America’s Future: USPHL Transforms, Provides New Opportunities for Fifth Season in 2017-18

By Joshua Boyd

Pop quiz: What do Jack Eichel, Charlie Coyle and Jimmy Vesey have in common?

We’ll give you a hint, it’s the same thing they have in common with Ryan Donato, Robert Carpenter and Danny Tirone.

Come to think of it, those six share the same thing in common with Brady Fleurent, Tommy Besinger and Ross Olsson.

The first trio of players are young NHL standouts. The second group include two high scorers and a top goalie in the NCAA Division 1 ranks. The third group are players who are among the top scorers of NCAA Division 3 hockey this season, including the nation’s scoring leader Fleurent.

What do they all have in common? They are all USPHL alumni, or alumni of USPHL member organizations.

The Syracuse Jr. Stars and P.A.L. Jr. Islanders will have many more battles to come in 2017-18, especially in the new National Collegiate Development Conference.
Photo by Joshua Boyd

What is the USPHL?

From the time that the United States Premier Hockey League announced its existence in 2013, the USPHL has worked tirelessly to build a complete development model for young hockey players aspiring to college hockey, and possibly beyond to the professional realm.

The USPHL started off with a merger of long-standing Eastern Junior Hockey League teams and new NHL-affiliated/owned teams. It has quickly expanded with different divisions, first welcoming in teams from the former Empire Junior Hockey League, and later the now dormant Minnesota Junior Hockey League and Northern Pacific Hockey League.

In addition, the USPHL also formed the first full-season season midget league in the East with divisions at 18U, 16U and even a 16U Futures Division.

In 2016, the league initiated a bridge to its Midget and Junior programs by creating the High-Performance Youth Division, creating the first comprehensive cradle to college league in the United States.

In short, the USPHL has always sought to provide a personalized development path for players of a wide array of backgrounds and with different dreams to get to the NCAA Divisions 1, 2 and 3, or the American College Hockey Association. And, yes, there are those exceptional few who skate in “The Big Show,” the NHL.

Introducing the USPHL of 017-18

The USPHL of the last four years has been very successful, with more than 1,000 college commitments across all of its divisions. For the 2016-17 season, 12 organizations had over 90 Division 1 committed players competing on their teams.

In Division 3, the 2017-18 roster of USPHL teams ranks by far first in Division 3 player development over the past five years.

The USPHL has positioned itself for a revolutionary 2017-18 season that will see the league move up the rankings for player advancement to the college ranks, from NCAA Division 1 to ACHA Division 1.

The USPHL will debut its tuitionfree National Collegiate Development Conference later this summer. The USPHL Premier and Elite Divisions will return, now having clearer mission statements.

The 2017-18 Premier and Elite Divisions will welcome well-established junior programs the Northern Cyclones, Boston Bandits, Connecticut Nighthawks, New Jersey Rockets, Hartford Jr. Wolfpack and New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs.

The league’s midget programs will expand their competitive schedule through the formation of a new league affiliate member system.

One thing that will not change in the USPHL’s fifth season – there will be fast, physical hockey by players determined to become the best players they can be prior to reaching their college destinations. Some will enter the USPHL as Division 1 prospects, others will commit to Division 1 schools while playing in the USPHL.

Hundreds will commit, as they are already, to NCAA Division 2 and 3 and ACHA schools, where they will receive outstanding educations at some of the nation’s best colleges, while continuing to create memories to last a lifetime on and off the ice with new teammates.

The National Collegiate Development Conference

This new tuition-free division of the USPHL will be geared toward players who are already committed to NCAA Division 1 teams, or those who can achieve NCAA Division 1 commitments.

The NCDC will be a division of 11 teams, some being longtime USPHL members and others migrating from another junior league.

These 11 teams are in five states, ranging from southern New Hampshire to its western boundary of Rochester, N.Y. With two league members, New Jersey marks the southern frontier of the league.

With all of its leagues and divisions concentrated in a small geographic footprint, the USPHL minimizes travel time to away games and causes minimal disruption to players’ schooling and training.

The extra time spent at home allows for better rest and recovery after games, and more time to devote to school, family and life outside the rink.

How to get there: Existing Players

Players currently playing for an organization that will be part of the National Collegiate Development Conference can – for lack of a better term – remain where they are. Players in these organizations are already considered as members of that organization as “organizational assets.” In other words, if a player skated this year for the New Jersey Hitmen’s 16U team, or the P.A.L. Islanders Elite team, they are automatically protected by the parent NCDC club, and they do not need to be drafted or tendered.

Futures Draft

The first big moment for the NCDC, in addition to the formal announcement of its creation in December, was its Futures Draft on Jan. 31. Over six rounds, each of
the 11 members selected players born in 2001 and 2002 for those seasons beyond 2018, giving each team future prospects that no other NCDC team can sign to a
tender over the next year.

These are not under-the-radar players the USPHL is drafting, either. The NCDC is looking to be one of the top junior leagues, talent-wise, in the United States in 2017-18 and well into the future, as judging by the talent selected in the Futures Draft.

Anthony Cipollone, a draft pick of the New Jersey Hitmen, is an ’02 already committed to the University of Vermont for 2020-21. The Northern Cyclones selected Braden Doyle, an ’01 committed to the Boston University Terriers for 2020-21.

Tender signings

The NCDC allows its teams to sign players to tenders. These tenders also protect players, disallowing other NCDC teams to sign them before a team’s 2017-18 tryouts.

Some tenders already have their NCAA Division 1 plans in place, giving immediate legitimacy to the NCDC and its mission.

Jay Cote, a future teammate of Cipollone as a fellow UVM commit, was an early tender signing for the Islanders Hockey Club.

Since the start of the new year, the NCDC teams have been extremely busy signing the top talent that they began recruiting even months before the NCDC was announced.

“We’re probably going to recruit through tenders, camps, and recruit about 15 guys from the team we have this year,” said the Hitmen’s Toby Harris. “I talked to a midget [team] operator, and he said that many of the junior teams in his area ‘get comfortable and feel complacent,’ and he told me the fact that we’re doing this will raise the level of junior hockey across the U.S., because the other tuitionfree leagues must do more.”

Tryouts and Draft

As of Feb. 23, seven NCDC teams had announced their tryouts for their National Collegiate Development Conference teams.

Players can go to Pre-Draft tryouts, and work towards a selection by a NCDC team in the USPHL Draft, set for May. Pre-Draft tryouts are spread out from mid-March to late April and players can – if they so choose – attend multiple tryouts to try and increase their chances of a draft selection.

Players selected in the NCDC Draft will then be able to attend the Main Camps of the teams that drafted them, in hopes of landing a roster spot for 2017-
18.

All tryout dates for the USPHL’s NCDC and other divisions can be found online at www.usphl.com/tryouts.

USPHL Premier and Elite Divisions

The 2017-18 USPHL Premier Division will be geared towards players who are college-bound hockey players, both athletically and academically, within the next two years. This will also serve as the top league in which players can develop into NCDC players.

The Elite Division in 2017-18 will be geared towards players who are either college-bound, both athletically and academically, or who will be developing into Premier and NCDC Division players in the future.

The final alignment for the 2017-18 season has not yet been determined for either division. The Premier Division will, however, have a footprint stretching from the Upper Midwest to the Southeastern, Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. states.

As was true for the USPHL in its 2016-17 season, this footprint (and the footprint of the USPHL Premier especially) will closely mirror the footprint of NCAA men’s hockey. The USPHL has the advantage of operating its teams within a short drive of NCAA colleges to bolster the recruitment of its players, and that will never change.

Affiliate Program

Even if you’re not drafted into a NCDC team, there is still hope that you will see NCDC action, as early as the inaugural 2017-18 season.

Each National Collegiate Development Conference program has signed affiliate agreements with three teams in the USPHL Premier and Elite Divisions for the coming season.

Each NCDC team and its affiliates can work together in many ways: each USPHL Premier team will have the right to send a minimum three of its players to its NCDC affiliate for camps and games during the season; coordination of scouting and tryout camps in addition to year-round player procurement communication; tryout and player movement agreements are in place at the league level to benefit each NCDC team and its affiliates.

The Premier and Elite Division teams will feature open tryouts. A coach, scout or other hockey operations personnel from each team’s NCDC affiliate will be present at these practices, allowing for Premier and Elite teams to be immediately scouted for the tuition-free top level.

The Rochester Jr. Monarchs, represented here by forward Joe Watson, have signed tenders and are getting ready for the first season of the NCDC.
Photo by Joshua Boyd

The Path to College Hockey

The USPHL has constructed this new framework to create one path to college hockey.

This could mean you’re headed for the University of North Dakota (NCAA Division 1) or the University of Oklahoma (ACHA Division 1). College hockey comes in many different levels and in many different places.

But the USPHL – from the NCDC to the Premier to the Elite – has the coaching, developmental resources and high-end competition to send you where you can play the game you love and get a great education.

Need more information?

The USPHL can always be found at its online home, USPHL.com, which has news, features, stats, etc., for all of its Divisions. On Facebook, “Like” the United States
Premier Hockey League. The USPHL is on Twitter: @USPHL.