Possessing an extensive playing, coaching and administrative background, it’s obvious that recently appointed American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Executive Director Craig Barnett also has passion for hockey.
“The number one attraction to the ACHA position is simply because of the passion we all have for the sport of hockey and what a great sport it is,” said Barnett, 53. “It has been part of my life since I was four years old.
“I have been blessed to be in this sport for so many years and have met so many great people and have been so fortunate.”
Barnett’s has more than 20 years of coaching and administrative experience at the collegiate and high school levels.
Barnett played college hockey at Plattsburgh (New York) State University, was a part of the 1987 NCAA championship team, and was a member of the New York Rangers organization for two years prior to entering the coaching ranks.
In addition to serving as director of athletics at Becker College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, Barnett served as commissioner of the American Lacrosse Conference and Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association.
The Erie resident has been the director of NCAA compliance and education for the North American Hockey League (NAHL) since 2012.
“The variety of sports background came as a result of moving up the ladder for lack of a better term. The opportunities as college coach to an administrator and athletic director at a couple of different schools came as a result of hockey,” Barnett said.
Since Barnett’s initial ACHA experience as a first-time head coach at the University of Findlay (Ohio), which then became a NCAA Division I program, the league has grown drastically and now includes more than 500 teams spread across every region of the United States.
“You get goosebumps thinking how large this is, how powerful this is and how many people are a part of this. It’s pretty impressive,” Barnett said.
Embodying the concept of the student-athlete, ACHA athletes are choosing to play at the collegiate level because of their love of the game while advancing themselves through the academic rigors of higher education.
“We preach that they are students first and the academic piece is what is driving the train. If you don’t have your academics in place at any level, you can’t participate,” Barnett said.
The new executive director was quick to add that the commitment and focus on the ACHA game is not limited to the players on the ice, saying, “ACHA is about the student-athletes but not only players that have an opportunity to go on to college and play a sport that they love but we can’t forget about the coaches and managers involved. For most of them it is not their full-time job and they are doing it for the love of the game and to give back. That is very important, and we can’t lose sight of that. We need to support them and make them feel appreciated.”
Barnett was appointed to the executive director position in mid-September and the new administrator has been on the go since.
“The ACHA Executive Board is experienced and that is important to me selfishly because of the resources I have to utilize. Chris Perry has been the interim executive director and I keep in touch with him almost daily. He is a great resource and more importantly a great person,” said Barnett.
“[ACHA President] Paul Hebert and all of the board members are experienced and the priority for me has been to reach out to not only the Executive Board but also the regional commissioners, and director of hockey operations and get to know these people and connect with them,” Barnett continued.
“I feel very fortunate as I get to work with all these people. The ACHA has been successful because of all the people involved and how they work together. Working with them is what makes me excited and it is a team effort.”
As executive director, Barnett will also focus on the relationship with current ACHA partners and cultivate new partners as well.
“When you have an organization of 10-12,000 student athletes, that is a pretty impressive target market for a lot of organizations and businesses,” Barnett said.
Barnett reviewed the extraordinary growth of the ACHA and the impact of developmental programs established by USA Hockey.
“I look at USA Hockey and it is about providing opportunity for boys, girls, young men and young women,” Barnett said. “I seriously feel that the ACHA is a by-product of that and the reason for growth is two-fold.
“[USA Hockey] is doing such a great job of developing players across the country and these kids are learning about the game and developing a passion about the game and ways are being found for kids to afford the game. Kudos to the NHL and everybody else involved in promotion and sponsoring. There are just so many good hockey players these days. All these have helped our coaches develop great players. Our coaches are getting better and better and therefore our players get better.”
The ACHA provides a variety of levels of divisions of competition for players in both men’s and women’s hockey and a result increased numbers of players continue their passion for the game.
“It’s a supply and demand thing,” Barnett said. “There are a lot of better hockey players and we are serving a role to help these young men and women to continue to play their sport at the college level. It goes back to the mission of USA Hockey to provide opportunities across the country.
“If you’re a young man or woman and want to play college hockey you have ACHA opportunities. Not only at one level but at a couple of different levels dependent on how committed you are or how talented a player you are.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.