All 16 United States Hockey League teams are gathering this week in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, for what has become the league’s season-opening annual kickoff.
The Fall Classic opened Thursday and continues through the weekend. In addition to the junior games, the event includes a youth hockey tournament that brings teams in from around the country.
“The Pittsburgh Penguins and Cranberry Township have welcomed us with open arms and have really made this a great event,” USHL president and commissioner Bill Robertson said. “We expect record attendance this year and we have close to 90 youth teams competing as well.
“It is a fabulous event if you want to see the rising stars of amateur hockey.”
Of the 16 USHL member teams, 14 will play their first two regular-season games at the event while the U.S. National Team Development Program and the Waterloo Black Hawks will each play only their first game.
In addition to celebrating the start of another season, Robertson sees benefits to having all the teams in the only USA Hockey Tier I junior hockey league in one place at the beginning of the campaign.
“The best part of it is that we can get everybody together,” he said. “Teams get a chance to reconnect in person because it’s so hectic during the season.
“It’s a great way to jump start the regular season for the USHL. It’s our crown jewel event. We have several events that do well and are successful, but this is the only event that we have where all 16 teams are competing.”
This year, the league has all 16 clubs in the same places as a year ago. This also means the divisional alignments and the schedule format remain the same. So when the teams gather, there will be plenty of familiarity. But there are still talks going on around future changes for the league off the ice.
“We are working on tweaking our playoff format at this point,” Robertson said.
With only a postseason adjustment needed on the competitive side, the USHL front office was able to concentrate on some other matters since the end of last season. Robertson said that two new partnerships have the league better positioned from a promotional standpoint. The USHL announced a new five-year media rights partnership with FloSports in August.
“They are one of the top streaming, broadcast outlets in North America, and we think we’re going to be able to grow with them over the years,” Robertson said. “We’re proud to be associated with them because we think they will help us market and promote our games and our product like we never have before.”
The association with FloSports is designed to assist the league in scouting, promoting and exposure of its teams as well as being helpful to families and fans following its players and teams.
The USHL also revamped its website.
“I think it’s in the same category,” Robertson said. “It helps us promote our product, promote our players and promote our clubs.
“We’re excited about those two areas and from a marketing perspective, I think it will help us long-term.”
The Sioux City Musketeers are the defending Clark Cup champions. During the regular season they finished second in the Western Conference behind the Tri-City Storm, who claimed the Anderson Cup as regular-season champion.
The Chicago Steel beat out the Dubuque Fighting Saints by two points for the top of the Eastern Conference in 2021-22.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.