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New president praises USHL as development model

by Mike G. Morreale

Bob Fallen, the newly appointed president and commissioner of the United States Hockey League, knows the importance of having players in the crosshairs of scouts and general managers at the NHL draft.

He has every intention of keeping it that way too, Fallen said Monday during a conference call to introduce him to national media.

"Those of us who watch a lot of hockey need to look no further than what we saw [in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final] when people like [Los Angeles Kings defenseman] Alec Martinez and [Chicago Blackhawks left wing] Patrick Sharp were battling for the right to play in the Stanley Cup [Final]," Fallen said. "Both played in the USHL; Alec at Cedar Rapids and Patrick at Thunder Bay.

"It's all about the American developmental model, and we consider the USHL to be an absolute lynchpin step in that path for developing players."

The 2013 NHL Draft marked the ninth straight year at least one player from the USHL was among the top 30 picks. In total a record 32 players competing in the league in 2012-13 were selected last June.

"I cannot in any way, shape or form disparage any other alternatives for developing hockey players; if people have another path to follow to the NHL, more power to them," Fallen said. "We just consider the USHL a really excellent opportunity for people and players developing not only for the NHL but college hockey before they reach the NHL."

The USHL has been churning out NHL-caliber athletes in recent years; a total of 94 USHL alumni competed in the League in 2012-13. More than 300 players on USHL rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools and more than 200 are under NHL contract.

The USHL isn't only looking to push players to the next level, Fallen said, but all its coaches and officials as well.

"It's important to note that our developmental model is not just for the players," he said. "Look at [coach] Jon Cooper, who is heading up the [Tampa Bay] Lightning. Only four years ago he was at the helm of the Green Bay Gamblers. We're proud of whatever we can do to develop players, officials and coaches and get them to the next level."

Before he became coach of Tampa Bay's American Hockey League affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, Cooper led the Gamblers to an 84-27-9 record in two seasons. Under Cooper's guidance the Gamblers posted back-to-back seasons with the best record in the USHL and won the 2010 Clark Cup. In 2008-09, Cooper's first season, Green Bay saw a 50-point improvement from the previous season. He was rewarded with the 2009 and 2010 USHL General Manager of the Year Awards, as well as being named the 2010 USHL Coach of the Year.

Fallen was also asked about the league's future partnership with USA Hockey and the United States National Team Development Program.

"We consider having the NTDP as part of the USHL as a huge asset," Fallen said. "Obviously these are several of the best players from the United States, and having them play in the nation's only Tier 1 junior league is outstanding for us and a great opportunity for the kids playing for Team USA."

There were 13 players competing for the NTDP last season chosen by NHL teams at the draft.

"We know that developing top prospects is important and there are a number of paths that you can take," Fallen said. "Having the NTDP as part of our league moving forward is important to us, and we look forward to expanding upon that relationship in the future."


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