With news of the Mustangs moving from the Tier II WSHL to the Tier I CHL for the 2017-18 season, here’s a break down of how this whole junior hockey thing works from the voice of the Mustangs, Jon McBride:

So … in junior hockey we’ve got all sorts of different leagues and levels of play. Here’s my shot at breaking them down and using Detroit Red Wings as examples.

At the top level are major juniors. This consists of the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League. Steve Yzerman played in the OHL. Darren Helm in the WHL. These leagues are so good, that those guys were drafted straight from them into the NHL and played right away.

Outside of major juniors, we start the tiered system, Tier I being the highest, Tier II being next highest, then Tier III. In the US, before the announcement of this new league, the United States Hockey League was the only Tier I junior hockey league in the country. The USHL is very high-level hockey. But few players go straight from this one to the NHL. Dylan Larkin played in the USHL from 2012-14. Then he did a year in NCAA Division I with the University of Michigan. Then the Red Wings the year after. This is a pretty typical route for a USHL player. They’re not going straight to the NHL, but most get an NCAA DI scholarship. Then from there, some are drafted to the NHL.

Tier II leagues are a lot more common. The premier Tier II league is the North American Hockey League. Drew Miller played three seasons in the NA, then went to the USHL for one season, then went to Michigan State for three seasons, then went to the Red Wings. So as you can see, a few more steps to the NHL than a USHL player. But again, the NA is just one of the Tier II leagues. You may remember that the WSHL moved up to Tier II last season, but while the NA has 69 current players in the NHL, the WSHL has 1. A lot of variety at the Tier II level.

Needless to say, Tier III is the lowest rung. I’m not seeing any current Red Wings who played Tier III, but there are NHL guys who work their way up from here. Usually it’s just a single season as a 16 or 17 year old, then quickly moving up to Tier II or Tier I.

So as you can see, the system is built all around the idea of development and placement. The whole plan is to help Tier III guys get to Tier II and Tier II to Tier I. Remember how Clay Cross moved from the Mustangs two seasons ago to the NAHL championship team last season? That’s a huge win for us. Even though it would’ve been great to have Clay in Ogden last season, the fact is that having him move up like that does even more for our program overall that actually having him in Ogden. Players want to move up, and they pay attention to other players who are able to do so.

One major difference between these tiers: Tier II and Tier III is mostly pay-to-play. Players pay the team for the chance to play and that aids greatly in the operating costs. In major juniors and Tier I, it’s free to play. Players don’t spend a dime, which is a very attractive opportunity for them but places more of a financial burden on the team.

Finally, the one other thing to keep in mind with all of this is the governing body these leagues are under. The USHL and NAHL fall under the auspices of USA Hockey. USA Hockey sets the rules and guidelines and enforcements. The WSHL, a few other Tier III leagues back east and now the CHL are governed by the American Athletic Union. The AAU sets some different rules and guidelines than USA Hockey. For example, the USHL only allows 4 non-US-born players on a team. The WSHL (and now CHL) allow 12 non-US-born players and unlimited Canadians on a team. Big difference there.

OK. I’ve ranted enough. Hopefully this helps somewhat? The main takeaway is that this move up is a big deal. To move to a free-to-play model will attract extremely talented players and make Mustang games even THAT more enjoyable … if you thought that was possible. 🙂

The system is built all around the idea of development and placement. The whole plan is to help Tier III guys get to Tier II and Tier II to Tier I. Remember how Clay Cross moved from the Mustangs two seasons ago to the NAHL championship team last season? That's a huge win for us. Even though it would've been great to have Clay in Ogden last season, the fact is that having him move up like that does even more for our program overall that actually having him in Ogden.

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