The Atlanta Fire Hockey Club has entered into a formal alliance with the Topeka RoadRunners of the North American Hockey League (NAHL). Director of the Atlanta Fire, Chris Powers, characterized the alliance as “a major step forward for our program and particularly for the Tier I AAA level. This relationship opens a whole new set of opportunities for Fire players to compete at the highest level and to pursue the sport of hockey to the Division I collegiate level and perhaps professionally.”
The NAHL is the only Tier II Junior A hockey league in the country. The USHL is the only Tier I Junior A league. All other “Junior” leagues or programs are Tier III with multiple levels. These leagues are certified by USA Hockey. The NAHL together with the USHL are the only two “non-pay to play” leagues in the country. This means that players on those teams pay no fees to play, have all their equipment, with the exception of skates, supplied to them free of charge and have no travel expenses associated with playing for the team. NAHL teams are funded by the gate receipts from their games. These are obviously attractive features and the NAHL teams are therefore able to attract the top talent and coaches.
The Fire program has always held a core belief that the nexus between sport and education is a strong one and one to be encouraged and supported at every opportunity. Consequently, the Fire has a long history of promoting its players to New England Prep Schools as a means of enhancing their opportunity to pursue the sport at the collegiate level while gaining the benefit of a world class high school education. The success of this approach is clearly borne out by the fact that with eighteen alumni having played Division I hockey and seventeen Division III the Atlanta Fire is by far the most successful program in the region in terms of elevating players to the next level.
The Atlanta Fire’s interest in and penchant for moving players to the next level is a perfect match for the opportunities and record of success presented by the NAHL and the Topeka RoadRunners. Just this past season (2011-2012) the NAHL had over one hundred players accepted into Division I college hockey programs. The Topeka RoadRunners themselves placed seven into Division I programs.
The alliance between the Atlanta Fire and the Topeka RoadRunners will provide additional opportunities for Fire players in a number of ways. One of these opportunities has already been taken advantage of and come to fruition for the benefit of the Fire program.
The NAHL sponsors and manages an elite Tier I AAA league for the 16U and 18U Midget levels. The league is known as the NAPHL (North American Prospects Hockey League). This one of the premier AAA leagues in the country and admission is limited and highly sought after. The Atlanta Fire applied for admission and was supported by the ownership of the Topeka NAHL team in the application review process. Last month the Fire was notified that it had been accepted into the NAPHL.
Players in the NAPHL are exposed to scouts from the junior, collegiate and professional ranks at every event they play in. Twice a year all the NAPHL teams play at an event that coincides with the NAHL’s top prospects showcase. As a result of this level and frequency of exposure NAPHL players are offered Division I college positions as well as tenders (offers of a position on a team) from USHL and NAHL teams. All NAHL teams are required to have at least one scout present at every NAPHL event and must tender at least two players each year from the NAPHL.
The alliance with the Topeka RoadRunners further enhances the opportunity presented by the NAHL. Not only are the RoadRunners one of the premier teams in the NAHL (Division Champions three of the past four years), but their owner and two of their scouts reside in the Atlanta area. This gives them a unique opportunity to monitor talent at the Atlanta Fire as well as to direct talent to the Fire program. As part of the alliance between the two organizations the RoadRunners will be able to offer some Fire players the opportunity of spending time with the RoadRunner team during the season so that they can experience the level of play and commitment required at the Junior A level. Again, this is a fabulous opportunity for Fire players working to continue their hockey careers. While the new relationship between the Atlanta Fire and the NAHL and Topeka RoadRunners does not guarantee any Fire player placement in a top Junior program it does open multiple doors of opportunity for those with the talent and drive to reach their goals as young hockey players.