Dear USHL Fans:
As we look back on the 2020-21 United States Hockey League season, I, along with my fellow colleagues at the USHL and our Member Clubs want to extend our appreciation for your support through a season unlike any other. More importantly, we hope this message finds you and your families safe and healthy during these unprecedented times.
Now that we’ve crowned a new Clark Cup Champion in front of 4,000 fans in Fargo, we wanted to fill you in on the process of returning to the ice this season. The adjustments made this season took sacrifice and commitment from everyone affiliated with our great league. These adjustments allowed our players to return to the ice safely as one of the few Junior leagues to provide a full season of play for our athletes.
Despite challenges presented throughout the season, we are incredibly proud of our Clubs as we were able to complete 98% of our regular season games across the league, and play an uninterrupted Clark Cup Playoffs.
Although we had to cancel annual signature events such as the Fall Classic and Frosty Cup, we’re excited to return to these events, in front of fans and scouts alike, during the 2021-22 season. The Fall Classic is a pivotal season-opening event attended by scouts from every NHL team along with a plethora of NCAA Division I scouts to see all of our teams take the ice for a pair of games in one location. After a great inaugural Frosty Cup last January, we planned to have another pair of USHL teams travel to Dallas for a pair of games accompanying a fantastic youth event.
While returning to the ice in a safe fashion was our main priority, we realized this came with a sacrifice for fans. Due to state and local guidelines, which varied across the eight states that host USHL teams, some of the communities in our footprint were either not allowed to host spectators, or were only able to host a minimal amount of fans. One of the defining experiences of playing in the USHL is being able to perform in front of the great fans across our league. Fans get to know the players through autograph sessions, post game skates and other team gatherings throughout the season, so we were happy to see venues continue to open up further and allow more and more fans.
The choice to continue on without a max capacity for fan attendance also came with serious financial consequences. A large part of each Club’s income comes from ticket sales. The extraordinary choice by our Clubs to absorb a significant financial loss in order to provide a safe opportunity for the best junior hockey players in the world to continue developing was a great example of our dedication to player development as the lone Tier I junior hockey league in the United States and one of the top junior leagues in the world. Not every league was able to play this season, and as a result, we saw an even larger influx of top-level talent into our league as NCAA teams and other junior leagues were not able to take the ice. As part of this increased talent during the 2020-21 season, more than 30 NHL Draft picks played in the league. The USHL already accounts for more than 800 NCAA Division I alumni per season and an average of 50-plus NHL Draft picks over the last seven years. We are a developmental league first, and the owners and executives in this league worked diligently, making difficult financial decisions along the way, to ensure we would still provide the best developmental opportunity for our players.
Throughout this season, critical to our decision-making was the unwavering support of our partners at USA Hockey and the National Hockey League (NHL).
Our players also were asked to make sacrifices this season, including playing in a revised schedule format that limited travel and hotel stays. The result was a regional schedule that prioritized rivalries but also prevented most teams from playing out-of-conference games. While continuing their educational pursuits, our players showed remarkable perseverance, followed increased safety protocols and limited social interaction away from the ice in order to make the 2020-21 USHL season not just happen, but one to remember.
We were also proud to play a part in Team USA bringing home the Gold Medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship as 23 players on the United States roster played previously in the USHL. Additionally, 31 former USHL players competed in the tournament across six national rosters.
This season, and any other for that matter, could not take place without the many billet families who open their homes to our players. It is an understatement to say our billets went above and beyond this season to welcome players with open arms during a pandemic, and we are forever grateful to them.
All of our hard work this season to develop a safe Return to Play protocol and increased safety measures throughout the season has ensured no matter how long the COVID pandemic continues, we will be best equipped to continue providing a best-in-class developmental experience for the best 16- to 20-year-olds in the world.
In closing, thank you for your support of the USHL and all of its Member Clubs, staffs, and countless players who are working towards a dream to continue their development on and off the ice. We look forward to having our players back on the ice next season in front of our great fans in all of our arenas across the league.
All the best,
USHL President & Commissioner
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