NA3HL Celebrates 10 Years of Growth and Success
September 16, 2019
By Tom Robinson, USA Hockey
The North American Hockey League (NAHL) acquired and rebranded the Central States Hockey League nearly 10 years ago. In the time since, the NAHL has developed and expanded the league it renamed as the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) in a process that has provided many benefits to both entities.
“We have some really good members and really good partners who do a real good job for our players,” said NAHL President and Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld, whose duties include presiding over the NA3HL. “It’s like a mini-North American Hockey League product with a lot of great community-based initiatives and a lot of fan support.”
Members of the NAHL, the only Tier II junior league in the U.S., have direct access to Tier III players with many of the teams owning a Tier III affiliate team.
In turn, the NA3HL teams have access to the overall operational structure of the NAHL.
“We forged a Tier III league under the USA Hockey umbrella that has the vast resources under the NAHL and its staff and one that has use of the NAHL's experience to operate, promote and support the NA3HL,” Frankenfeld said.
What was a 12-team league when the NAHL assumed operations of the CSHL Nov. 4, 2010 has spread to include 34 teams across six divisions in its 10th season.
The leagues have grown together and as a result, no other league of its kind has had more movement and advanced more players onto play in the NAHL than the NA3HL this past season. Thanks to additional and enhanced initiatives that were put in place this season in cooperation with the NAHL, more players from the NA3HL play, practice, and earn NCAA Division I scholarships with the NAHL than any other league.
This past season not only did 26 NA3HL players sign tenders to play in the NAHL for the 2019-20 season, but 26 more players were selected in the 2019 NAHL Draft. The NA3HL also continues to make its mark and is one of the leaders in junior hockey with the advancement of players onto the NCAA. In 2019, the NA3HL had over 140+ college commitments, with almost 70% of those being NCAA commitments. In addition, over 300 former NA3HL players are currently playing in the NCAA, and 13% of NCAA Division III freshmen this season previously played in the NA3HL.
“What has happened [in the NA3HL] is very similar to what has happened in the North American Hockey League,” said Frankenfeld, who took over as commissioner of that league in 2007. “The Central States Hockey League that we took over was essentially a bus league in Michigan and the Chicago, Illinois, area and it has really grown into a nationally branded league.
Records in Frankenfeld’s office show cooperation between the NAHL and CSHL prior to his arrival. One of Frankenfeld’s early goals — one that he assumes others shared — was for each NAHL team to one day to have access to its own Tier III team.
In the past decade, the NAHL has moved closer to that idea. It has developed the national Tier III league to mirror the NAHL while combining measures that make sense for the business side of the franchises with player-development ideals.
There have been a lot of changes to process along the way.
Frankenfeld has guided growth in the Texas market while measuring interest in California and Florida.
“We’re 10 years young and we’re going through some growing pains and evolution just like anything does until you get to a certain real stable place,” Frankenfeld said. “We’re real close to that stable place.”
That stability is the next goal Frankenfeld has in mind.
While there is reason for the NAHL to be proud of its growth, Frankenfeld also praises the United States Hockey League. the only Tier I league in the U.S., for the number of teams it has in particular markets for a long time.
Strengthening some of the newer markets for the long-term can help in that next step.
“I think the league, in some of our footprints and areas, have really solidified and are stable,” Frankenfeld said. “In some of our newer areas, and areas where there are not as many hockey players, we’re still working through some of that.
“We want to have the best product we can in a community,” he said. “We want to attract the best players we can. We want those players to play college hockey.
“If, by the way, they can advance to play in the NAHL or the USHL, that’s great. But, the goal is to get them ready to play college hockey.”
Throughout the season, the NAHL will recognize its 10th anniversary during its four league-wide events. Several NA3HL teams will compete in a new East Showcase held from October 6-8, 2019 at the New England Sports Village in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Next, all NA3HL teams will compete in a league-wide Showcase held from December 15-17, 2019 at the Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota. The third event of the season will be the NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament, which will take place alongside the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Attleboro, Massachusetts on February 17-18, 2020. The NA3HL will then finish their season with the Fraser Cup Championship Tournament, which crowns the NA3HL's playoff champion. The event will be held from March 25-29, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.