Tier III Junior hockey league coming to GJ

Grand Junction hockey fans, start practicing your coyote calls.

Junior hockey is headed to the Glacier Ice Arena for the 2015-16 season, after USA Hockey approved the creation of the five-team Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League, a Junior A Tier III league that will include the Grand Junction Coyotes.

The founding of the league, which had been in the works for at least a year, was announced Tuesday by Coyotes Hockey Director Tom Harmon, the general manager of Glacier Ice Arena.

Other teams in the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League, a league that will feature players under 20 years old, are the Aspen Leafs, Colorado Rampage (Monument), Colorado Thunderbirds (Littleton) and the Pikes Peak Miners (Colorado Springs).

A sixth team must be added by November to meet the minimum number of teams USA Hockey requires to create a league. Harmon said Pueblo and a handful of other cities have expressed interest in being the sixth team.

The Miners, Rampage and Thunderbirds are currently operated as U18 AAA teams in USA Hockey.

As a Tier III league, the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League’s players will pay to play, allowing players to keep NCAA eligibility.

Harmon said the club will be largely about development, giving players the opportunity to advance to Tier II or even a USHL Tier I team.

According to USA Hockey, roughly 80 percent of Tier I players eventually play college hockey. Big-name players such as Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny have played in the USA Hockey system.

“It’s just steps, like minor league baseball,” Harmon said. “It offers kids an opportunity who have aged out of midgets and aren’t signed to a college team or didn’t make a Tier I or Tier II team. It allows them to not have to hang up the skates right away.

“USA Hockey really pushes long-term player development. It’s really about the kid, not that (Amateur Athletic Union) hockey isn’t about the kid, but USA Hockey is really about progression and incremental improvement from an early age.”

Finding a coach isn’t the first priority, Harmon said, but one will be hired by the end of the year. After that, the coach will begin recruiting players from all over the country, and each team is allowed two international players.

Harmon said geographically and financially, founding a league of Colorado teams makes sense.

“We considered other leagues, but we wanted something where there was no franchise fee,” Harmon said. “The only franchise fee is split among all the operators to pay for a website, public relations, things like that. You’re not paying a commissioner.”

Glacier Ice Arena likely will add seating to accommodate larger crowds at games, Harmon said, and other upgrades for the venue are being considered.

Colorado Mesa University will be one of the draws for the team, Harmon said, adding the school is a major perk for older hockey players who want to attend college while playing.

But most importantly, Harmon said, the teams in the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League will be community-driven.

“It brings several things to Grand Junction,” Harmon said. “A big part of our bylaws is community support, getting players out in the community and into programs that benefit the valley. We’re not trying to just win championships. We want to teach life lessons while offering kids an opportunity to continue playing hockey, whether they’ve aged out of midgets or didn’t get picked up somewhere, or (they’re) 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds (who) don’t want to go on to college right away. Those kids can take a couple college classes and help out in youth programs.

“I’ve come to realize there’s more that you can do when you get your name out in the community and that you have to give support to get support. That’s huge. We’re a tight-knit group even though we’re the largest community on the Western Slope. It’s still small, and it’s still about getting the word out and gaining support and trust.”


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