Every one of our teams is practicing every day, playing on the weekends and playing a 60-game schedule. They learn how to manage all that and grow as a player. There’s a lot of time put into their development.
The coaching staff in the NAHL is all very good. I’ve been in this league a long time, and I have to give credit to the NAHL. The ownership groups have hired some really good coaches that take a lot of time developing their players. These players learn how to get through a grueling season and they learn how to manage it all — especially the teams that get all the way to the Robertson Cup. Those players are going to utilize that throughout their lives. Even when they go on in their careers, they’re going to know how to get through the tough times.
Q: The NAHL has set new NCAA commitment records for five consecutive seasons now. How does the level of competition within the league foster that growth?
A: The players here are hungry. You get some of these players that have been overlooked and they have such a chip on their shoulder to prove that they’re worth playing NCAA hockey. For the NAHL, just watching the growth from where I sit, it’s a testament to teams putting the right staff in place and it’s also a testament to the types of players. There are a lot of blue-collar players that play in the NAHL that haven’t gotten the opportunity in different leagues, and they put the time in. It tends to be a little bit of an older league, and you’re playing against older players night in and night out and navigating through that. The coaches seem to look at our league and know they can win at the NCAA level with NAHL players.
Q: Why is the NAHL an excellent choice for goaltenders to develop?
A: I just know that if you’re a goaltender and you’re playing in the NAHL, your opportunity to play at the next level, and potentially pro hockey after that, is really good. We’ve proven that as a league — that goaltenders can be majorly successful utilizing the opportunity of the NAHL. I think it’s because of the bigger, stronger players and it’s the talent level. There’s a lot of talent in the NAHL and it pushes these goaltenders. The ones that come out on top, they just seem to get those opportunities. You look at Matt Vernon for us. He was a guy who split time last year, put time in during the offseason and became the league MVP this season. He’s going to go on to do big things because he persevered through all that adversity.