The Rink Live caught up with the NAHL boss to discuss the changes the league has seen this summer, recap another successful Showcase and preview the season ahead
Colorado Grit defenseman Bowen Burke (4) handles the puck against Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks forward Logan Nickerson on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, during the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn. The Colorado Grit joined the league this season with the New Hampshire Mountain Kings and the Rochester Jr. Americans. The new teams have a combined record above .500 so far this season.
Rob Beer / The Rink Live
BLAINE, Minn. — With the NAHL Showcase complete, the 2023-24 season is in full swing as the calendar approaches October.
It’s been a busy summer as the NAHL has added three new teams — the Colorado Grit, New Hampshire Mountain Kings and Rochester Jr. Americans — and expanded its footprint to 32 teams, along with implementing a variety of new technologies into the league.
The Rink Live’s Jordan McAlpine sat down with NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld at Super Rink to discuss the changes the league has seen this summer, recap another successful showcase and preview the season ahead.
The entrance at Super Rink on the eve of the 2023 NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn.
Rob Beer / The Rink Live
Q: First off, how excited are you to get the 2023-24 season underway? And what changes can fans or teams expect this season?
A: We’re extremely excited and honestly once the season gets started, it’s going to give us a break for the first time in a while. We went through a really big transition with our technology this summer and we’ve been working through a lot of bumps and bruises to get everything right. We took over our own branded streaming service, stats service, analytical service and website service, and then once we get started in October our teams are going to have video replay of goals available and every game will have an iPad in the scorekeepers box. So if there’s a questionable goal, we can now review them.
The next step will be in November where teams are going to have an iPad on the bench and a second one in the stands. So teams will be able to tag clips, they can go over plays on the bench and most importantly, they’ll be able to instantly educate and coach players. That’s something we’ve been working on over the last few years and our owners really wanted, and everything came together this summer. We have control of our data, control of our content, it’s NAHL-branded and we can help elevate the player experience in our league. We’re giving our players, coaches and teams the best possible resources, and that’s an exciting thing.
Q: Especially as junior hockey continues to evolve and improve, how important is that technology?
A: It’s crucial. Our players are better athletes with technology and they’re stronger, smarter and more in-tune with everything because of the technology they have available. So from our standpoint as a league, we want to make sure we give them those resources but also make sure our technology can promote and present them to the rest of the world, and that’s where the streaming and the video comes in.
Q: How much have you seen the level of play improve in recent years?
A: I think the most telling sign is that there was a day that players would say they would play in the NAHL only if they had to and if they didn’t make it in the USHL. But the reality is it’s now a destination league and guys don’t just use it as a fallback option. The level of play, the level of players, the quality of coaching — all of it is tremendous. Which is especially impressive considering the number of teams that we have and every team has a different way of recruiting or finding players, so kids know there are unique opportunities everywhere.
The Oklahoma Warriors await the National Anthem before playing the Austin Bruins on Sept. 14, 2023 at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn. The Warriors are the reigning Robertson Cup Champions.
Jordan McAlpine / The Rink Live
Q: The NAHL is up to 32 teams and stretches across most of the country… How crazy is it to think how much the league has expanded in your tenure?
A: We’re just like the NHL now, just with an A added in there. But in all seriousness, it’s crazy to think about it. When I coached in the league in 1992 and then when I rejoined the league in the early 2000s, there were 10-12 teams. And it’s certainly been interesting, but we’ve grown so much and every organization we’ve added has been very dedicated to the product and they want to provide the players and the community something.
Even the three new teams we’ve added here, they’ve been competitive right off the bat and their presentation has been tremendous and their buildings were full. So there’s been questions and concerns over the years about how much our league can grow, but I’ve always told people we can grow as much as we can, as long as we have the right people in place, and we have that around the league right now.
Q: At the same time with those three new teams, you’ve now got teams spread out more and an imbalance with two nine-team divisions, an eight and a six… Has that created any challenges?
A: There are some challenges logistically and obviously we can’t have teams cross over and play each other from other divisions. But sooner rather than later, I believe they’ll be even.
Q: Speaking of logistics, the league’s three Alaska teams have all had success in recent years… How promising is that?
A: Well first off, those three teams disqualify anybody’s argument that travel is too hard. They travel all the time and they’re used to it. But I think it’s been really cool to see the evolution of those teams over the years, especially last year in Kenai. They’ve really grown the community and if you look at how they did in the second half last season, both on the ice and with the support they got, it was unbelievable. So it shows that what those teams are doing is working and we’re very excited about that.
Q: Finally, has the Showcase been a success and thoughts on the future of this league?
A: Absolutely. This weekend is the Super Bowl of showcases and it’s a reunion of hockey fraternities and friends over the years. And when you look around and see the amount of scouts and college coaches in the building, there are so many opportunities that our players will get from this event.
Regarding the future of our league, I believe it’s very promising. And I give tons of credit to our owners. They’re the risk-takers and the ones that empower our office to do what we do, and the opportunities we’re able to give our players also starts with them. Our players are awesome, our coaches are awesome and I think the biggest key to our success over the years has been focusing on the players and the player experience, and we’ve got to continue doing that. That’s a big part of what we did this summer and we’ve got to continue to do all of the little things right if we want to continue letting players develop and advance. But if we continue to stick to that and be comfortable in our own skin as a league, which we are, I truly believe the future is bright.
Courtesy: The Rink Live