The ability to spend more time together off ice as the season started up left North American Hockey League commissioner and president Mark Frankenfeld feeling good about the state of the league.
For Frankenfeld, it started in August when he was able to bring together the league’s coaches as a group, something that was missed the past two seasons during adjustments to keep the league running in the height of the pandemic.
“We had a few years without coaches meetings and with several new faces we really needed to spend time and bring them up to speed,” Frankenfeld said.
As he looked around the room, Frankenfeld got a distinctly different feeling.
“We really have some experienced and successful coaches,” Frankenfeld said. “I realized how experienced our coaches were and how they’re operating an unbelievable hockey business to help players develop and advance to college.”
Frankenfeld described similar sentiments during a board meeting in conjunction with the early-season NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota.
“We have a lot of owners and operators that have been with us for a very long time,” Frankenfeld said. “The league is so stable. The ownership group is just fantastic and includes so much experience.
“The ownership group knows how to operate a hockey league that is about the players and developing them for their futures and for college.”
As the league’s teams competed at the Super Rink in Blaine, Frankenfeld said he had a similar feeling of appreciation as he looked around at the NHL scouts and college coaches and thought about the strength of the league and how it is “woven into the hockey fabric.” He said the league “was clicking on all cylinders.”
Frankenfeld praised the level of play he saw on the ice and the early results of an investment in officiating with an emphasis on having “more reasonable discussions when disagreeing with an official, rather than being emotional.”
If the first few games of the season were any indication, the face-to-face time prior to the year’s first puck drop was already paying dividends.
The league remains at 29 teams this season with three location changes — two the results of private sales of franchises and one after ownership moved a team from Wichita Falls, Texas, to Oklahoma City where it is operating as the Oklahoma Warriors.
“Just going in this year, I feel like the NAHL is in the best shape it can be with all its experience,” Frankenfeld said.
One new addition to the ownership group placed the former Jamestown, New York team in Sewell, New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. The team is now known as the Philadelphia Rebels. In the other change, the former Minnesota Magicians are now the Wisconsin Windigo, based in Eagle River.
The South Division champion Lone Star Brahmas were the NAHL’s top team in the 2021-22 regular season, going 38-12-5-5.
The New Jersey Titans defeated the Anchorage Wolverines in the championship game of the Robertson Cup.
The league opened Sept. 9 and, going into the weekend series that start Sept. 30, the Amarillo Wranglers were the last team with a spotless record, making it through six games without a loss.
Frankenfeld described the NAHL as an operation running at a high level, but one that still needs to concentrate on finding ways to make incremental improvements.
“We’ve become a destination league for these high-end players,” said Frankenfeld, who has been in the position since 2007. “Our job is really to continue to focus on how we effectively market these players through all of our resources and social media and everything else we do; support the teams and their efforts; and make sure our events are running at a level that continues to be of interest for the scouts to come in and the players to compete and make value out of it.”
The altered landscape of the past two seasons contributed to a small slowdown in players advancing to the NCAA, but Frankenfeld looks forward to quickly reversing that trend.
“We are fully staffed, fully operational and ready to get this first year without COVID underway,” he said, “We want to get our players back out there and get our record-setting numbers back on the charts and do what we do best, which is getting these young guys ready to play college hockey.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.