How in the world does one of the most widely scouted preseason hockey events of the season end up in Sioux City, Iowa, for a third straight year?
According to Jim Kronschnabel, the president of the host Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League, proximity, a state-of-the-art facility and a fan-friendly atmosphere are three primary reasons the stands will be full and the cheering loud when the USHL Fall Classic is staged at Tyson Events Center's Gateway Arena and IBP Ice Center in Sioux City.
"Many of the 14 USHL members are within a few hours of Sioux City and it's convenient for fans to get over here and watch some great hockey in two nearby venues," Kronschnabel told NHL.com. "The Fall Classic is also great for our community; the economic impact to the city has been great and we continue to take it to another level each season."
Kronschnabel anticipates well over 200 NHL and college scouts in attendance over the three-day event beginning Thursday. Why all the hoopla?
When you consider that three players who competed in the USHL in 2008-09 -- John Moore (Columbus Blue Jackets
), Jake Hauswirth
) and Michael Forney
) -- all signed NHL contracts over the summer, 182 players committed to play Division I hockey and an all-time high 78 former USHL players skated in the NHL during the 2008-09 season, it's easy to see why the nation's only Tier I Junior A hockey league has attracted so much fanfare.
While the USHL is known for developing players for the collegiate ranks, it also offers its players several options. Each of the three aforementioned players had scholarship offers to Division I schools, but signed pro contracts and will have an opportunity to play for their club's American Hockey League affiliate this season. During the NHL Entry Draft in Montreal last June, 13 of the 16 American players selected who competed in U.S. junior hockey leagues were from the USHL.
"Not at all," Musketeers coach and general manager Luke Strand told NHL.com. "There are two reasons for this. The USHL prepares you, first and foremost, as a person. Everyone who plays in the USHL leaves the league a better person."
Strand should know. He played in the USHL with the North Iowa Huskies in the early 1990s and was an assistant coach for the Green Bay Gamblers from 2003-04 through 2004-05. The Huskies, incidentally, would move to Cedar Rapids following the 1998-99 campaign.
"The other thing I like about the league is the fact the environment in and around the rink is great," Strand said.
Kronschnabel points to one other important detail about the USHL that has certainly benefitted its players.
"The biggest reason I feel there's been a huge improvement in the caliber of play, first and foremost, is the coaching," Kronschnabel said. "Good quality coaching has attracted good young players -- and because of that, the level of play has improved every year and I think that will continue.
"It's great to see these kids have an opportunity to get Division 1 college scholarships and be drafted in the high rounds," he continued. "Then, in three or four years, become impact players in the NHL. Guys like Thomas Vanek
(Sioux Falls Stampede), Kyle Okposo
(Des Moines Buccaneers) and Paul Statsny (River City Lancers) -- it's been very gratifying to see these kids reach their goals."
Kronschnabel is also excited to have the National Team Development Program as part of the league this season.
"Now we can truly say our league has the best young players in the United States and both sides will benefit because of this," he said. "It's a long time coming and it's only going to make the league stronger and the NTDP stronger."
The NTDP will play Kronschnabel's Musketeers Friday night at the Tyson Events Center.
"The Musketeers, the city of Sioux City, our fans, and over 200 volunteers are very excited and are preparing with much anticipation for the Fall Classic," Kronschnabel said. "With a great deal of help and input from scouts, teams, coaches, and fans, we have found ways to improve the event each year. Our goal is to showcase the tremendous talent in the USHL to the NHL and college scouts who will be in attendance. We're proud to again host the most widely scouted hockey event in the world."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org