As many readers know, TJHN has been critical of teams and leagues who make claims as to their level of play. Usually because those claims are completely biased and unsubstantiated.
When the WSHL decided to label itself Tier II, we weren’t shy about punching holes in the claim. After all, the players I have seen first hand over the years were not Tier II caliber. The players I saw last summer at another event were not Tier II caliber.
Sometimes, even guys like me who have been around the game a very long time, can form opinions that are not based upon large enough sample viewing sizes. While I wouldn’t classify every WSHL team as Tier II caliber, I will say that the players I saw in the past do not represent the quality of the league today.
I went out to the WSHL showcase last week in Las Vegas, with the intention of spending one day watching hockey and one day just gambling and shopping. That all changed when I saw the Oklahoma City Blazers team. I spent all my time at the rink from that point forward.
I went out expecting to see benders. I made the mistake of judging a book by the very small cover I had seen previously.
What I saw was far from a bunch of benders.
The WSHL does have eight or nine legitimate Tier II caliber teams. Yes, you read that right. These eight or nine teams would easily compete in any Canadian Junior A League. There are four of those teams that could contend with Canada’s best Junior A teams for a championship.
There are no less than six absolute must see players who should be in the USHL or Major Junior playing in the league. I am saying these players are so unbelievably talented, that they would not be role players in any of those leagues.
There are another forty players that would easily be top line players in any other Tier II league in North America. Another eighty or so that could be every day players in other Tier II leagues, while another 20 or so that would be role players in any other Tier II league.
Does the WSHL have weaker teams? Absolutely. But someone needs to show me a league that doesn’t have weaker teams. Do those teams deserve to be called Tier II? No, but I can point out some other Tier II teams in other leagues that don’t deserve to be called Tier II either.
The addition of European players has made the difference. These are highly skilled Europeans, and not simply players who couldn’t make teams in their home countries. One player is a highly regarded KHL prospect. These additions have helped in recruiting US and Canadian players as well.
The real question to be asked is, “What are the scouts thinking?”.
Well the WSHL answered that question too. The scouts showed up, and no one was leaving to go gamble. I am not talking about the typical bird dogs teams can send either. When you have Head Coaches from NCAA Division One and Division Three schools in the building, something must be happening.
One NCAA Coach said this to me;
“I learned a long time ago that you cant just label a player based on the league he plays in. The initials of any league don’t mean anything. The only thing that matters to me is can the player compete on my team and continue to develop.”
Another said this;
“I come here because my competition doesn’t. They don’t know about the league, or don’t respect it. That’s fine by me because I have all the access I want, and unlike some leagues, the players here appreciate me being here.”
The greatest challenge facing the WSHL is geography. There simply aren’t enough NCAA programs within its footprint which translates to limited viewing opportunity for scouts. That could change, as players move on and prove themselves scouts will likely add more time and money to their budget to get out to watch.
The event itself was very well organized. Games ran on time. Scheduling was done in a way that featured equally matched teams playing each other. Lots of overtime, and shootouts proved those points.
The scouting materials prepared by the league were ready and waiting at check in. No question about any player was left unanswered. Scouts were encouraged to get right into the thick of things and talk to players right away unlike at some other events where scouts are asked to not talk to players.
The six hours I spent in planes was a bit of a pain, but the event was worth the time and expense attending.
So, some of you are now asking yourselves what the WSHL has paid me to write this? Nothing. They have paid me nothing, and there is no deal in place for them to pay me in the future. I spent my own money going out there, and my own time writing this review.
Like any other league TJHN wont be bought when it comes to being accurate. If you have an issue, we will report it. But for today, the WSHL has earned and deserves to be recognized for what it has accomplished through hard choices and hard work. I for one will not miss next years event.
Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher