So New Mexico is getting a NAHL team, which will be the latest addition to the leagues Southern Division. I believe this move really shows the direction the league wants to head. Honestly, I think they should change the name of the divisions in both leagues, NA3 included. When the NA and NA3 say "southern division", they don't mean southeast. In fact, there are a lot of cities and towns in the American southeast that would be excellent suitors for tier 2 and 3 junior hockey teams. Places like Nashville, Charlotte or Name a city in Florida except Miami. These places all have the facilities and the interest to draw a junior hockey team.
Hockey in the south, believe it or not, has a bigger following than most would like to give it credit for. I think at least two players for team USA this year are from Florida. One of the things about the south, is that many people from northern hockey playing states move down here when they get a new job, retire or to start a new life in warmer weather. That love of the game doesn't go away just because they move to another state.
But this is not where the NAHL wants to target with either league. No, when the NAHL says they are expanding in the south they mean Texas. They mean Texas, or a state that touches Texas. When you look at team placement in both leagues Texas is currently 2nd in amount of teams they have in the NA and the NA3. I don't think I have to tell you which state has the most. With a little imagination you should be able to guess.
Corpus Christi Ice Rays
Lone Star Brahmas
College Station Spirit
Mid-cities Jr Stars
It bears pointing out that there is an NAHL team in Shreveport, LA. Uncle Rico could throw a football from Shreveport and hit Texas. Truly, the only two teams in either leagues south division that are not in Texas or are in a state that touch Texas, are the Topeka Pilots (NAHL) and the Atlanta Capitals (NA3HL). Ironically enough, the Topeka and Atlanta franchises are affiliated teams.
Looking at this from a business stand point, it makes sense for there to be so many teams in Texas. For starters, Texas is an awesome state. 85 mph speed limits on the interstates, delicious steaks, those awesome hats, that TV show Dallas, Jerry Jones, and the list goes on. But, most importantly, the leagues offices are in Texas. Texas as a state has really started to gain steam in the hockey world. There have been a lot of players recruited to play juniors who are from Texas. Especially from the Houston area. Oh, and did I mention that the owner of the College Station Spirit also owns the Atlanta Capitals?
BOLD PREDICTION ALERT
I am going to go out on a limb here. For the record, I have been told and heard nothing to justify this prediction. I predict that in the next 1-2 years there will not be a NA3HL team in Dixie. It makes no sense from a business standpoint for your closest road game to be 3 states away. Rename the "south division" in both leagues something like, the lone star division or the southwest division and wipe your hands of dixieland.
Will there ever be a southeast division? Maybe. Will it be anytime soon? No. The landscape of American juniors right now would not allow for it. Teams are having a hard enough time as it is finding enough kids to fill rosters. Except, Evansville. (Did you know that Evansville has 78 players listed as playing at some point on their roster this year?? The hard part was keeping them there.) It is a shame. Southern hockey fans have been so good to their NHL teams (yes, except Atlanta and the Panthers). And their ECHL and SPHL teams draw very nice crowds on a nightly basis.
The NAHL knows where its going, what it wants to be, and what it wants. And what it wants, isn't sweet tea.
Coming in my next post. Playoff match-ups and predictions! Still one playoff spot left to be decided in the final weekend of the NA3HL season. Alexandria Blizzard just need one more win in order to clinch. They play the Wilmar Warhawks on Friday the 8th and Granite City Lumberjacks on the 9th.