Benefits of joining the NAPHL evident from the start
By John Tranchina, Rubber Magazine
Many elite-level youth hockey travel programs throughout the United States face a similar challenge - providing enough top-notch competition for their teams to play against that will attract enough scouts from junior and NCAA teams while keeping travel costs relatively low by not having to traverse across the country every weekend.
This scenario is even more pronounced for teams in non-traditional hockey locales, places like Nebraska, Arizona, California, Texas and North Carolina.
Since 2009-10 season, that dilemma has been solved by the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL), an initiative run by the only Tier II Junior A hockey league in the U.S., the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
It brings together teams at the highest level of youth hockey from across the country. In 2011-12, it featured 18 organizations at the Midget Major (U18) level, 18 squads from Midget Minor (U16) and eight from Bantam (U14), all facing off in competitive tournaments four to six times during the season, depending on the age bracket.
On four of those occasions, the NAPHL games are held in conjunction with important NAHL events, so consistent exposure to NAHL coaches and scouts is built into the league’s model. And with NAHL players participating in their own games at the same events, that attracts scouts from the USHL (Tier I Junior A), the NCAA and even pro teams, further exposing the kids from the NAPHL to personnel from higher levels of hockey.
“Our events are based on vertical exposure,” noted NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “We bring the bantams and the midgets in so our junior guys can watch them and we bring our junior teams in so our junior guys are there to watch the bantams and the midgets, and that brings the pro and colleges in so they can watch. It’s bringing everybody under one roof. It’s saving travel costs, it’s saving recruiting costs, it’s trying to bring everybody together.”
“Players, when choosing which Tier 1 hockey program to play for, want exposure and the best opportunity to advance to junior A hockey,” added Lucas Trombetta, Tier I Director for the Pikes Peak Miners organization, which ices teams in all three NAPHL age groups. “Since joining the league three years ago, we have seen an increase in the number of our players making the jump to the junior hockey. Every NAPHL event is loaded with scouts from various junior leagues throughout North America. Consistently playing in front of junior hockey scouts five or six times per season provides all NAPHL elite players with a big stage to showcase their abilities.”
Just three years after the NAPHL’s inception, many players have moved on to higher levels, with each team having its own success stories.
“This was a banner year for us,” said Todd Collins, head coach of the Arizona Firebirds U18 NAPHL squad. “Once joining the NAPHL this year, we ended up having a record five tenders into the NAHL for next year, which was fantastic for one team at the U18 AAA level. We’re ecstatic about being a part of the NAPHL.”
Trombetta singled out defenseman Nash Worden as one example of what skating in the NAPHL can provide a player.
“Nash played for our Bantam AAA team and was one of the top defenseman for our 16U 2011 Championship team in the NAPHL,” recounted Trombetta, who also serves as assistant coach of Pikes Peak’s U18 squad. “Nash had an excellent off-season and late last summer (the NAHL’s) Wichita Falls invited him to tryouts and he made the team out of camp. Now he is on the radar screen for a lot of teams in the USHL. Making the jump from 16U AAA straight to the NAHL is very difficult, and Nash would not have been prepared to make that jump without the experience and exposure he gained in the NAPHL.”
There are some additional perks accompanying NAPHL membership that are also highly valuable, including having every game broadcast live on the FastHockey website, access to a special video editing software, and many others.
“The video is phenomenal,” said Arizona’s Collins. “Not only for us as a coaching staff to use as tools in team meetings, but also for scouts that are not able to get to a venue, they can watch online and it’s fantastic. We use the video after every game. It’s very informative to help our players take their game to the next level.”
“The infrastructure that the NAPHL has developed over the first three seasons is tremendous,” added Trombetta of Pikes Peak. “The website is very good and continually updated with stories on programs, teams, or players. The marketing and promotion of the league is the best I have seen in youth hockey. The video access and editing software for every game is a huge bonus for any coaching staff. More than anything, however, the networking for players and coaches on a consistent basis throughout the season is the biggest perk. There is a sense within the league - from the commissioner, to the marketing staff, to the administrative staff, to the coaches, and to the players and families - that we are all ‘in this together,’ that is very tangible at every event throughout the season.”
One other advantage to joining the NAPHL is the ability for teams to consolidate their out-of-town travel agenda, maximizing exposure to scouts and reducing costs at the same time.
“As a California-based team, we have to play all the AAA teams in California, and we schedule those games around the existing six events that we’ll have with the NAPHL,” said Jim Burcar, Director of Coaching for the Orange County Hockey Club, which ices NAPHL clubs at the U18 and U16 levels. “You can build your calendar right now in the springtime for the entire hockey season. It’s a real asset - it’s not searching for tournaments to play in, you can set your schedule and line up all your trips for the year.”
And not only does the league’s unique format benefit the players and organizations, but it also helps streamline the scouting process for the NAHL clubs as well, because they always know there’s going to be NAPHL players available to look at each time they go to a league showcase event.
“It allows us the ability to be in close proximity to a number of different tournaments, with a representative at every tournament,” noted former NHLer Paul Baxter, head coach of the NAHL’s Wichita Falls Wildcats, whose roster feature several NAPHL graduates, including former Arizona Firebird Nash Worden. “The kids certainly get looked at actively and we’ve got a couple of kids that we took from that league last year and we feel very comfortable that they’re going to be great additions to our team.”
“It’s a recruiting tool because we get a lot of our kids right out of Midget,” added former NHL player Dallas Drake, minority owner and assistant coach of the NAHL’s Traverse City North Stars. “You can go watch kids all the time and see him and speak with him a lot. I think it’s a great idea in terms of recruiting kids.”