When the North American Hockey League (NAHL) assumed operations of the North American 3 Hockey League (3HL) back in November of 2010, a roadmap was set forth of establishing the 3HL as the top training ground in the country by providing the best coaching, exposure and developmental vehicles available for student-athletes in the Tier III Junior category.
Now less than two years later, the 3HL has met and exceeded its expectations, not only through the high level of play on the ice, but also though an established network of vertical exposure events in cooperation with the NAHL. This has allowed the 3HL to continue their long standing tradition of moving players onto the next levels of hockey.
“We have never strayed from our mission as a league, which has always been to generate more avenues for all players as they pursue their dreams on the ice and in the classroom, and the 3HL continues to solidify that pursuit,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld.
In addition to its regular-season schedule and playoffs, the 3HL, which boasts a tight geographical footprint allowing players to compete and excel academically close to home, participates in the NAHL’s high-exposure events, which attract hundreds of college, junior and professional coaches and scouts.
The events are designed to take advantage of the unique vertical exposure model, which under the direction and vision of the NAHL increases the exposure players receive at events, maximizing the scouting presence, while minimizing the expenses. “This is a very unique opportunity for these athletes,” said Frankenfeld. “They will receive more exposure opportunities at our events than they would playing in any other Tier III league in the country. The addition of the 3HL provides another worthy path for players to grow, on and off the ice, while being showcased in front of the entire scouting community,” said Frankenfeld.
This past season alone, over two dozen 3HL players signed tenders or were drafted to play in the NAHL this upcoming season. On top of those numbers were the several 3HL players who were called up to the NAHL during the season.
The NAHL’s Odessa Jackalopes called up four 3HL players alone during the 2011-12 season, two of whom ended up staying in Odessa for the majority of the season and played significant roles in helping the first year Jackalopes make the NAHL playoffs. Odessa General Manager Joe Clark said that the 3HL is an integral part of the development process for NAHL teams. “The 3HL is an important part and piece of the of the development puzzle for the NAHL, and we here in Odessa are living proof. The players that we had come in from the 3HL and play for us had a significant impact on our season,” said Clark.
“It is so important to us in the NAHL to have a good, working relationship with the 3HL. They are relationships you have to keep fresh and you have to do your homework because the 3HL has some great players and talent. We have the benefit of seeing these players on multiple occasions in multiple situations. Every player develops differently, at a different time and in different situations,” continued Clark. “We found, particularly this past season, that not only did the players arrive and fit right in, but they took advantage of the opportunity and really contributed something to our overall success as a team.”
The high number of players getting a chance at the next level is not only attributed to another exciting and competitive 3HL regular and post-season, but the 3HL’s list of high-exposure events throughout the season making a significant impact.
Each team participated and had representation in three different Showcases and the 3HL’s Top Prospects Tournament, which this past season was held in conjunction with the NAHL’s Robertson Cup National Championship Tournament in Frisco, Texas. The 3HL Top Prospects Tournament featured 80 of the best 3HL players that played in a three-day, ‘all-star’ style format, providing the players with yet another avenue for exposure to scouts and a chance to shine on the brightest stage.
“The bottom line is that no other Tier III junior league in the country sends more players to the NAHL than the 3HL,” said Frankenfeld. “I think once scouts are able to see the players multiple times and in different situations and settings, they get a feel for what type of player they are potentially getting.”
The 3HL, managed organizationally by the NAHL, operates with 17 teams in seven states (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania). The 3HL also participates and sees the benefits of the NAHL’s wide menu of marketing partnerships, including its relationships with Combat Hockey, the Official Equipment Supplier of the NAHL; FASTHockey, the Official Internet Broadcast Provider of the NAHL/3HL; OT Sports, the Official Jersey Supplier of the NAHL; The Messier Project, the Official Helmet Supplier of the NAHL and Brian’s Custom Sports, official goaltending equipment supplier to the NAHL.
North Iowa Bulls head coach Todd Sanden, who is the reigning 3HL Coach of the Year, managed to move 10 of his players from this past year’s team onto the next level. He also has NAHL coaching experience and said that he is witnessing first-hand the immediate impact the 3HL is having on players. “You see players moving onto the next levels of hockey and it is making everyone take notice that this is a strong league and a league that players can develop and be successful in,” said Sanden. “The 3HL is a league where a younger player can come and compete, and a veteran player can gain the necessary experience and confidence that prepare them for the next level like the NAHL.”