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Big Changes Coming to USA Hockey

USA Hockey received a grant from the NHL for $8.5 million dollars for player development for the first time, and with that money, some big changes are on the way for USA Hockey.

The first four places that money is going are what you would expect: a grant to expand the USHL, money for the NTDP, money for training officials, and money to grow the game.The fifth place is the biggest change, and will likely be the most controversial.

USA Hockey has really been interested the past year or so on creating "The American Development Model" for hockey. The new American Development Model that will be created by this money is called "Long-Term Athlete Development"(LTAD) that will be carried out by 36 "High-Performance Clubs"(HPCs) from around the country.

Here is how USA Hockey describes the High-Performance Club program:

  • -Approximately 36 High Performance Clubs (HPCs) located in six regional divisions of approximately six HPC organizations.

  • -HPCs will field High Performance teams at 13U, 14U, 15U, 16U, and 18U to compete in a National HPC League.

  • -Each HPC is required to have a supporting 12U, 10U and 8U program in place that follows the American Development Model.

  • -Physical testing and monitoring of the HPC players will be done to provide information to the National Team Development Program, United States Hockey League and NHL for future player selection.

  • -ADM Managers will help with coaching education, administration, player tracking and implementation of the American Development Model within each of the HPCs.

  • -A regional off-season training program will be implemented to provide additional training time to HPC players and coaches.

Essentially, it sounds like USA Hockey will be taking the top 36 AAA programs(or some variation of them), giving them special sanction, and putting them all in a league where they can be more closely monitored, and receive the best training.

This type of closely monitored athletic training to a select few players is usually the type of thing you see in other, smaller countries looking to produce a few select athletes to compete on the world stage. The United States has taken the opposite approach with most sports, figuring that there are enough people out there willing to run through the snow and punch sides of beef on their own that they don't need fancy nationalized sports training to compete on the world stage.

Hockey is a bit different, since it is such a highly regionalized sport. The population of the hockey-playing United States is fairly small(and growing much smaller as those states lose population, while non-hockey states gain). Most areas of the country, especially developing areas, don't have the infrastructure available for a talented player to develop into a great hockey player.

That's not to say that this program is without fault, and I'm sure that it will have more than its fair share of critics. Putting so much emphasis on just 36 teams limits opportunities for late-bloomers, and make the pressure and politics of getting a kid on a top team even worse than it already is in some places.

It could be interesting to see what happens in the state of Minnesota with high school hockey. I wrote earlier this year about the potential of AAA hockey catching on in the state. I'd imagine Minnesota would likely share one of the six USA hockey regions along with North Dakota and Wisconsin. It would essentially be a year-round Elite League rather than just played in the fall. There's a lot of great players in Minnesota, but losing the top 40-50 kids could be devastating to the prestige of high school hockey.

That said, condensing the top players in the state might help develop more elite players. There's been some very good players to come out of the state and have made the NHL, but when you look at the truly elite NHL players, there is Phil Housley, Neal Broten and then a pretty huge gap until the present day where there's hope that guys like Erik Johnson, Peter Mueller, and Kyle Okposo become that great.

Further, there is a trend that the past four Mr. Hockey winners in Minnesota have all been defensemen, with the strong possibility that a fifth could win it this year. And the two years prior to the run of defensemen, the award went to forwards who ended up underwhelming in college, while three defensemen that were finalists in those years have already made it to the NHL. This trend probably is more developmental than coincidental. With players spread out over so many teams, it's only natural for the best skaters at a young age to slide back on defense where they can be on the ice half the time and have a greater impact on the game. If those players start playing together at a younger age, you may start seeing more forwards coming out of the state with great skating and puck skills(And this is the one area I feel the US has never been able to come close to Canada in terms of player production).

So it should be interesting to see how all of this shakes out. I'm not sure this change will make a huge difference in one annual single-elimination tournament that everyone seems to use as a measure for USA Hockey as a whole, but hopefully it has a positive long-term affect on player development in the United States.

Apologies for this, but I'm going to be plugging it the first couple weeks here as people adjust to the new site: I know that people have a lot of strong opinions about USA Hockey and the decisions they make. This might be a perfect opportunity for a FanPost to express your views. Do you like this program? Would that development money be better spent elsewhere? How would you set up USA Hockey to develop the best players.