By Tom Robinson, USA Hockey Writer (USAHockey.com)
In its 13th season, the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) has grown into the largest single feeder league in supplying North American Hockey League talent.
NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld would like to see that connection, as well as the one each league has with the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL), continue to grow.
Frankenfeld is able to measure the growth of the NA3HL not only in the number of players moving on from the league, but in those coming in.
“At NA3HL, we’ve seen incredible interest in the league,” Frankenfeld said in a telephone interview. “We’ve seen not only the rosters get fuller earlier, but they’re getting better players and seeing more of those players end up in the NAHL and eventually in college.”
Frankenfeld said that between the NAPHL and NA3HL, “we’re seeing more and more players come through the ladder.”
More resources are being devoted to the NA3HL level and there is an effort to build stronger relationships so that more players from the only active USA Hockey Tier III Junior League get the experience of practicing with, and ultimately playing with, NAHL teams.
“I know there’s a lot of players from the NAPHL that are playing in both leagues,” he said. “As we continue to promote the brand and continue to have internal processes like central scouting and an internal tendering system and other things that we do to promote players within the products, you see more and more of that movement.
“Everything we’re doing underneath internally between these leagues is paying off.”
The 34-team league has teams spread across five divisions and 16 states. Some teams started the regular season schedule as early as Sept. 4, but across the different divisions and teams, the league has a bit of a staggered start before arriving together at the March 5 end of the regular season. Two teams had openers on Sept. 30, while the Bay State Bobcats were the last team open play, doing so on Oct. 1. Meanwhile, the Northeast Generals have already played nine games — and won eight of them.
Frankenfeld said most teams arrive in their cities around the same time, at the end of August, so that high school-aged players can get their schooling started, but the start of games depends on the particulars of the markets and the buildings in which the franchises play.
The fast start for the East Division-leading Generals is a carryover from last season when the Generals had the league’s best record at 45-2-0-0. It was the Rochester Grizzlies, however, who emerged from the postseason as the Fraser Cup champions.
While trying to work on their personal advancement, NA3HL players will again battle for top honors within the league.
“The NA3HL has experienced record-breaking advancement as more and more players are getting called up, playing, affiliated, and practicing on a regular season with NAHL teams,” NA3HL commissioner Blake MacNicol said, according to a posting on the league’s website announcing the schedule and other plans for this season. “We’ve seen so much interaction with the two leagues that it has built momentum to lead into what took place during the NAHL Draft.
“We are also continuing to ensure that the competition and league-wide events remain at the highest level, while also maintaining a focus on educating our players about NCAA compliance and the importance of education.”
The NA3HL had more than 60 alumni play in the NAHL last season, had 34 players sign NAHL tenders for the 2022-23 season, securing an opening day roster spot, and 27 players selected in the 2022 NAHL Entry Draft.
“The players are getting more opportunity to move on and that attracts better players,” Frankenfeld said.
In all, more than 300 former NA3HL players are expected to play on NCAA teams in the upcoming season.
Story Courtesy: North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL): NA3HL remains an important pathway to higher levels (October 6, 2022) & USA Hockey: The NA3HL remains an important pathway to higher levels (October 5, 2022)