I had planned to write a very different blog post this month – one sharing exciting news about no
USA HOCKEY NATIONALS COMES TO WEST MICHIGAN
Need something to do over spring break in West Michigan? Look no further than Southside Ice Arena and Fox Motors Hockey Club (566 100th St. SW, Byron Center), the host site for the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships - Youth Tier I (16U, 18U). More than 600 youth hockey players age 16 and under and 18 and under from across the country will touch down in Grand Rapids April 3-8 to battle it out to be crowned Tier I National Champions. I’d like to give you a better understanding of the scale of this event and what a big deal this is to the hockey community and West Michigan in general.
What is Tier I, and how do teams get selected to the national championships?
Youth hockey has grown considerably across the country over the last 10 to 15 years due to the growth of the game at the professional and collegiate levels. The NHL and its affiliates placing teams in non-traditional markets like Phoenix, Anaheim and Des Moines has helped grow the game at the ground floor to create elite competition across the country. Tier I (or AAA hockey, as most people know it) is now a national product because of this growth – and making it to the National Championships is no easy task. There are 12 state/regional qualifiers, and the winners receive automatic bids to the Nationals. Once all twelve teams have qualified, USA Hockey with the help of myhockeyrankings.com (national ranking system) will select four at-large teams to round out the 16-team field from across the country to compete in the National Championships.
Why is this a big deal for West Michigan?
Youth hockey in West Michigan has been on the rise for many years thanks to organizations like Fox Motors Hockey Club run by former professional players Travis Richards, Mike Knuble, Kory Karlander and Mike Slobodnik. These guys, their staff and coaches have brought Tier I hockey back to West Michigan and created a competitive environment to give the best athletes in the area an opportunity to play at the highest level and be put on a national stage.
Next week’s USA Hockey Nationals, the first USA Hockey national championship to come to West Michigan, will display the best youth hockey players at the 16U and 18U ages from across the country. And these athletes are playing for more than just a trophy. They are looking to play hockey at the next level – whether Division I college or Major Junior. For example, the Michigan State Tournament winner at the 16U level and #1 ranked team in the country in the tournament, Little Caesars Hockey Club coached by former Detroit Red Wing Kris Draper, already has eight players committed to Division I schools. NCAA Division I and III scouts will attend next week to see the best of the best compete for a National Championship. For players, it’s an opportunity to impress these scouts to earn a future roster spot on their college teams. NHL clubs also will attend to get a sneak peak of some players we may see drafted in years to come by NHL organizations.
Beyond the hockey prestige, the event is an important economic engine for the region, drawing 640 athletes and coaches from 16 states plus 1,000 spectators who will fill 3,000 hotel room nights and generate almost $2 million in estimated economic impact.
How do I attend the USA Hockey National Championships?
The USA Hockey National Championships is April 3-8. The first three days are round robin play at both Southside Ice Arena (566 100th St. SW, Byron Center) and Griff’s Georgetown (8500 48th Ave., Hudsonville). Quarterfinals (April 6), semifinals (April 7), and the championships (April 8) all take place at Southside, and a winner will be crowned for each age bracket. The tournament is free and open to the public, and we encourage everyone to attend to get a glimpse of the best youth hockey in the country. With sponsors such as Founders Brewing Co. (which will have beverages available for purchase on site) and the West Michigan Sports Commission, it is primed to be a spectacular event.
The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) is partnering with Celebration Cinema to bring a new sport to West Michigan – and there’s a good chance you know very little about it.
As we prepare for 2020, I’d like to take a moment to review 2019 – it was another great year for youth and amateur sports in West Michigan!