HOW THE USPHL’S COLLEGIATE DEVELOPMENT MODEL LED TO 321 NCAA COMMITMENTS IN 2018-19
The United States Premier Hockey League and Eastern Hockey Federation combined to form the Nation’s Largest Amateur Ice Hockey Organization for a very important reason. That is, to give players of all ages (to 20) a chance to develop at the right level and climb this unparalleled hockey hierarchy towards a college hockey career.
After the first full season of the USPHL and EHF working together, there has already been great early success. The 2018-19 season yielded 321 NCAA commitments, coming from six different levels.
These NCAA-bound players played in 2018-19 in the tuition-free junior National Collegiate Development Conference; the Tier-3 junior USPHL Premier and USPHL Elite Divisions; the full-season USPHL Midget Divisions; the split-season Midget EHF Selects Division; and there were even four players in the EHF youth hockey ranks who committed to NCAA Division 1 schools for future seasons.
The NCAA institutions are not the only colleges to benefit from the USPHL/EHF player development model. American College Hockey Association (ACHA) schools saw commitments from 145 players, largely from the USPHL Premier and Elite Divisions. There was also a handful of players who will advance to Canadian college hockey.
National Collegiate Development Conference
The NCDC was founded in 2017 as the first tuition-free junior hockey league entirely located in the Eastern United States. The NCDC began as an 11-team circuit in 2017-18 and has expanded to 13 squads for 2019-20.
Each year, the teams include players who join NCDC squads with NCAA Division 1 commitments already in hand, while the majority make their college commitments while playing in the league.
More than 30 NCDC players in 2018-19 held NCAA Division 1 commitments, with 70 more NCAA Division 3-committed players skating in the 12-team league. Many of those same players have returned to the NCDC for 2019-20, including the league’s leading scorer (as of Sept. 27) Johnny Mulera.
The University of Connecticut recruit Mulera, of the Boston Junior Bruins, recently hit the career 100-point mark in regular season NCDC play, standing alone at the century mark as the all-time leading scorer for the league.
Other players have come from outside the NCDC with NCAA commitments already in hand to hone their skills in the league, such as Islanders Hockey Club forward Cy Leclerc, an ‘02 committed to the University of New Hampshire for 2021-22.
“I had a choice between Midwest Tier-2 and the NCDC, and I thought the NCDC would be better for my development. The Midwest is more of a hitting league, and I wanted to be in a more skilled league, where I could fit in better, and I thought the Islanders Hockey Club would be a good fit,” LeClerc said.
“Out of this season, I hope to get re-drafted into Tier-1, and also become a better player, learn the game more, improve upon my speed and knowing where I need to be at all times – and win a lot of games,” added LeClerc.
The NCDC, and the USPHL Premier Division before that, has developed many players who have already experienced great success in the NCAA Division 1 ranks (see attached story).
USPHL Premier/USPHL Elite
In late April, Pittsburgh Vengeance goaltender Jacob Zab became the first USPHL Premier player to commit to an NCAA Division 1 institution for hockey since the creation of the NCDC. Zab is on the 2019-20 roster for the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“They have three new goalies coming in, and he is one of those three. They had reached out to our goaltending coach Shane Clifford, and Shane presented to me early in the spring that they might look for him to come in and be part of the goaltending battle,” said Vengeance President, GM and Head Coach David Dorsey. “After that, we didn’t fully expect to hear anything, but we got a call from their assistant coach who went through the process of asking what kind of kid he was – his work ethic, how he was off the ice. Jacob went on a visit and they were impressed.”
The 52-team USPHL Premier has a vast footprint, ranging from Minnesota to the west and north, Maine in the far northeast, and Florida in the Southeast. Within this league structure, divisional and showcase play keeps travel to a healthy limit.
The USPHL Premier division, which saw more than 220 college-committed players skating for its teams in 2018-19, attracts a large amount of NCAA Division 3 scouts each year from all across the Division 3 landscape.
With the league’s unparalleled Showcase Series, players on teams in the Florida Division have the chance to skate in front of Boston-area coaches as many as three times a year, as do players from the Midwest, who also play regularly in front of Midwestern college scouts.
Additionally, as the USPHL Premier is a younger circuit than the NCDC, there is a lot of inter-divisional movement. This year, 35 former USPHL Premier players had already skated in the NCDC in the first two weeks of league play.
The Affiliate Program, in which NCDC teams have as many as three USPHL Premier affiliates, will see that number rise throughout the 2019-20 season.
The USPHL Elite also sends players to NCAA hockey, as the Northern Cyclones’ Matt Irwin (the league’s second-leading scorer) proved with his commitment to Framingham State University in Massachusetts.
The goal of most USPHL Elite players is to advance to higher levels of junior hockey, and with more than 140 Elite players from 2018-19 now in the USPHL Premier, it’s “mission accomplished.”
USPHL Midget Divisions
The United States Premier Hockey League offers full-season 18U, 16U and 15U hockey, and each division saw players make NCAA commitments. A total of 24 players in 2018-19 held commitments for future seasons, with 22 of those committed players bound for Division 1 institutions.
A number of these committed players have seen the benefits of the multi-tiered USPHL development model and have remained in the league, albeit at higher levels. Liam McLinskey, an 18U All-Star player with the Jersey Hitmen who committed to Quinnipiac University over the summer of 2018, is now with the Hitmen’s NCDC team.
“Their assistant coach saw me playing in December  a couple times. I met him, and they asked me to visit, and I went up there and fell in love with it,” said McLinskey, in a fall 2018 interview. McLinskey was a USPHL 16U player for the Hitmen when he committed.
University of New Hampshire recruit Aidan Curran – who committed out of the USPHL 16U Division – advanced to the NCDC’s New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs last year, and was named 2018-19 NCDC Rookie Of The Year.
Gleb Veremyev, an ‘03 who committed from the USPHL 15U Division to Western Michigan University last spring, remains with the Rockets Hockey Club. He has moved up to their USPHL 16U team, the No. 12-ranked 16U team in the nation (as of Sept. 25).
EHF Selects Split-Season Midgets
The EHF Selects Division is home to many of the highest-ranked Midget teams in the country, including the top-ranked Tier-1 18U team, the Boston Jr. Eagles.
EHF Selects players typically suit up for their teams from August through November, before playing for their prep school or public high school teams.
Those who qualify for USA Hockey Nationals regroup in late March to play for a championship, as six EHF Selects teams did in 2019.
NCAA coaches recognize the advanced skill level of the EHF Selects and it was no surprise to see 62 NCAA-committed players in the league at various age levels last season. Already this season, several dozen EHF Selects players hold NCAA commitments, including Anthony Messuri, of the Cape Cod Whalers. He committed in September to Northeastern University.
“To my knowledge, I was never getting looked at by Northeastern until I joined the Whalers organization,” Messuri said. “I cannot thank the Whalers enough for what they did and putting me out there and allowing me to play on the team.”
This Division also led the way for the USPHL at the NHL Entry Draft, as 10 of the 19 players with USPHL/EHF ties who were selected had played for EHF Selects teams.
Eastern Hockey Federation
The recruiting battles for top talent begin young, and so it was no surprise when ‘04 and ‘05 players from the Eastern Hockey Federation’s youth divisions made NCAA Division 1 commitments for as far away as four years from now.
Michael Stenberg was with the South Shore Kings Elite 14U team when he committed to Penn State University for 2023-24. He had also played for the Boston Jr. Terriers in his younger years.
Stenberg and his Kings teammate Brady Berard won the Elite 14U Championship in the EHF last winter, and Berard committed in late April to Providence College (2022-23).
William Smith, of the Boston Jr. Eagles 14U squad, committed to Northeastern University for the 2023-24 season.
Ryan Fine, who played with the 2005 Elite team for the Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers, was the first ‘05 born hockey player to commit to a college team. He gave the nod to Boston University for the 2023-24 season.
So, as you can see, you can play anywhere in the USPHL developmental model, from EHF youth hockey to the National Collegiate Development Conference, and the college scouts will be watching as players hone their skills in the Nation’s Largest Amateur Hockey Organization.
Written by Joshua Boyd and republished with permission from USA Junior Hockey Magazine
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