One of the top junior leagues in the country could be making its way to the Northeast and Lewiston may be in line for a team.

With the New Hampshire Fighting Spirit set to come in next season as the L/A Fighting Spirit in the Tier III North American 3 Eastern Hockey League, the North American Hockey League, which governs the NA3EHL, is on the verge of adding teams to a Northeast division according to Fighting Spirit owner and coach Rod Simmons.

“We are waiting for the vote from the teams in the North American (Hockey) League regarding the Eastern Division,” Rod Simmons said. “There’s are six teams that are up for an Eastern division, so we are waiting approval on the Eastern division. We are hoping to know by this weekend. All I know is the higher echelon of the (NAHL) are flying in this weekend.”

The NAHL is the only Tier II junior league under the USA Hockey umbrella. It currently consists of 24 team, primarily based in the upper Midwest, and there are six teams in Texas. There are also teams in Kansas, Washington and Alaska. The easternmost team currently in the league is in Pennsylvannia. The Tier II designation means players only have to pay for housing, which the NAHL estimates at $300 per month. The teams pay travel, ice, and equipment costs.

Tier III leagues like the NA3EHL is full pay-to-play.

NAHL Director of Communications and Sales Alex Kyrias said this week that NAHL Commissioner and President Mark Frankenfeld “will likely not be there for the NA3EHL Championship (in Lewiston) because he will be in Connecticut for the Tier III Junior Nationals, which will have two NA3HL teams.”

Kyrias also relayed that Frankenfeld said anything regarding any type of announcement on teams or decisions by the board will be posted on nahl.com.

The NA3HL, of which Frankenfeld is also the commissioner and president, is the sister league of the NA3EHL and is also a Tier III league primarily based in the same footprint of the NAHL, with 31 teams.

Kyrias said NAHL director of player personnel Craig Barnett will likely be in Lewiston for the NA3EHL Finals.

The league also visited in February when the Fighting Spirit played two games at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

Jim Cain, president and owner of Firland Management, which owns the Colisee, said the vote is happening today or tomorrow.

“I wouldn’t say it’s in limbo, if the league is going to expansion, if it’s going to happen before this upcoming season, then yes we will be apart of it,” Cain said.

It’s unknown at this point if the Lewiston team would be an existing NAHL team that would relocate, or an expansion team.

“We have an option for either one and we haven’t decided on our end on what we are going to do,” Cain said. “We will have to make up our mind real quick if the decision is made.”

The NAHL is one of the primary feeders for NCAA Division I hockey. The league currently has 126 players committed to play at a Division I school. The University of Maine has three players committed playing in the league, including forward Mitchell Fossier of the Janesville Jets, defenseman Sam Becker of the Minnesota Magicians and defenseman Konstantin Chernyuk of the Wichita Falls Wildcats. The NAHL also sends players to the United States Hockey League, the only Tier I junior league in the country, and to NCAA Division III schools.

“The Tier II level, I have to say, minus the (NHL) draft picks, will be very similar to the (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), with (players having) NCAA eligibility,” Simmons said. “The fact we will have more 20 year-olds, it will be a good level of hockey.”

Last year the NAHL had one player drafted directly to the NHL. The QMJHL had 17 players drafted. Unlike the QMJHL, where teams are only allowed three 20-year-old players — or “overagers” — the NAHL has no limit on overagers. NAHL teams can also have four players who are non-U.S. citizens.

Simmons hopes the Fighting Spirit will feed players to the NAHL team.

“The team we have right now, will be in the NA3EHL and that will be our feeder to the Tier II team,” Simmons said.

The NAHL has two teams that also house NA3HL teams.

The Topeka Roadrunners of the NAHL and the Topeka Capitals of the NA3HL play out of the Landan Arena in Topeka, Kansas. The Coulee Region Chill of the NAHL and La Crosse Freeze play out of the Green Island Ice Arena in La Crosse, Wisc.

NA3EHL Commissioner Wayne Sheehan believes having an NAHL team will only strengthen the NA3EHL.

“If that all falls into place, we will see the talent and depth of our league continue to grow and develop,” Sheehan said. “It will be an exciting thing for Lewiston to have a Tier II team playing out of that building. We are pretty excited if that happens or not because of the community and because of (the Fighting Spirit) going in there, but it’s going to add what we have been working at for several years now.”


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