Rick Boyd knows plenty about the North American Hockey League.
The former Johnstown Chiefs tough guy has seen the long list of alumni playing in the NHL. He knows all about the big attendance numbers for cities like Fresno, Calif., and Wenatchee, Wash. And he’s seen the quality of play firsthand.
All of that has convinced him that the Tier II Junior A league will flourish in Johnstown.
That’s why Boyd has worked so hard to bring a team here since the ECHL’s Chiefs announced they would be leaving after the 2010 season. And why he was so excited when he found that his dreams of junior hockey in Johnstown appear to be coming true.
“I think it’s going to be huge for the entire community, along with an opportunity for kids from State College to Bedford to Pittsburgh,” Boyd said Tuesday, less than 24 hours after finding out that the NAHL had approved the sale of the Alaska Avalanche to the Johnstown Sports Partnership and the team’s relocation to the region.
“They’ve given us approval, but there are a couple of things that we have to complete,” said Boyd, who will be the team’s general manager. “It’s not something we’re not going to be able to do.
“It’s just finalizing the details.”
Boyd stressed that while the players are not professionals, it isn’t high school hockey. Most of the players range in age from 18 to 20, he said.
“This is why junior hockey works,” Boyd said. “It’s not like football or basketball or baseball. The difference is you have to go through junior hockey to get to college. There are not too many that go directly from high school to college. Most college freshmen are 20 or 21 years old.”
An NAHL team may have 20 players on its roster, but a few more might stay with a host family in the region and practice with the team to be ready if needed.
“There will probably be anywhere from 20 to 25 players here at one time,” Boyd said. “You’ll have injuries. If somebody goes down, you’ll sign (someone else) to a card.”
Boyd has plenty of knowledge about how the league works, as his son, Cody, is an 18-year-old high school senior playing for the Bismarck (N.D.) Bobcats in the NAHL.
“Cody is the only kid in high school on that team,” Rick Boyd said. “He’s from Pennsylvania and he had to go all the way to North Dakota to play.”
That won’t be a problem now, and Rick Boyd is confident that the region can produce some quality players for the team.
The league didn’t have a presence in the eastern part of the United States prior to last year, when the Motor City Metal Jackets relocated to Jamestown, N.Y., which is about 75 miles southwest of Buffalo.
The Ironmen play in the five-team North Division, which would seem to be the logical geographic location for a Johnstown team, although no official announcement has been made.
The other teams in the North Division are all in Michigan: Port Huron, Kalamazoo, Traverse City and Michigan.
Alaska played in the six-team West Division along with Fairbanks (Alaska), Wenatchee (Wash.), Kenai River (Alaska), Fresno (Calif.) and Dawson Creek (British Columbia).
The Avalanche won a franchise record 35 games this season and fell one victory short of their first playoff-series victory.
Rick Boyd said that up to a dozen players from that roster could make the move to Johnstown and league tenders will allow up to six other players that aren’t under contract with another team to be signed.
Corey Millen, who coached the Avalanche this season, said that the roster is loaded.
“Right away, they're got a nice group of guys,” he told the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman website, which first reported the team’s sale and relocation. “One of the attractive parts about buying the franchise is the 18 parts that come with it.”
The Frontiersman reported that the new ownership group had contacted Millen, but Rick Boyd said the position will be open to applicants.
“The next process is to hire a coach,” he said. “Once we put it out there, I’m sure we’ll get a lot of people interested in it.”