The 2011-12 season has been a banner year for college commitments for players in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). Traditionally, the NAHL’s NCAA college commitment list exceeds the century mark every year, and this past season was no exception.
Since August 1, 2011, a total number of 171 players that played in the NAHL this past season or were an alumni of the NAHL from last season, committed to an NCAA school in 2011-12.
Of the current 171 total players committed, 117 committed to NCAA Division I schools, while 54 players committed to NCAA Division III schools. A total of 146 players who played in the NAHL at some point during the 2011-12 season committed to NCAA schools, while 25 players, who are NAHL alumni, committed while playing in other junior leagues. The final number from the 2011-12 season will be even higher as commitments are certain to escalate in the coming weeks as schools continue to lock in on more top talent the NAHL has to offer.
“What may be the most gratifying from a league standpoint is that the number of commitments continues to increase each season and most importantly, the majority of players are making those commitments while playing in the NAHL,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “It is a testament to the hard work of our student-athletes, the level of play we are currently at as a league and the ownership groups and coaching staffs, who have provided the players with the opportunity for success.”
Of the 28 teams that competed in the NAHL during the 2011-12 season, the Amarillo Bulls boasted the most commitments to date with 13, 10 of which were Division I commitments. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs and Wenatchee Wild had the second highest totals with 11 players respectively headed to NCAA schools.
Amarillo Bulls head coach Dennis Williams said that having 13 players commit to NCAA schools this past season is something that the organization places a high priority on. “Our goal as coaches should be to move these players onto the next level and we as an organization take great pride in having over half our team commit to NCAA schools this past season,” said Williams. “I think the NAHL has a great tradition of providing an outlet and a platform for that opportunity and paving the way for our student-athletes.”
Williams, who coached at NCAA Division I Bowling Green State University prior to his arrival in the NAHL in 2010, said that one of the main priorities for NAHL players moving onto the next level is that they arrive to their respective college programs ready to make a difference. “NCAA teams are looking for a student-athlete who is mature, can handle the rigors of both school and hockey and who can come in right away and make an impact on their team,” said Williams. “I think one of the benefits of the NAHL is that that the players who move onto college hockey fit that description, are more prepared and have more experience.”
Michigan Warriors head coach Moe Mantha, who has previous coaching experience in the OHL, ECHL, AHL and USNDTP, said that getting an opportunity at the next level takes hard work on everyone’s part. “A lot goes into developing a player so he is ready to take that next step. There is a lot more to hockey than just being a goal scorer… teams are looking for guys who have an all-around game, who work hard, who have good hockey sense and positioning, and who have good character. We as coaches are trying to teach them all those things, typically within just a 1-2 year timeframe.”
One of the continued reasons for the rise in commitments, besides the skill and ability of the players in the NAHL, is exposure events like the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament. With each passing season the event seems to become bigger, better and generate serious interest from scouts. Along with the NAHL Showcase, it has become one of those ‘can’t miss’ events that players are seeing the direct benefits of.
A perfect example of one of those players was Gabe Levin (cover photo), who spent the past two seasons playing in the NAHL for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Following his participation in the Top Prospects Tournament, Levin, who finished second in league scoring with 90 points in 2011-12, made his commitment to the University of Denver in the WCHA. “Top Prospects was a great experience and a thrill to know that you are playing in front of so many scouts. You are not only playing to get yourself noticed, but your teammates as well, so there is a lot on the line,” said Levin. “It was a great opportunity for me and the rest of the guys there. I think it just added to the overall experience of playing in the league and getting me ready for the next step in my hockey career.”