United States Hockey League
The USHL is the only Tier I Junior A League operating entirely in the United States. The league adheres to NCAA eligibility standards, which allows its players to continue on to college hockey before potentially moving on to professional careers. The teams mostly are in central and midwestern states.
USHL Commissioner Ellis “Skip” Prince said the Johnstown market might be intriguing but talk of an imminent move to the city by an USHL team is unfounded.
“It’s a rumor that’s circulating. I did get a call from Mr. Mike Silva and returned the call but we actually have not connected,” Prince said on Monday. “We don’t have immediate plans. We had actually talked to the folks who are the owners of Wheeling for different circumstances a couple years ago. At this point I suggest that it’s nothing but rumors. We understand those markets. We have some of what I’d characterize as ‘not current’ demographics. We know those are good hockey markets.
“We have considered Eastern expansion very carefully,” he added. “We’re approaching it with caution for a number of reasons. Hockey in the East is vying with a lot of college hockey as well as the AHL, ECHL and the NHL itself. The markets we’re in haven’t had to compete for the most part in that range. The other concern is travel. It’s a Midwest league. We’ve been working on what an Eastern Conference or an Eastern template might look like. We believe we’re not really there yet.”
Prince said when the USHL moved into Youngstown, Ohio, the team had to win over fans accustomed to the professional game.
“It took a couple years for Youngstown to overcome that ‘What is high school hockey doing coming to our town?’ approach by bloggers and such,” Prince said of a misperception that junior and high school hockey are the same level. “We recognize the challenge where professional hockey has been. We want to let folks know this is a very special brand of hockey. It takes some work.”
Johnstown might one day be a fit for junior hockey, Prince said.
“I know that there is a baseline of hockey there, and going forward we would love to be able to explore the market a little more carefully to see whether it could sustain a USHL economy,” Prince said. “Half of our players haven’t generally graduated from school. A lot of things have to go right. You can’t try it out for a year or two and try the next place. We want to be more stable than that. It’s important to get into markets where we’d have a stable, long-term tenant.”