RMJHL preps as inaugural season nears
The start of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League’s (RMJHL) inaugural season is just a few months away, and, according to RMJHL president Shaun Hathaway, all preparations are going exactly according to plan.
“It’s an extremely exciting and busy time for us,” said Hathaway. “We’re staying extremely visible; our coaches are attending a lot of showcase camps and recruiting events, and have had a heavy presence at North American Hockey League camps.”
The USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier III Junior A league also recently signed a uniform and equipment deal with CCM, which, says RMJHL commissioner Mike Gempeler, signifies a major score for the circuit and its six member clubs, which includes the Aspen Leafs, Breckenridge Bucks, Colorado Rampage, Colorado Thunderbirds, Glacier Yetis and Pikes Peak Miners.
“That’s huge for us,” said Gempeler. “After a very competitive bidding process between a number of high-end equipment manufacturers, we felt CCM was the best partner in terms of its commitment to the players and commitment to performance.
“Additionally, we believe this partnership adds another layer of professionalism and legitimacy to our league and our teams, and feel it’s just one more element that will make us an attractive developmental option for prospective players and coaches alike.”
Hathaway is also excited about the league’s head coaching appointments, noting that all of its bench bosses come with a strong knowledge of the game and solid connections throughout the hockey community.
Qualified coaching, says Hathaway, is a key selling point to players, along with the names of the organizations involved and the prestige they hold throughout the Colorado hockey circles.
“Getting great coaches in the league was key,” said Hathaway. “We put our trust in each of the member teams that they’d all hire individuals who know the game at this level and understand how to develop and advance these kids, and they all did that.
“They all have the experience and all know the difference between success and failure. We also wanted coaches who are not only hungry to move the kids up to higher junior leagues or college hockey, but ones who are hungry themselves to move up the ranks.”
Gempeler contends that league’s coaching hires will bring instant credibility to the RMJHL.
“All of these individuals bring a lot to the table,” said Gempeler. “They’re all knowledgeable about the game, have great communication skills and are well respected and connected throughout the hockey community.”
Backed by USA Hockey, the RMJHL will be governed and guided by the Junior Council, which has a blueprint in place allowing leagues to experience promise right from the get-go.
“USA Hockey has established minimum standards to help our players and coaches succeed as it relates to player development at the junior level, and that includes guidelines for practice time, equipment, transportation, facilities, player support structures (billets and education) and much more,” said Hathaway.
“By implementing these guidelines, we’ll gauge our success by the number of advancements we produce during the season and players making college commitments after the season, whether that’s NCAA Division III or (the American Collegiate Hockey Association) – that’s our measuring stick.”
Gempeler agrees moving players on to higher levels will dictate the RMJHL’s success.
“Without question,” he said. “That was our No. 1 mission when we began formulating this league, and that hasn’t changed and won’t change.
“Seeing our kids continue to evolve after they graduate from the RMJHL – on the ice, in the classroom and in the community – is paramount.”
The season will begin in early October, and Hathaway is confident rounding out rosters won’t present any problems.
“A key selling point for us is that kids from Colorado can now stay home and play junior hockey under the USA Hockey banner,” said Hathaway. “They can sleep in their own beds and won’t have to worry about getting in a car to travel across the state.
“Since we have proven ownership groups already operating successful youth hockey programs, I have no doubt we’ll continue to attract players, and that our teams will do everything to develop them and move them on.
“That’s what we’re all about.”
– Matt Mackinder