January 24, 2013

Juniors Journal: USPHL's launch put on hold

By Shawn Hutcheon

Rumors. It’s awfully interesting how they circulate and from where they get their start.

Many rumors have surrounded the state of junior hockey in New England during the last 12 months. In February 2012, word spread like wildfire that the United States Hockey League would soon be in the process of expanding to the northeastern region of the country. In a conversation last March with Brian Werger, the director of communications and public relations told New England Hockey Journal thatthe USHL is “happy with where it is, geographically” and there were “no plans to expand into the East.”   

As the 2012-2013 Eastern Junior and Atlantic Junior Hockey League seasons began, the speculation died down and is no more than a whimper at this point. Of course, the major reason for that came about when four EJHL organizations – the Boston Jr. Bruins, Islanders Hockey Club, South South Kings and Jersey Hitmen – announced in November the formation of the United States Premier Hockey League.

The goal of the founders was to keep youth players in one organization, train them using the USA Hockey American Development Model and see them progress to the USPHL (junior) team. This would also keep the junior players in the Northeast instead of heading west to play in the USHL. It was thought that the players would like the idea of staying home and playing in front of family and friends and, at the same time, be scouted by the colleges and universities such as Boston College, Boston University and Harvard for whom they had always dreamed of playing.

Since the initial announcement, the USPHL went about the business of adding the Bay State Breakers, Connecticut Yankees and the Portland Jr. Pirates. It was all systems go and it looked as if the USPHL would open its inaugural season in 2013-2014. However, plans took a detour recently when the league’s founders made its presentation to USA Hockey. 

According to an NHL scout speaking on the condition of anonymity, the USA Hockey Junior Committee was not impressed with the USPHL’s presentation. 

“They didn’t have the paperwork they were supposed to have and they brought the wrong paperwork with them,” the scout said. “USA Hockey was more than a little irritated with them and denied their request for sanctioning and told them to ‘come back next year.’”     

Toby Harris (Kingston, Mass.), coach and general manager of the Jersey Hitmen, explains the presentation as more of an information gathering session for the USPHL.

“We missed the April 1st deadline to apply for sanctioning as a Tier I junior league. We knew that. We went to get information on how we can insure our players next season with USA Hockey,” Harris explained. “They told us we couldn’t insure the teams as youth teams because we’ll have players over 18 years of age. They said we can go the senior route but if we do, we can’t have players under 18.”

Harris said the USPHL is discussing its options for next season.

“Well, first, we’ll have our teams in the Eastern Junior Hockey League or we could play exhibition schedules against each other and with junior teams from other leagues or finally, we could shelve the idea for a year but we will apply for sanctioning with USA Hockey in April of 2013 or 2014,” Harris explained.

Of course, there are many rumors as to why the USPHL will not drop the puck at the start of the 2013-2014 season. According to our scouting source, the experience was not a good one for the USPHL’s founders, however, Jersey’s man at the top, Harris, explained the meetings as more of a question and answer session. Regardless of which explanation is at the helm of the delay, it is a fact that the United States Premier Hockey League will not take the ice for a year or more.

Game of the Week

To see the best junior hockey matchup this weekend, hop in your car and set out for Cyclones Arena in Hudson, N.H., for a two-game series between the Northern Cyclones and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights.

The two clubs are tied for first place in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League making this, arguably, the series of the season. The Cyclones have lost just two of their last 16 contests while the Knights have lost four of their last 16.

WBS boasts the league’s leading scorer in Jack Ceglarski who has 55 points in 34 games.

The two clubs have met twice this season with the Knights winning both games by scores of 5-3 and 7-4.

NE Junior Power Rankings

1) Boston Jr. Bruins (24-7-0-1-0) 
2) Islanders Hockey Club (22-8-0-1-1)
3) Valley Jr. Warriors (20-14-0-0-0)
4) Northern Cyclones (21-7-2-2)
5) South Shore Kings (21-12-0-3-0)

6) Walpole Express (22-7-2-0) 
7) Bay State Breakers (19-14-0-0-2)
8) Connecticut Wolfpack (20-8-2-1)
9) Boston Jr. Rangers (17-6-7-2)
10) Springfield Jr. Pics (18-15-0-1-1) 

11) New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (14-15-0-0-2)
12) Boston Bandits (14-15-0-1-2)
13) Portland Jr. Pirates (10-23-0-1-0)
 14) Connecticut Oilers (9-20-0-2-1)
15) Laconia Leafs (7-21-4-0) 

Shawn Hutcheon can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.