Dominic Tiano: How USHL rule changes could affect Canadian junior hockey

ushlEditor’s note- The Scouting Post contributor Dominic Tiano is back with a thoughtful piece on the second and third-order effects of the recent announcement by the USHL to modify its import roster player rules. Dom’s instincts and conclusions are sound- one more example of the forward thinking that has brought the USHL into prominence under Commissioner Bob Fallen’s stewardship.

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Earlier this week, the United States Hockey League announced several rule changes, but there are a couple that I will look at and the possible effects on every level of junior hockey in Canada.

The first is the USHL Import rule, and this change that takes effect next season:

·         Canadian Imports: Applicable only to the Tier 1 USHL, the USA Hockey Board of Directors granted the USHL permission to roster up to two Canadian-born citizens as non-imports. Presently, each USHL team is allowed up to four (4) import roster positions on their 23-man rosters.  This rule change would allow USHL teams to carry a maximum of six (6) imports as long as the two extra import players are Canadian.

 On the surface, this rule change allows USHL teams to add two extra Canadians to their rosters. I’ve always been in favor of more options or opportunities for players to choose from when deciding which path is best for them. But could this have an impact on junior hockey throughout Canada?

 By now you already know the NCAA considers players who play in the Canadian Hockey League in one of the three leagues that fall under it’s umbrella, the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, professionals and once they play a single game lose their NCAA eligibility.

 There are instances of players wanting to play junior before going the NCAA route. Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro both were drafted from the British Columbia Hockey League before heading to University of North Dakota and Boston University respectively, are two such players drafted in the first round of the 2016 National Hockey League Draft. Ditto for Dennis Cholowski, who played in the same BCHL before heading to St. Cloud State this season. If their choice all along was to play NCAA hockey, then the WHL was out of the question for them.

 Both Fabbro and Jost were selected in the 8th round of the USHL Futures draft in 2014 by the Bloomington Thunder, Fabbro 129th overall and Jost 120th overall. Just how hard the Thunder pursued the two will probably never be known, but the thought of having the ability to add two extra Canadians to your roster with the larger import allowance would lead one to believe that they could have put a greater emphasis into bringing them aboard.

 That scenario doesn’t really affect the CHL since, once a player makes up his mind to go the NCAA route, the CHL is no longer an option.

 It could however have an impact on the 10 Junior A Leagues and 132 teams that fall under the Canadian Junior Hockey League umbrella. To a much lesser extent, it could also have an effect on Junior B leagues across the country. With more options for both players and the USHL teams, it goes without saying that some players will most certainly “jump ship.”

 Over the years, the USHL has been a league on the rise and this can only add to its determination to become a league that attracts top talent.

 The following rule changes take effect for the 2018-2019 season:

·         Import Goalies: Any non-USA Hockey goaltender shall be counted against a USHL team’s import limit as two (2) imports. No team may have more than one (1) import (non-U.S. citizen) goaltender on their active roster of 23 players.

·         Over-age Player Limit: An overage goaltender shall NOT count toward a team’s over-age player limit. Currently USHL teams are allowed four (4) over-age players on an active roster.  (Note: The term “over-age player” refers to players who are 20 years old, in the case of the current 2016-17 season would be a 1996-born player.)

Not as strict as the CHL Import rule when it comes to goaltenders – the CHL does not allow goaltenders in it’s import draft and American Goaltenders do not have the import tag attached to them. So, this new rule, combined with the two extra Canadians allowed on the roster comes down to USHL squads being able to add two Canadian skaters, or one Canadian goaltender.

Bob Fallen, USHL President and Commissioner had this to say in its release:

 “The American development path that involves playing NCAA-eligible junior hockey continues to increase in awareness and popularity. This path is attracting top players from all over the world who come to the USHL hoping to test their abilities before advancing to college and professional hockey.  We constantly strive to expand opportunities for our players, coaches and officials and many of the rules changes help us to achieve our developmental objectives.”

 “We work together to find solutions that allow our league to continue to attract high caliber players from all over the world while maintaining a primary focus on the American player.” 

I tip my hat to the USHL. It’s a big leap forward that will surely pay dividends.

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