I began thinking of this topic after seeing a topic on a hockey forum the other day. In the past few seasons the hockey world has seen the emergence of low level (self proclaimed A leagues). Many criticize theses leagues as nothing more than hyped up beer leagues, but in fact the level of play isn't that bad. Many players have college background, some of the top ACHA DI level and a few NCAA DI players but most from NCAA III. The organization of these low level leagues will be crucial for their survival and also for the growth of hockey in the US.
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First, professional team management is key for providing the A leagues with stable franchises. Having stable franchises will also help grow the attendance of the individual teams and league wide. Good management teams can reach out and market cheap entertaining hockey to the local markets. Stable franchises will also make recruiting easier. Franchises can reach out to local college talent and keep ex college players in the local areas.
League and teams must be efficient in dealing with finances. Management has to stretch the limited available funds as much as possible. Failure to do so will continue the past few seasons of poorly managed poor teams. Those poor teams fold and new teams form in different cities. This cycle of poor teams leaving and new teams being added creates ever changing league footprints and the inability for leagues to carve out a niche. Sound franchises and leagues will be able to grow budgets though the years as the concept of low level minor league hockey grows in the sports industry and in the host communities.
Another key factor in organizing low level pro leagues is gaining concrete affiliations with higher level minor leagues and the NHL. Model minor league hockey after the highly organized minor league baseball system. Young players out of college and major Jr. A could begin in the low A leagues and quickly move though the levels of minor league hockey. It will help guard against kids being unprepared for the AHL and NHL levels. Strength and conditioning would be the focus with A level franchises technical skills would be brought in especially in higher minor leagues such as the CHL, ECHL and IHL by the time a player reaches the AHL after a season or two he will be well prepared for that high level of play and be able to immediately contribute to a team.
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