AWHL to join NA3HL in 2014-15
The North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) is proud to announce the addition of a new Frontier Division made up of the seven teams from the America West Hockey League (AWHL), which will begin play this upcoming 2014-15 season as a part of the new Frontier Division of the NA3HL. The now 28-team NA3HL will be divided into five divisions (Central, East, Frontier, South and West) for the 2014-15 season.
“What a great opportunity it is for both the NA3HL and the AWHL to join forces as proud members of USA Hockey in step with creating the best Tier III Junior property in the country,” said NA3HL President and NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “Even though the NA3HL is only four years young, we continue to make decisions for what is best for players that are advancing though USA Hockey's ladder of development. At one time many of the markets were members of the NAHL and it will nice to have them back in the family.”
Originally formed back in 1992, the AWHL is one of nine USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier III Junior leagues and serves as one of the top training grounds in the country for the junior-aged player. Since its inception, the AWHL has undergone several growth stages, which includes a time frame from 2003-06, in which several teams including Billings, Bozeman and Helena were members of the NAHL, but the advancement of players has remained consistent. The AWHL has placed over 350 players into the ranks of college hockey and over 40 more into minor professional hockey.
The AWHL was re-established in 2011 and today features seven teams, which will be full-time members of the NA3HL in 2014-15 that include: Billings Bulls (Billings, MT), Bozeman IceDogs (Bozeman, MT), Gillette Wild (Gillette, WY), Glacier Nationals (Whitefish, MT), Great Falls Americans (Great Falls, MT), Helena Bighorns (Helena, MT) and Yellowstone Quake (Cody, WY). Formal approval by USA Hockey is expected in June at the Annual Congress as part of the junior recertification process.
"Becoming part of the NA3HL allows our organization additional opportunity for player advancement. The organization, professionalism and event structure of the NA3HL sets itself apart from anyone else in the category. The addition of the teams from the AWHL will make the NA3HL even stronger and continue to be a step above its competition under the USA Hockey umbrella,” said Helena Bighorns Owner Oren Koules.
"Joining the NA3HL is a going to be a great partnership for all of the teams from the AWHL. We are very excited to bring back the rich tradition of quality hockey that was played in our region for many years. The NA3HL is extremely successful at developing players to continue on to the next level,” said Jim Keough, President of the AWHL and owner of the Great Falls Americans.
“The Yellowstone Quake are very excited to be joining the NA3HL. This is a giant step forward for our players, present and future, as well as our fans. We look forward to new working relationships and friendships. Cody, Wyoming is proud to be a part of this expansion into a superb hockey program,” remarked Bob Bole, President of the Yellowstone Quake.
"The Glacier Nationals are ecstatic about joining the NA3HL and being a part of the NAHL vision. The clearly defined structure of training, development and exposure is the best in the country. From top to bottom the vertical exposure model is the best path for any player to be seen and interact with the best coaches in hockey. The whole structure is about growth and opportunity, that's what the Glacier Nationals stand for. We feel very lucky to play our part in the NA3HL and USA Hockey,” said Butch Kowalka, Owner and coach of the Glacier Nationals.
"We have had a great run in the America West Hockey league and in my opinion have represented the league, USA Hockey and our organization well at the National level each year. Our team and program is ready and excited to make this move to the next level by joining the NA3HL,” said Helena Bighorns head coach Scott Cunningham. “The opportunities for our players will become greater, the level of professionalism and structure within the NA3HL will provide a stronger league as a whole."
The Frontier Division teams will compete in a 48-game schedule and will take part of the NA3HL Showcase, and will also take part in the NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament. The winner of the Frontier Division playoffs will join the winners of the four other divisions in the NA3HL for the 2015 Silver Cup Championship Tournament.
The NA3HL is just completing its fourth season and serves as one of the top training grounds in the country by providing the best coaching, exposure and developmental vehicles available for student-athletes in its classification. In 2013, the NA3HL’s North Iowa Bulls solidified this by winning the USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championship. Over three dozen alumni of the NA3HL played in the NAHL during the current 2013-14 season.