The USHL hopes to take its place beside other leagues in talent production. Few are aware of this league that often comes before college hockey for many players.
The USHL is not like the junior hockey played throughout Canada. The players in this league (ages 16-20) are not allowed to be paid because they are trying to maintain eligibility for US College Hockey which, by NCAA rules, does not allow a player who was paid to play hockey at any other level of play to participate. The USHL is known as Junior A hockey or “Tier II Juniors”. Many of these players do not expect to get drafted immediately by NHL franchises, although some are, and want to continue to develop their hockey skills in this league and eventually in college level hockey.
Besides maintaining eligibility for college hockey, there are many other reasons players choose to come to the USHL. Some are following coaches who may have coached them in high school before moving into the USHL. Others simply prefer to play hockey in the United States instead of moving North to Canada.
There is absolutely no doubt that the USHL produces quality talent for US College Hockey. Both Hoogsteen brothers of the 1996 National Champion North Dakota Fighting Sioux played for the Thunder Bay Flyers. Jason Blake of that same championship team, as well as #2 in WCHA points currently this season played for the Waterloo Black Hawks. The most amazing thing about these players is that none of them played for a team that is considered USHL contenders. So even the lower teams in the league have the capability to produce top-notch college hockey talent.
Goaltenders from the USHL are also well represented among college hockey teams. Current Michigan Wolverine netminder Josh Blackburn had a tremendous USHL career with both the Dubuque Fighting Saints and Lincoln Stars.
Of course none of this mentions teams that routinely win US National Junior Championships such as Des Moines and Omaha who produce quality talent seemingly year after year. The main message here is that if you look at the leading scorers and goaltenders in the collegiate ranks, a large portion of them are former USHL players.
There are also several players in the minors as well as some playing in the NHL, such as Gary Suter, that have at one time touched the ice surface as a player in this somewhat forgotten level of Junior hockey. Peter and Chris Ferraro, of USA National team fame, also got their start on in small Midwestern hockey arenas.
The USHL this year is celebrating its 20th year of producing quality college hockey players and looks forward to many more years to come. As word about this league has now finally started to spread, hopefully it will soon attain respect for its position as a stepping stone to college hockey and eventually the National Hockey League.