Over the last few days both top US Hockey Leagues announced changes in their league team rosters for 2019-20 which will have an impact on the US ice hockey junior landscape. While the Tier I USHL will operate, based on the current level of information, with one team less, the Tier II NAHL will add two teams. It is good and bad news but overall good for players as it will add, a net, 23 free to play Junior spots for next season!
The USHL announced that the Central Illinois Flying Aces received permission from the League to temporarily withdraw their team from competition this upcoming season while they evaluate opportunities to resume play in the 2020-21 season.
The NAHL announced the addition of two new teams: the Maine Nordiques and the New Mexico Ice Wolves. The Nordiques will compete in the East Division next season while the Ice Wolves will play in the South Division. The Main Nordiques are based in Lewiston, Main and will play at the Androscoggin Bank Colisée. The New Mexico Wolves will play out of the Outpost Ice Arena in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The fact that the USHL, the only USA Hockey sanctioned Tier I League, will have one team less next season was an unwelcome news as 23 roster spots on the highest US Junior level will be lost. With the NAHL, the only USA Hockey sanctioned Tier II League, adding two teams, there actually will be a net 23 spots added in the free to play leagues. Which is goods news! The NAHL has improved its level continuously over the last few years with the result that every year more NAHL players compete on the highest NCAA level (and quite a few players in the NHL have NAHL ties).
However, this could have a negative affect on the Tier III, pay to play, leagues in North America as the competition for talent will further increase. There are too many leagues/teams in Tier III with some of them struggling to recruit 20 to 23 players to field a competitive team which resulted with some teams folding during this and last season.