even some people from the NHL. Yes, you read that right. Multiple sources are reporting that two NHL scouts attended the recent Las Vegas showcase.
What’s next for the WSHL? More scouting trips to Europe this spring and summer, as well as an increased level of scouting across North America. With customer satisfaction at an all time high, recruiting and player retention, keys to success, should allow the WSHL to increase its brand awareness and profile on the scouting landscape.
Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher