The USHL’s Silly Season

By Kevin Kasel

The USHL “silly season” has begun, the season when rumors abound about which teams are folding, which teams are joining, new teams, new owners, and new coaches.

This will probably be one of the busiest silly seasons ever for the USHL, which is starting off its 25th season of existence. In the summer of 2002 the biggest issue was Tier 1 rules and regulations. How many 20 year olds will each team be allowed to have on its roster? How many 17 and younger players must each team carry? How many imports can a team have?

This season there are new concerns about Tier 1 regulations after the adjustments made at the USA Hockey winter meeting. But the biggest buzz is the addition of new teams. First there is the possibility of Midwest Ice LLC (owners of the Lincoln Stars and the dormant Rochester Mustangs franchise) moving the Rochester franchise to LaCrosse, WI. The biggest hurdle to the move is the facility in LaCrosse. LaCrosse Center does not have the capability to make ice. Midwest Ice LLC is reported to be willing to pay all the costs associated to install ice and bring the arena up to the specifications for hockey (around $1.5 million). The trade-off for the city of LaCrosse would be that they would have to be willing to give Midwest Ice LLC concession revenue to help Midwest Ice LLC with the capital investment of putting in ice at the arena. From the looks of things now, the earliest we might see a new team in LaCrosse will be the 2004-2005 season.

Other possible new teams for next season are not new to the Junior “A” arena. With the Tier 1 requirements being adjusted at the USA Hockey winter meeting, several NAHL teams can now meet the Tier 1 requirements. One of the major changes was the attendance requirements, which was one of the major sticking points for the NAHL to go Tier 1 previously. There has been reported five NAHL teams applying to join the USHL to become Tier 1 status: Detroit, Danville, Soo, Cleveland and Texas.

Detroit and Danville seem to have the inside track to make the USHL. Danville, IL is definitely within the current USHL footprint and Detroit is not that far out of the footprint. Soo might be too far, being 282 miles away from Green Bay which would mean adding another 4.5 to 5 hours on to most teams road trips in comparison to a trip to Green Bay. Soo could get in, if Detroit and Danville push to have them join the USHL.

Cleveland has been reported to have thrown its hat into the ring as well. Cleveland faces the same problem that the Soo do: distance. But neither Cleveland’s nor Soo’s distance compare to that of Texas. Texas is moving into the Dallas Stars’ new practice facility in Frisco next season.

Distance is no stranger to the Texas Tornado. Their closest NAHL opponent is the Springfield (MO) Spirit at around 480 miles. Texas compensates their NAHL opponents to fly to Dallas, TX via American Airlines. The Texas owner has an agreement with American Airlines to fly in their NAHL opponents to Dallas. If Texas joins, it is anticipated that they will continue to subsidize the travel costs for USHL teams to fly to Dallas. But a concern would be time since teams are required to carry at least three 17 year old or younger on their roster, these players would most likely miss school some school in order to attend the games.

Another change that is almost a sure thing is no USHL hockey in Topeka next season. The lease for the Scarecrows at the Landon Arena expires April 30, 2003 and the current Topeka Scarecrow management and the Shawnee County have not reached an agreement. H.R. Cook, the general manager of the Kansas Expocenter, has extended the deadline to Tuesday, May 6th to see if an agreement can be reached on the lease of Landon Arena. Besides lease agreement issues, the Topeka Scarecrows are currently without a coach. Back in January, Bliss Littler resigned and Tom Rudrud took over as interim head coach. But on April 16th, Rudrud, re-signed and rejoined Bliss Littler as an assistant coach on his staff with the Tri-City Storm.

Besides Topeka’s coaching change, there has been plenty of action around the league in the USHL coaching world. Littler joined the Tri-City Storm as the GM/Head Coach and brought Rudrud over from Topeka as his assistant coach. First year coaches Regg Simon and Tom Kowal of the Storm are now out of a job. Simon became the interim head coach in December with the resignation of Jim Hillman. The Sioux Falls Stampede have hired Mark Kaufman as their new GM/Head Coach for the up coming season. Kaufman is no stranger to the USHL. He was the GM/Head Coach for the Rochester Mustangs back in 1988-92 seasons. The Chicago Steel relieved first year coach, A.J. Toews and replaced him with Willard Nichol. This will be the Steel’s third coach in four seasons.

Within days we should know what the USHL will look like for next season. There was a USHL owners meeting April 29, 2003 in Council Bluffs, IA to decide who to accept into the USHL for next season. Things need to be settled soon, since the scheduled draft date for the USHL is set for May 7th.

Another note to add is that Butch Johnson has sold the Cedar Rapids Roughriders to a Minnesota man, Pat Forciea, who owns an ad ageny in Minneapolis. Johnson sold off 50% of his interest in Topeka over the winter and now only has the Waterloo Black Hawks.

Here is the anticipated USHL alignment next season with teams being added and deleted to the USHL.

East Division
Cedar Rapids RoughRiders
Chicago Steel
Danville Wings
Detroit Compuware
Green Bay Gamblers
Waterloo Black Hawks

West Division
Des Moines Buccaneers
Lincoln Stars
River City Lancers
Sioux City Musketeers
Sioux Falls Stampede
Tri-City Storm

Topeka will likely not be back in the USHL and neither Cleveland, Soo nor Texas will likely be admitted into the USHL this season. LaCrosse will likely not be ready this season to have a team. The most likely change is in scheduling. Teams will likely play their divisional foes eight times, four home and four away, and play their non-divisional foes four times each, two home and two away, making a 64 game schedule.

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