Interview with USHL President Ellis Moose III

By Kevin Kasel

The following is an interview with Ellis Moose, III, the USHL President on May 28, 2002 about Tier 1 and USHL in general. Some of these criteria listed, the USHL is still trying to re-negotiate with USA Hockey. These criteria are from the following web page:


Venue – Each franchise must secure, through lease or purchase, a 2,500-seat facility with recommended regulation ice surface (minimum 200 x 85 feet) for all league games. A waiver can be granted for facility size, based upon the decision of USA Hockey and the Executive Committee or Board of Governors of the Tier I League.

Kevin Kasel: Currently Sioux City’s arena’s ice surface is roughly 179 x 79 feet; Sioux City is in the process of building a new facility now, which should be completed in November 2004. What if a team wants to join but their facility’s ice is not regulation? Would USA Hockey make an exception?

Ellis Moose: Well, I am not in the position to speak for USA Hockey. But I would expect at this point, they would not allow nearly as great lenience as the Sioux City arena has. They might give up five-foot difference if there was something of that nature. But not nearly as small of ice rink size that Sioux City has now. They will probably put the hammer down close to what the specifications are now.

Kevin:Similar question as the previous, but in regards to the seating capacity, if a new team wants to join the USHL but the facility they have available is smaller then 2,500, will there be an exception?

Ellis:There again, if it is very close, they would allow an exception. But there again the league, the USHL (for example) is looking for venues that are well beyond what Des Moines is at 3,400. It would take a for example, temporary situation to allow a team to come in with a small rink like that. I know Chicago borders on that. That’s probably your next question. Any new team I’m sure will have to be at 3,000 or more before the league would let them in, not necessarily USA Hockey. As long as you meet the minimum requirements for Tier 1 and any specifications, you can’t be withheld for that.

Attendance – Teams must draw a minimum of 60,000 fans per year or demonstrate a reasonable capability of securing this level of fan support in order to be classified Tier I. This would help in our quest to be a “mini NHL”.

1999-2000 Attendance figures
Omaha 168,474305,616
Lincoln 155,310315,010
Sioux Falls119,740294,129
Cedar Rapids107,895323,372
Des Moines101,246313,266
Green Bay91,431293,153
Sioux City65,095292,245
Thunder Bay30,807291,062
Twin Cities13,50228482
USA 18 & Under5,18824216

2000-2001 Attendance figures
Omaha         150,547295,191
Lincoln 160,320325,010
Tri-City 135,279304,509
Sioux Falls 125,413294,325
Cedar Rapids  127,929323,998
Des Moines 98,687323,084
Green Bay85,242292,939
Waterloo 72,220302,407
Sioux City 57,022291,966
Chicago        40,046271,483
Rochester 30,602231,331
Dubuque        18,29526704

2001-2002 Attendance figures
Lincoln 180,000365,000
Tri-City 146,161324,568
Omaha         139,729314,507
Sioux Falls 132,903314,287
Cedar Rapids 128,543324,017
Des Moines 102,432323,201
Green Bay 98,114313,165
Sioux City 67,047312,163
Chicago        65,053312,098
Topeka        63,732341,874
Tulsa 28,67531925

Kevin:One of the criteria is a minimum of a 48 game schedule (I will speak to later on), which would mean 24 home games per team, hence averaging the minimum of 60,000 fans/year would mean 2,500/game. Looking at the figures from the past three year’s attendance numbers there are a few teams who are below 2,500/game average (Waterloo, Sioux City, Chicago and Topeka), how would “demonstrate a reasonable capability of securing this level of fan support” be applied to each of these teams?

Ellis:I think if you look at the example of Chicago, that their fan support has grown, they have had a big hurdle in a mass media market there where they play. To overcome the competition that they have for the entertainment dollar and the sports dollar they that demonstrated the ethic to work very hard to raise their attendance and their particular their ticket sales. I have read on the web sites that the fans in the building aren’t what is reported. But they have made strides in getting corporations to purchase the tickets and the whether the fans have taken the opportunity to witness the game. In some cases you can’t count every head. We don’t have a turnstile in Des Moines either as far as that goes. Whether it is paid attendance or tickets sold, I think basically the agreement the way they are looking at it is tickets sold plus comps are the people in the building will get them to their attendance level.

Also in case of Sioux City, they’re right on the borderline, with the team they had this year and going into a new arena, that demonstrates the ability to get right there. Another words, there is a little leniency if some team has 58,000 or 55,000 one year; they’re not going to be dropped from Tier 1 status. As long as they’re in the ballpark.

Kevin:How much time does each organization (that do not meet standards) have to “meet” standards?

Ellis:I think at this point, you will have to meet them before you are granted. They may give a temporary extension for one or two minor criteria. But by in large, you will have to toe the mark before you are granted the label of Tier 1.

Kevin:Will teams be allowed to “buy” games from other teams in the USHL?

Ellis:At the last USHL board meeting we modified our by-laws to prohibit that, unless there is an emergency case. An emergency case would be lack of venue for mechanical reasons or weather. Or we got the play-offs and you might have to change venue due to availability. But has in the past, it will be prohibited.

NHL draft accomplishments – No standards specified

Kevin:What effect will going Tier 1 have on players being drafted into the NHL as opposed to the current state of the USHL?

Ellis:Well, I don’t think there is any way you can create a standard about players being drafted. And how will it affect it? That is part of the negotiation process right now. See basically what happens has I understand it, that USA Hockey (and it is on the agenda for the meeting coming up in Colorado Springs) the money that is given or awarded for National Hockey League signings and draftees goes to USA Hockey for player development. Then USA Hockey distributes that money to the leagues where those players played on pro-rated on long they played where they played. In other words if a player plays in the North American League for a year, then comes to the USHL for a year, then gets drafted for an example, there might be some division of that money between the two leagues. Basically, that is the way it goes.

If (Brett) Skinner is drafted we will say very high, it doesn’t make any difference how high he is drafted we get the same amount of money. That would go to USA Hockey, which would go to USHL and be divided equally among all the members. By help paying for the league finances, in other words, we would reduce everyone’s share of the load equally.

Division I signings with scholarships – No standards specified

Kevin:What effect will going Tier 1 have on players signing college scholarships as opposed to the current state of the USHL?

Ellis:It’s paramount in the criteria of Tier 1 that it will have absolutely no affect on their eligibility. And it specifically says, that if any of the rules in Tier 1 should affect their eligibility those rules will be void immediately. So those players will not be affected ion their ability to obtain and retain scholarships for hockey. In other words, where as playing in Major-Juniors taints a player as being a professional by playing with professionals players even though he may not be paid himself. (This) limits his ability to attend college under a scholarship. That is prohibition in the USA Hockey Tier 1 criteria.

Past and present team operations and ownership – No standards specified

Kevin:What effect will going Tier 1 have on present and future ownership as opposed to the current state of the USHL? (I.e. will league fees change?)

Ellis:There are a lot of criteria specifically written towards the capability of the organization to manage a team, the number of people they can have, or they must have in the organization to operate the team from the coaching staff, the training, marketing, box office front office people that is very specifically stated. You can’t legislate their ability necessarily, but you can certainly legislate the number of people that will be employed towards those particular parts of the operation.

League organization

• The Tier I League structure shall be not-for-profit organization with each team being a member. An additional for-profit organization may be established for league licensing and other revenue generating endeavors.

• The Tier I League shall be composed of a minimum of six (6) teams who meet all of the minimum criteria and who are determined to be comparable competitively, organizationally, facility-wise and business-wise.

Kevin:Please explain Tier I League structure shall be not-for-profit organization?

Ellis:The USHL as an example does not operate for-profit. The finances of the league are divided equally among all the teams and some allowance given for ability to pay through, basically a seat tax. Those organizations that draw more people pay slightly more towards the league’s finances then those with smaller venues, or less capacity to pay. It’s a modified form of finance-sharing.

What was the other part of the question? The league structure and why we are not-for-profit? None of the owners make any money off of the league operation. The league is only there to manage the necessities of marketing the league as an entire entity. As well as, making sure that the games come off smoothly, that the hockey operations side is run effectively that we make a major impact as a league. But there is no money paid out on a profit basis. We do have employees as many not-for-profit organizations do. Those are mostly the people in the office, the Commissioner, his staff, Scott Brand, the director of hockey operations, the head referee if you will.

Kevin:What is meant by an additional for-profit organization may be established for licensing and other revenue generating endeavors?

Ellis:In the case of the United States Hockey League, for example, there is a USHL Properties, Inc. (It) was established so that any licensing by the league that would separate from the not-for-profit organization that runs the league. Those monies can be divided among the owners as profitable endeavors. In the past situations, that money has been diverted to USHL to pay part of the expenses of the league office.

Kevin:Tier I league shall have a minimum of six (6) teams, if six (6), seven (7) or eight (8) teams meet all the criteria, will the remaining teams who DO NOT meet all the criteria be allowed to Tier 1, or just the teams that meet the criteria?

Ellis:Well in the particular case we are looking at next week, the United States Hockey League, applied as a league, meaning that we agreed several years ago to go in all or none. In several cases, those teams were recognized not to be able to meet the Tier 1 criteria have withdrawn from the league, Tulsa and Rochester as an example. I have a document here that says, all of the teams in the USHL have met the criteria as established by the Tier 1 over-site committee. The standards of those requirements will be voted on next week.

League organization

•It shall provide a minimum of a $250,000 bond payable to the league and/or its members covering season play, league assessments and fines, league agreements, and other financial material required by the league including personal guarantee.

• It shall have a net worth of no less than $5,000,000 either corporately, individually, or jointly which shall be made available to secure the performance of the Member.

Kevin:What would happen if a team becomes financially unable to meet their obligations after the season has started? Would their $250,000 bond help cover their expenses for the remainder of the season? Are there guidelines to regulate a situation like this?

Ellis:Well that is the purpose of the bonding and the guarantee. The USA Hockey has required someone to stand behind each one of these members. The purpose of that is so that if an organization on its own merit, was unable to fulfill its obligation, the individual or corporation that has signed that guarantee will be responsible for meeting those obligations for that organization.

Kevin: This question is directed for one team specifically. The Des Moines Buccaneers are the only not-for-profit Junior “A” Hockey organization in the US. With that being said, and the fundamental goal of Greater Des Moines Ice Sports Association (G.D.M.I.S.A.) (the parent organization of the Buccaneers) is to provide a resource facility to accommodate amateur ice sports, recreational ice skating, and other special public and private groups for central Iowa, how does the net worth of no less then $5,000,000 effect the organization and its ability to achieve Tier 1?

Ellis:You raised a very good question. The Des Moines Buccaneers and the Greater Des Moines Ice Sports Association recognize that is not necessarily in the best interest of a not-for-profit organization to have net worth of five million dollars. Although, if and when our mortgages on our two arenas are paid off we certainly surpass that minimum standard. But in the mean time, we have some outstanding loans that don’t allow us to meet that minimum standard, that threshold of five million dollars.

We have introduce legislation that will be reviewed, it is on the agenda for the USA Hockey meeting next week, to make an adjustment for a not-for-profit organization (such as the Des Moines Buccaneers and the Greater Des Moines Sports Association). The criteria that is being recommended to be such that the organization most have proven its ability to operate in Tier 2 Junior “A” organization and team for a minimum of two years prior to their application for Tier 1 status. So that, any organization that wishes to become Tier 1 would have to establish their ability to perform up to Tier 1 level, under Tier 2 status for two seasons before they would be able (to apply for Tier 1 status).

It is also written, so that, USA Hockey could make it required to have more then five million dollars too. It allows them to adjust that value to a level it (USA Hockey) feels comfortable with for that particular organization.

League Schedule – The regular-season schedule shall consist of a minimum of 48 games and minimum 3-round playoff structure leading to a National Championship.

Kevin:The USHL has been using 54 or more games a season since the 1996-97 season. How many games will USHL play in a season in Tier 1?

Ellis:The plans for next season are to play a 60-game season among our league members with one addition game with the US National Development Team, in each of our USHL cities. They will count towards the standings, as it did last year.

The criteria has established a minimum standard of 48 games. The exact number is really dependant upon the availability of playing dates as well as the mathematical situation with the number of teams in the league. So it would be very difficult to mandate an exact number forever. Because an odd number of teams in the league or certain numerical quantities just don’t divide up equally into 60 or 58 or 56 or whatever, but I would anticipate it would not be much more then the low 60’s, ever.

Kevin:Will the USHL start using a best of seven format in their play-off series?

Ellis:It is quite possible. The play-offs for next year are not set yet. The concern is that with last year the season, we still went very late into the year with the last two teams finishing up just two days before the draft for the next season. So that really didn’t give their coaching staff much opportunity to prepare for the draft. Those teams out of the play-offs prior to that didn’t feel too sorry for them, nonetheless it is a concern that everybody has time to prepare for the draft.

At the same time, the season is awfully long, as we know. We start early September with the team coming in and exhibition season going through (in this case) into May. That’s really the driving issue there when play-offs become best of five or best of seven.

Then again, numerical equation of how many teams and how many divisions in the play-offs all has bearing.

Player Support

• Each team will provide high-quality and safety-approved full equipment (including skates and sticks) to each player.

• Each team must arrange and pay for suitable room and board and all costs related to team travel.

• Each team must adhere to NCAA rules and not jeopardize a player’s eligibility in any way.

• Each team shall provide academic direction and support through educational counselors and tutoring systems for players so inclined.

Kevin:How is “each team will providing high-quality and safety-approved full equipment” different then the current state?

Ellis:Well, the current situation in the past in the United States Hockey League, which is the only league that I can really speak toward, has been to provide varying degrees of equipment according to the different organizations within the league. Different teams have had different standards and levels of supplies. In the case of the Buccaneers, basically everything that you can see on a player when he plays, with the exception of his skates, has been provided by the Buccaneers. Their personal protective equipment and their skates, players have had provided themselves in the past. In the future, we will be looking at replacement situation for players who need new skates after they get here or safety equipment.

Some teams provide their players a minimum level of sticks and after that they have to buy their own. Des Moines has been kinda in the upper-middle of the road in the past.

Kevin:How is “each team must arrange and pay for suitable room and board and all cost related to team travel” different then the current state?

Ellis:Last season the USHL agreed among themselves to allow the individual team organizations to pay for the housing. So the players or the player’s parents wouldn’t be required to pay that. I know that is what we did in Des Moines, as far as other teams in the league, I am only assuming that they all did that, including Rochester and Tulsa for example. It is a significant hit; it is about $30,000 expense for the Buccaneers as an example.

Kevin:How will the USHL ensure they do not jeopardize a player’s college eligibility?

Ellis:As we started out this interview, that Tier 1 criteria is driven towards that. Just basically means that you can’t provide a player with pay or a perdiem of beyond their actual expenses for food or transportation to and from games. They can’t become paid players, basically.

Kevin:I was told a player in the USHL must either A) be in school (high school or college) or B) have a job. Is this true? Is there a minimum or maximum number of hours a player can or has to work to be eligible?

Ellis:No. No, that’s not true. It’s a Des Moines Buccaneer rule, but not necessarily a (USHL) rule.

Player Procurement

• Each team will be allowed a 22-player active roster. Once an affiliation agreement can be reached with Tier II, Junior A, Junior B or Midget Hockey this number can be reviewed.

• Each team is allowed a maximum of 5 (over-age) 20 year-olds in the first year, 3 in the second year, and none thereafter. This is the maximum number for all start-up teams in the league, and does not apply to expansion teams thereafter. Expansion teams will assume the current number of over-age players in place at the time they are admitted.

• Each team’s active player roster shall ultimately include:

(1) No less than 8 players in the U-18 age classification

(2) A minimum of three of which shall be U-17’s
A phase-in program of no more than two (2) years shall be acceptable.

• Each player shall be required to play a minimum of 25 regular season games, with pro-rata adjustment in the event of injury.

• Each team will participate in a National summer dispersal draft of players under the age of 17. The number of rounds will be determined once the Tier I League is in place. Drafted players under the age of 16 will be limited to specific rounds.

• Each team will be allowed to protect a specific number of players at the end of each season, to be determined.

• Each team will be allowed to import up to two (2) non-citizen players not to include any goaltenders (forwards and defensemen only).

Kevin:Who will determine the USHL’s affiliated teams/league?

Ellis:I think that the document you were reading from is not the latest version. In fact, I am positive that it isn’t the latest version. Because the latest version changes, as the clock hand moves around the face.

Much of what you read from there is being negotiated and will be negotiated up to the 11th hour with USA Hockey and the United States Hockey League. There maybe discussion being carried on with the North American Junior Hockey League also, as they applied for Tier 1 status themselves.

A lot of the criteria, as far as the make up of the rosters, as been a contingent factor between the coaches of the United States Hockey League and USA Hockey, since the conception of this Tier 1 concept.

USA Hockey’s ultimate goal is to drive to drive the development of younger players towards the top of the pyramid. By bringing them into the Tier 1 league earlier, they see a (kind of) force-feeding of higher level of competition for those younger players.

The coaches and some of the owners (at least) in the United States Hockey League as an example, feel that the fans and the strength of play will be better served by allowing slightly older balance of players on the roster.

So these numbers as the balance as the ages of the players has been and will continue to be negotiated and I think that will be somewhat a living document as we ahead, go forward with Tier 1.

For example, the one thing you said is there is no foreign goalies.

Kevin:It says, each team will be allowed to import up to two non-citizen players not to include any goalies. The way I interrupt it, is you don’t count goalies as import; they are from outside the US. You can have all your goalies from Germany. That is the way I am interrupting this.

Ellis:I believe the other interruption is that there will be no foreign goalies.

Kevin:I have heard both ways.

Ellis:(Quoting from a document about Tier 1) “The importance of development of a citizen goaltenders through the USHL and Tier 1 program cannot be understated, therefore no more then one non-citizen maybe rostered by a USHL member team at any one time. The USHL and all of its member teams shall exercise their best efforts to discover, recruit and develop qualified citizen goaltenders as a priority for their team.”

In other words it doesn’t specifically limit you to one non-US citizen goaltender.

Kevin:You answer most of my questions with that speech there.

Ellis:Oh, did I? Good for me.

Kevin:What type of “affiliation agreement” is the USHL trying to make with teams in another league?

Ellis:In USHL league meetings, there has been no discussions with or by or about other leagues, per say, an across the board affiliation, for example we haven’t said the XYZ AAA Midget League will be the affiliated league of the USHL. No discussions have ever mentioned that I have attended either in person, or on the phone. That may happen, I don’t know. It might be more likely that each individual team will be allowed to affiliate with another junior team or another midget team or even a prep school. Basically it is a place you can “farm club” a couple players to provide the number to get your roster back up number in case of injuries or mid-season departure, for one reason or another.

I think another thing you started out saying was a 22-player roster. I was looking through here and I think that has been adjusted to 23. But like I say, it is a moving target.

Kevin:What calendar date determines the age of the player (i.e. whether a player is considered a 19 year old or 20 year old)?

Ellis:I believe that is January 1st. In other words the year that they were born designates the year of the age.

Kevin:What is to be accomplished with each player will play a minimum of 25 regular season games?

Ellis:In other words, how do we determine on meeting that?

Kevin:Is there any behind why you want to have minimum of 25 games?

Ellis:The key to that question is “you”. You said, “Why you want to have”. That is another area that is being considered and discussed as we sit here. I know the Commissioner as been in constant conversation with Dave Tyler and the USA Hockey committee about criteria such as that. Those obviously (in our opinion) need to be a target, not necessarily something that is absolute. Because from a coaching perspective, you put the hammer in the player’s hand in some cases. Where he would be required to be play, rather then, be played because he deserves it, as one example.

Also with injuries, sicknesses and school time with these younger players, it will be very difficult. Plus you almost have to have another person on the scorer’s bench or official scorer to keep track of when a player are actually on the ice or not.

As far as being rostered for at least 50% of the games that think that every coach in the league would hope to meet that with any player that is on the roster the full length of the season. But in the case of a 3rd goaltender of an example, that isn’t always possible.

Kevin:Please explain what is meant by “each team will participate in a National summer dispersal draft of players under the age of 17?”

Ellis:Essentially what they’re saying is that Tier 1 league will have player dispersal by draft for players that meet that age limitation, rather then by recruiting, tenders or other means of obtaining their rights.

Kevin:Who or how is the order of the draft determined?

Ellis:The order of the draft is determined by the position of the team in the regular season from the previous year, reverse order. Any new team/expansion team usually is placed at the top of that list.

Kevin:How many players is each team going to be allowed to protect at the end of each season?

Ellis:I don’t know if I have seen that criteria specifically. I think USA Hockey will allow any Tier 1 league to develop its own rules as far as carrying over from one year to the next and things of that nature. And that maybe adjusted from time to time.

Kevin:In defining “non-citizen players”, what are the criteria? Is a Canadian citizen considered a non-citizen?

Ellis:The criteria in the past it’s been US citizen is the only one considered a citizen. Some people may have dual citizenship. As for an example, an American Indian, is considered a North American citizen, although he may have been born and lived in Canada all of his life, he is still considered a US citizen by treaty, I assume. So there are a few individuals like that, that have dual citizenship that are allowed to play and don’t count as a foreign player or import in the USHL. That as happened in the past, in the Buccaneers’ case I know.

NTDP Relationship to Members

• The USAH NTDP Coaching Program shall be connected to all team’s coaching staffs (development).

• The Tier I League, with USA Hockey assistance shall negotiate inter-league playoff line with the Memorial Cup.

• The National Team Development Program shall coordinate international competition among the Tier I League members and their players, and members agree to make their players available to NTDP for National Team competition during the international breaks.

Kevin:What is meant by USAH NTDP Coaching Program shall be connected to all team’s coaching staff?

Ellis:That’s a good question and that would be probably bettered answered by our coaches in the league and NTDP coaching staff themselves.

Basically I think they are looking for communication line among all the coaches so that the development of the players is paramount. They don’t try and hide players and their abilities from each other.

One question that is being raised is the long-term viability of the National Development Program, or whether those players best be dispersed in the overall makeup of the USHL. I think the first year or two of the Tier 1 league will go along way towards answering that question.

Kevin:Will the USHL try to participate in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Memorial Cup?

Ellis:I think once the Tier 1 level as been established, as being the premium level of Junior hockey in the United States. Obviously we would look towards competition with our Canadian neighbor in sort of a shootout. That has been discussed in the United States Hockey League for a number of years. And I think it takes two to tango, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the glove was thrown down somewhere along the line. We would like to see who is the best in North America Junior Hockey.

Kevin:Will USA Hockey keep the USA NTDP in Ann Arbor, MI? If there was not USA NTDP that would free up a lot of Under 18 players to help fill USHL team’s roster.

Ellis:I can’t answer the question for the USA Hockey program. I am sure that it is something they are considering or at least take a look at. Their charter is to provide the best hockey environment for all of the players that are registered in USA Hockey. I’m sure in their wisdom, they will determine what’s best when the time comes.

General questions:

Kevin:Is the move to Tier 1 permanent or does the USHL have to keep re-applying for this status on a regular basis?

Ellis:I think the first year will be a probationary basis, as it is with any league or team jumps up a level. When (Junior) “B” teams begin playing at an (Junior) “A” level there is a year of probation that they are watched pretty closely. I don’t anticipate that the USHL will have to re-apply, nor will any of the individual teams. But I think it is their obligation to maintain their level of criteria and meet all of those obligations that they agreed to get that status.

Kevin:When will they vote and who all votes for Tier 1?

Ellis:The vote will be at the USA Hockey Annual Congress not sure what date it will be, but it will be June 5th through the 9th, which is when the Congress runs. What date the actual vote is taken place, I am not sure exactly. But it will be the Junior Council will vote to recommend that to the Board of Directors. I would assume would accept the recommendation of the Junior Council. I believe there are about 15 members (I should look up that exact number) of the Junior Council that will have a vote whether or not to accept the USHL or the North American League application.

Kevin:Will there be any other competition besides the new Minnesota High School all-star Elite teams that will make it even harder to recruit the top-notch 16-year-old players from around the country?

Ellis:I don’t know. We don’t anticipate it being any easier.

Kevin:How will the new Minnesota Elite league affect the USHL?

Ellis:That it remains to be seen. It is obvious to (I think) the coaches of the USHL that this is a defensive situation being raised by the people in Minnesota to try to keep their younger players at home and to keep them out of the Tier 1 league.

Kevin:Will officials break up fights sooner since the players will be younger? Will fighting be tolerated at all?

Ellis:I think that question would be better asked of Scott Brand.

Kevin:Will all players be required to wear full-face guards (since the minimum number of Under 18 players requirement)?

Ellis:I doubt it.

Kevin:Any other on-ice rule changes? (I.e. 2-line passes legal?)

Ellis:Not that I am aware of. I don’t believe there are any specific rule changes because of Tier 1.

Kevin:Is there a restriction on the number of years a player can play Tier 1?


Kevin:Can players who already have a college commitment play on a Tier 1 team?


Kevin:Any changes to officiating requirements?


Kevin:What are the distinct advantages of Tier 1 and how will it improve the USHL?

Ellis:(Long pause) Oh boy, I am glad this isn’t radio. I think that the distinct advantage to Tier 1 is that USA Hockey and any Tier 1 league will combine their efforts to develop the elite US athlete. Ultimately provide them and opportunity to hone their skills and stay in this country while doing it. And the same time retaining their eligibility for college education and competitive college hockey.

Kevin:What are the advantages for the players?

Ellis:Virtually the same. I think the advantages for the players are the fact that they know that any Tier 1 team is being held with their feet to the fire to provide the support for the players both educationally, psychologically, equipment, medically to provide them the best environment possible in a competitive, collision sport like hockey.

Kevin:What are the advantages for the fans?

Ellis:I think the fans, in the long run, will see a real influx of elite players and they will be able to really recognize future stars of the National Hockey League, coming through the USHL, even to a greater extent then they have been.

Kevin:What are the disadvantages of Tier 1 for the players and fans?

Ellis:For the players, they maybe forced to leave home a little early then they would like to because of the age restrictions by USA Hockey.

I think the fans may take them a little while to be accustom to the slightly younger makeup of the teams. We are not talking about a drastic shift. Most of the teams in the United States Hockey League have four, five or six 19 year olds now and two or three of the younger players. And I think you are going to see one or two of those 19-year-old players becoming one or two of those 17-year-old players. So there will be a more youthful look to the teams.

Kevin:Are there concerns that by lowering the number of ‘82s (or ‘83s next season) allowed, the AWHL and NAHL will grab the players who have played in the USHL prior to Tier 1 and “catch up” to the USHL as far as the level of play?


Kevin:In order to truly match the Major Juniors ‘North of the border’, the USHL will have to complete to sign players that currently are picked for the USA developmental team. No different than today, except USA Hockey had to approve the Tier 1 status of the league. It seems USA Hockey will have to back the league (USHL) or the U17 and U18 teams, but not both. What is the stance, as you see it, as to where USA Hockey, as an organization, feels the best American players should play?

Ellis:This comes off the Internet, right?


Ellis:That’s a great question. I think that part of the situation that will have to be judged over the first year or two of Tier 1 play. The question has been asked, “Are both programs necessary?” The USHL would argue that those players would be best served playing full-time homogenized into the USHL or the Tier 1 league. And it would be ultimately less expensive for the operations of those teams. That money that is spent in Ann Arbor (Michigan) now, could be funneled into the development of those players in our league. It would probably take a lot less financial resources to do that.

Kevin:Would the USHL have any plans to become more nationwide — specifically, entering the Michigan and New England markets?

Ellis:That is an area of transportation, time. One of the concerns we have with the USHL’s footprint now is the time of travel from Green Bay (Wisconsin) to Kearney (Nebraska) for example. Any expansion the USHL sees would most likely would be on the fringes of our current footprint as opposed to any great distances. Particularly when teams in the league become younger you have more players still actively participating in high school. It is more and more difficult to get them out of school for any lengthy period of time. Greater distances mandate that.

I think ultimately the USHL would see itself being at 16 teams, whether Tier 1 status is granted or not. We would see ourselves getting to eight teams in two divisions. So that we could minimize the longer travel times and allow the players to miss fewer days of school.

Kevin:Why does the ownership of the USHL feel this is a “good move”?

Ellis:I think there is a driving force behind many of the ownerships to provide the best opportunity for players to develop and the highest level of entertainment for their fans. They are driven in most cases by the economics of it. And they hope the fans will recognize the quality of the players is among the elite in the nation. And the fans will pay them back by attending those games.

Kevin:The organizations will be paying more expenses per player; won’t this be reflected in higher ticket prices?

Ellis:That would be difficult to say across the board. We hope that a great deal additional will be offset by better league marketing and league purchasing. We have already made great strides with the hockey companies, like CCM and their associated brands, in obtaining a package that will reduce the impact of the equipment issued.

Each team will be negotiating with their housing families to try and hold the line on those expenses. I think ultimately, regional and national marketing dollars will be combined or obtained to offset some of those costs. As far as ticket prices, economics will dictate the situation in different markets/cities. It would be impossible for me to predict beyond that.

Kevin:Would younger players be more troublesome due to their scholastic endeavors of the younger players?

Ellis:Are they more of a problem because they are in school? Is that what the question is?


Ellis:It gives a coaching staff greater responsibility then a player that isn’t in school. Because, making sure that player attends classes and that he isn’t abusing his privilege to get out of classes to play with the team. They (coaches) make sure they (student-players) are up-to-date on their homework and they make all their studies. It an additional burden on the coaches, there is no question about it.

Not only that, but the maturity level (you hope) of a player who is college age (taking part-time college classes in some cases full-time classes) the maturity level of those guys that are paying for their education are responsible enough to attend and pass those classes.

It does put an additional burden on the coach to make sure the high school player performs at school.

Kevin:When and where will official information be available to the general public on the exact status of the USHL’s Tier 1 status?

Ellis:They send a check for $25 to Ellis Moose. I will send them a copy of the Tier 1 relationship agreement.

That raises a good question, the criteria for Tier 1 is published in the USA Hockey regulation book. So that is public knowledge, obviously so anybody that gets their hands on that will be able to tell what the criteria is.

Now as far as the relationship agreement between USA Hockey and any league that is granted Tier 1 status I am not at liberty to say at this point, because I don’t know, whether that document will be publicly displayed or acknowledged. I would assume that it would be, I don’t know why it wouldn’t be there is nothing confidential written in this agreement that I can see. Obviously, teams would not want their financial status and situation published. Where and when it would be published, or made available, I don’t know. I am sure if they contacted USA Hockey, they would certainly be able to get any information that they wanted. I would hope that the USHL will publish at least a page or two that will be available for all the individual teams in their programs for the upcoming seasons, to explain what Tier 1 is and what it isn’t.

Kevin:Should the 2002-03 USHL season be viewed as the first year of progressive steps into Tier 1 status? And if so, should the league consider that ALL criteria detailed steps will be completed by the 2003-04 season?

Ellis:I believe USA Hockey will anticipate and is expecting that all steps of Tier 1 eligibility and criteria be met the first year. There won’t be any “phase-in”. There maybe a phasing-in of age (requirements) or some of the requirements that they want for the roster make-up. But other then that, it will be Tier 1 right out of the shoot.

Kevin:According to the NAHL’s website, the NAHL has now applied for Tier 1 status. If approved what effect will this have on the future of Tier 1 hockey in the USA?

Ellis:I think the situation because the criteria has been published in the USA Hockey book, any league is certainly welcome, in their eyes, to apply for the (Tier 1) status. If more then one league were to meet that criteria, I think it would be, in the eyes of USA Hockey, all the better. To have the bar raised for everybody, and if every team could meet it, what would be wrong with that?

What would be wrong if every team were National Hockey League caliber? Well obviously, you would have a dilution of the talent. That would be the only negative aspect in their eyes. I think the ultimate goal that they are seeking, is to have a league that has Tier 1 that would have a majority of the elite players, so that, the concentration of talent and development would be located within one league.

Kevin:With colleges preferring to take 20 year olds from the junior leagues because they have more experience, are older, stronger, etc… With this move, the USHL will have fewer of those players. Is the league really helping developing players for college if younger players aren’t what the colleges are looking for?

Ellis:Well I don’t think the colleges will tell you that they are looking for an older player. I think they are looking for a better player. I think part of what college is doing currently is looking of development of a player in the USHL and some of the other Junior leagues as a year for those players to mature in physical situation/status. At the same time, that makes their older players older, too. If you have a 20-year-old freshman, that makes him a 24-year-old senior, so he is pretty much of a man by that time. So that might be part of their thinking also. But I don’t know any division 1 coach would pass up a very qualified 18-year-old or 17-year-old either.

Kevin:With more younger players, will the quality of play suffer?

Ellis:Not if our coaches have anything to say about it.

Kevin:With more younger players, will the USHL do something to minimize the impact on missed school time? (Shorter season, fewer weekday games, more games against closer teams so there’s less travel)

Ellis:This was a big part of the discussion at the USHL’s recent meeting. I can only speak for our league, the USHL is agreed basically to schedule the teams on the perimeter first. To try to minimize the length of their road trips and the number of school days lost, to help combat that problem.

Kevin:Can all of the current USHL teams survive given the attendance requirements?


Kevin:What reasonably close markets are left for the USHL?

Ellis:Well, the league is looking at several locations in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Kansas. The farthest distances from Des Moines, if Des Moines were the center point, that all of those locations would be no further then Green Bay is.

Kevin:Will the NAHL be able to move to Tier 1, or is a merger of sorts inevitable – the strongest teams of both in Tier 1 and the weaker teams of both in Tier 2?

Ellis:I don’t think “inevitable” is the right word. But a possibility always exists. Some teams wanting to raise to the higher level, another teams seeing their niche in the status that they’re at. And there is nothing wrong with that. Rochester and Dubuque are a couple of examples, that might survive better in a Junior “B” Tier 2 environment better then in a Junior “A” Tier 1.

Kevin:How will Tier 1 be different then Major-Juniors in Canada?

Ellis:Major-Juniors are ineligible for college; Tier 1 players will be eligible.

Kevin:What has been wrong with the USHL that this move is necessary? Is this a case of fixing what isn’t broken?

Ellis:Yes. It is a case of fixing what isn’t broken.

Kevin:Do the USHL owners want this move to Tier 1, or this being pushed by USA Hockey?

Ellis:I think it is a mutual striving to sharpen the point of the pyramid for player development, both by the individual team owners and the leagues that are applying for the (Tier 1) status and USA Hockey. With the development and success of the American West League the Junior development has expanded from what it was just a few years ago. There were probably 16 junior teams, ten years ago? And now there is, I don’t know what the exact count is, but the mid-20’s at least. So it maybe time to put a little sharper point at the top the pyramid for the players who want to continue their development.

Kevin:Is there a Tier 1 tournament for USHL teams to participate in?

Ellis:Tier 1 National Championship? That will be called the Clark Cup.

It’s still malleable. It’s still being molded. I know both sides in our relationship; USA Hockey and the USHL are constantly talking about the some of the fine-tuning of the rosters.

The North American League is vying very strongly to try to keep their hat in the rink. Honestly, the teams that you mentioned in our league, as far attendance that are on the borderline, would be league leaders in their league. And one of the very first sentences in the Tier 1 criteria says, that a Tier 1 league will be fan-based league. So, right from the get-go they (NAHL) have a problem across the board. Because of the requirement for finance to fund, all the employees and support services that Tier 1, you have to have the fan base to be able to afford those things.