Before you all jump down my throat and scream at me about how the USHL is better players than the NAHL and how even bad USHL teams would top the best NAHL teams most of the time, let me say, yes, you are right.
But hear me out.
Also let me add that I lived off and on in a town that has a USHL for around five years, spent two years in a town with a WSHL team, and for the last two have lived in a town with an NAHL team, so I feel like I am pretty well-versed in this discussion on junior hockey and why I like the NAHL more.
You know how people talk about the NBA regular season and say something to the effect of, “Well the guys don’t try until the fourth quarter, and that’s only if it’s a close game”?
That’s how I feel about the USHL. Yes, every player is bonkers talented, and 90% of them have D1 scholarships waiting for them when their junior career ends, but I feel like that’s also part of the problem. Almost every player in the USHL knows the next step in their hockey career is secured, so, at least in my eyes, it looks like they coast at times, not wanting to get hurt, or bust it all out until the playoffs or the season is on the line.
But not in the NAHL.
When the season starts in the NAHL, your team of choice might have two or three players on it who have already secured a D1 scholarship, while the other 20 guys are all busting it night in, night out, to either move up to the USHL and get noticed, or with hopes that a D1 (or in some cases D3) scout sees them and gives them an offer.
And that’s not to say there isn’t talent in the NAHL! Far from it, by the time the season ends, even bad teams, like the one I have season tickets for down here, have plenty of guys who end up making D1 commitments. My team down here finished 5th in a 6-team division last year, and had 11 players on the team over the course of the season that signed D1 one letters of intent, including seven on the roster at the end of the year.
And then there are all the D1 or future D1 guys you see on the other teams that come to town, so on any given night you’re seeing 15-plus guys who will play at the highest level of college hockey.
But defending the talent level aside, it just feels like night-in, night-out, the NAHL guys put out more effort because the next part of their hockey career isn’t secure, and for many players in the NAHL, that next step, sadly, never does come.
Yes, the USHL has more talent top to bottom, and if somehow they ever played head-to-head with NAHL teams, they would likely mop the floor with most teams, but the NAHL just seems to have more heart, more hitting, and guys who seem to give that little extra bit every night.
So yes, the USHL has more talent, and theoretically better hockey, and is really enjoyable to watch, but if you gave me the choice, I’d rather take in an NAHL game.