Stepping Above: NA3HL pipeline to the NAHL grows each season

In the span of a year, Kohei Sato went from Silver Cup MVP, to playing for the North Iowa Bulls in the NA3HL at the start of the season, to the Northeast Generals in the NAHL, to the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, to an NCAA Division I commitment.

On the heels of their annual draft, which takes place on Tuesday, June 13th, the NA3HL reflects on another outstanding season of player advancement to the NAHL.

The unique relationship between the NA3HL and NAHL continued its success in 2016-17 and continues the growing trend of player advancement and development.
While the make-up of NAHL rosters is made up of a variety of backgrounds and levels such as: midgets, high schools, prep schools, USHL, Canadian junior and European leagues, the fact remains that when it comes to Tier III junior leagues, no other league has had more movement and advanced more players onto play in the NAHL than the NA3HL.
Over the course of the past 2016-17 season, more than three dozen NA3HL players got the call up to the NAHL. In addition, 25 NA3HL players were either tendered or drafted for the upcoming 2017-18 season. Over the course of the past two years, over 80 NA3HL players have been called up to the NAHL, while close to 60 have been tendered or drafted.
“We are excited that the trend continues to move forward with more and more top level NA3HL players earning the opportunity to advance on to the NAHL,” said NA3HL Commissioner Denny Scanlon. “There is a common core belief and understanding that there is a wide variety of players and talent to be had from the NA3HL. The common theme we continue to witness is that the flow of advancement is steady and NAHL teams are getting NA3HL players who are ready to play at the next level and who are very well coached.”
The growth of NA3HL players who have moved onto the NAHL, is also extending itself to the NCAA ranks. There is a treasure trove of NA3HL alumni who flourished while playing in America’s top Tier III junior league, who then used it as a springboard to the NAHL and beyond.
One the best and most recent examples is Frankie Melton, who just made an NCAA Division I commitment to Ferris State university in the WCHA. Melton is a true NA3HL to NAHL ladder of development success story. He led the NAHL in goals this past season with 35 and overall, had 58 points to lead the expansion Shreveport Mudbugs in scoring during the 2016-17 season. He was named the NAHL’s South Division Most Valuable Player and Forward of the Year. In addition, Melton was also named to the All-NAHL 1st Team. Melton was also selected to and played in the 2017 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, as he represented Shreveport on the South Division team.
“Frankie had an incredible year for us and was a player who improved at every level and stage of his junior hockey career. He played a key role in our success this season and is someone who knew how to take advantage of the opportunities given to him. He worked very hard to get to this point and is a great example of the developmental process between in the NA3HL and the NAHL,” said Mudbugs head coach Karlis Zirnis, who himself is a former NA3HL coach.
However, it all started for Melton in the NA3HL with the St. Louis Jr. Blues.  Melton made his junior hockey debut with the Jr. Blues during the 2014-15 season. Over the course of the next two seasons, Melton used the NA3HL as training ground to develop, playing in 52 career games (all with St. Louis) and recording 80 points.
The pipeline of advancement was even quicker for former North Iowa Bulls forward Kohei Sato. Sato, who was the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 NA3HL Silver Cup Tournament, helping lead the North Iowa Bulls to the title, began his final junior season playing for the Bulls in the NA3HL this year. However, after 15 points in his first seven games for the Bulls, he was quickly called up to the NAHL to play for the Northeast Generals, where he made an immediate impact with his speed and work ethic.
That then led to success in the NAHL, which was followed up by an NCAA Division I commitment to the University of New Hampshire in April. Like Melton, it all started in the NA3HL for Sato, who played parts of the last three years in the NA3HL for the North Iowa Bulls. In 71 career NA3HL games with North Iowa, Sato recorded 73 points.
“We were happy to see that Kohei was rewarded for all he has done on and off the ice to get to this level.  It’s pretty great to go from the NA3HL to the NAHL to the NCAA Division I level in Hockey East within such a short period of time.  It’s a real testament to just how hard he worked and the developmental process.  The fact we are seeing more and more of this type of commitment and timeline is further proof that developmental process is as strong as ever,” said North Iowa Bulls head coach Todd Sanden.
Melton and Sato are a small sample of recent NA3HL graduates who have gone onto success in the NAHL followed by an NCAA Division I commitment. Other recent ladder of development success stories include Adam Roeder, who played in the NA3HL for the St. Louis Jr. Blues and would then play for the NAHL’s Janesville Jets, which was then followed by an NCAA Division I commitment to Northern Michigan. Others include former Pittsburgh Vengeance and NA3HL Top Prospects forward Alex Berardinelli, who went onto a successful NAHL career with the Lone Star Brahmas, followed a commitment and success at the NCAA Division I level at Colorado College. Former NA3HL Top Prospects forward and Granite City Lumberjack Christian Mohs, is also another great example, who found success in the NAHL with the Minot Minotauros and turned that into an NCAA Division I commitment with Miami (OH) University.
The NA3HL’s Metro Jets put together one of the greatest seasons in junior hockey history this past year, posting a perfect 47-0-0 record during the regular season, which was the best record in the United States for any junior team this season. However, what stood out most to the Jets was their ability to advance players to the NAHL and beyond. Over the course of the 2016-17 season, seven Jets players were called up to the NAHL.
“At the end of the day, the on-ice success is great and this season was very special, but our team and league is all about advancing players,” said Metro Jets head coach Justin Quenneville, who is a former NAHL head coach. “All of the guys getting called up and advancing have definitely earned these opportunities through hard work and development. It’s great to see guys continue to get opportunities at the NAHL level. This once again proves why our league is above the rest when it comes to NAHL opportunities and why teams continue to call upon players.”
One of the other big reasons that no other Tier III league in the country sends more players on to the NAHL than the NA3HL is the benefits associated being directly involved with one another. One of the exclusive benefits is the NAHL Central Scouting program. NAHL Central Scouting is solely dedicated to finding NA3HL hockey players, evaluating them in a true unbiased manner and then organizing and providing that information to NAHL teams. No other junior league in the United States has a system like it, where its primary mission is the advancement of players.
In addition, the exclusive partnerships with equipment partners Bauer and Vaughn, along with daily news and player recognition, live online broadcasts and league-wide events like the NA3HL Showcase in December, the NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament in February and the Silver Cup Championship in late March, provide NA3HL players and teams with the maximum amount of exposure that is unparalleled at the Tier III junior level.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure that the players in the NA3HL enjoy their experience and understand that the advancement opportunities are there and are real,” said Scanlon. “Each season, the level of play gets better and the level of commitment and the competition on the ice makes for a pretty fantastic product. The results and numbers behind the player advancement speak for themselves and is a continuing affirmation that the NA3HL is going above and beyond towards the advancement of our players to the NAHL and beyond.”