September 9, 2005 - North American Hockey League (NAHL)
Frisco, TX (September 7, 2005) -- When the puck drops at 7 p.m. on Friday night at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the game between the visiting Youngstown/Mahoning Valley Phantoms and the U.S. National Under-18 Team, the 30th North American Hockey League season will officially be under way.
A half hour later, the Cleveland Junior Barons will host the Alpena IceDiggers, who will be playing their first NAHL game since relocating from Toledo in the off-season.
The same two matchups will be featured again on Saturday and after next weekend, when another 15 games are scheduled, the NAHL\'s 2005-06 season will be in full swing.
From now until March 26, 2006, the NAHL will be celebrating its 30th season as the oldest and largest Junior A hockey league in the United States.
"Thirty years in US junior hockey is a long time," says NAHL commissioner and president Michael Santos.. "It's a hard business. Teams and league come and go, and they all have their high points and low points. So 30 years is a rather remarkable achievement."
The league has added new members this season in Mason City, Iowa, Faribault/Owatonna, Minnesota, and Traverse City, Michigan in addition to moving to Alpena and also transferring the Springfield Spirit from Missouri to Wasilla, Alaska.
As a result, the league realigned its divisions over the summer and added a new Central Division to accommodate the record number of teams -- 20.
The divisional alignments are:
North Division- Alpena IceDiggers, Cleveland Junior Barons, Traverse City North Stars, USA National Team Development Program and Youngstown Phantoms
South Division - Santa Fe Roadrunners, Springfield Junior Blues, Texarkana Bandits, Texas Tornado and Wichita Falls Wildcats
Central Division - Bismarck Bobcats, Fargo-Moorhead Jets, Minnesota Blizzard, North Iowa Outlaws, Southern Minnesota Express
West Division - Billings Bulls, Bozeman IceDogs, Fairbanks Ice Dogs, Helena Bighorns, Wasilla Spirit
"We\'re very excited about our new markets and our realignment," says Santos. "Our owners and our team and league staffs worked very hard in the off season to help make our 30th season our best ever. We had very competitive division races last season and great playoffs and this season should be even more competitive."
It has been a busy off season in the NAHL. Besides the new teams and divisional alignments, another feature of the 2005-06 season will be the largest schedule of games ever -- 58 per team -- and a huge increase of inter-divisional play, which will allow fans to see new teams and test the players against the widest range of competition ever in U.S. junior hockey.
""The NAHL has been through many phases, but we think -- as do most hockey observers -- we are a league on the rise. We are attracting more quality players than we have in recent years and more than 100 of our players graduated to college hockey programs last year," Santos observed. "That\'s approximately 25% of our league. Our players are now being recruited by colleges all over the country -- not just in the Midwest. We have players going to Ivy League schools, we have players going to exceptional Division I and Division III programs.
"We\'re giving more players a chance to play Junior A hockey at a high level and be seen by college and professional scouts than ever before -- and the result is that we have an exceptionally competitive league that our fans truly enjoy watching."
In addition to the new markets, the longer schedule and the interdivisional play, there are a few other new elements for 2005-06. Fully half the NAHL teams will be led by new coaches this season. Also, the U.S National Team Development Program, which has played in the NAHL for a number of years, will for the first time, be eligible to compete for the Robertson Cup championship in April.
And one other new element is a redesign and upgrade of NAHL.com, which will be rolled out shortly.
"We are creating a modern junior league with a true national footprint that taps into the explosive growth of hockey at the grass-roots level throughout the United States, not just in traditional hockey markets, where we remain a strong presence," says Santos. "And we continue to take advantage of new ways to reach our fans, with webcasting of our games, with our website, with licensed merchandise and our NAHL Locker Room, and a few other enhancements we\'ll be implementing that will make our 30th season successful and memorable. We\'ve created a special 30th Anniversary logo that reflects our continues progress as a league.
"Were happy where this league is after 30 years, but we\'re not satisfied. We expect to get even better"