Proposal: a major junior hockey preseason tournament in the US

I was chatting with John Fontana from Raw Charge over the weekend, and he brought up an interesting idea. We all know how mucked up the NHL’s marketing efforts are.  I think we, as hockey fans, can all unanimously agree upon that. His suggestion was what if a few major junior teams played a preseason tournament in the US to give them some exposure?

Most NHL fans are aware of major junior hockey since that’s where teams seem to draft the majority of their players from. A few are even aware of where these teams are and how they’re organized. But what exactly major juniors are is a hazy idea that the majority of American hockey fans just don’t quite understand.

So John was suggesting that major junior teams market themselves in the US, so that more Americans do know what they are. It’s an interesting idea, really. But, as those of us who have watched major junior hockey already know, major juniors does even less marketing in their own towns than the NHL does.

The idea does have some merit, however. There are college sports tournaments all the time – including hockey – and they often play in some interesting places. I know of a college basketball invitational that goes down yearly in Alaska, for instance, and there had been a college hockey tournament in Tampa for a while as well. So why not have a major junior preseason tournament?

College hockey and major junior hockey are interesting to compare because of their drastic differences. But there is one thing they have in common, and that’s how they create and maintain their legacies. Many players go back to the college or junior team gatherings that typically kick off training camps. I’ve been to a few pro-am hockey junior games where NHLers played with the guys off of the junior team for charity, and I know that many college hockey programs do similar things as well.

(If you're really curious as to what major juniors is about, I wrote up a brief but very general overview of major junior hockey a little over a year ago. Incidentally, a new SB Nation blog featuring the Western Hockey League's doing is forthcoming. The other leagues will be added at some point as well - each with their own site.)

So why not invite eight teams from the Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the Québec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) for a little preseason get-together in Dallas, San Jose, or Atlanta? I think an NHL team would be a great host for something like that, in fact. And not just have it be a prospects sort of deal, but a full-out tournament.

I realize that this sort of smacks of the Memorial Cup Tournament, where the champions from all three leagues play, along with the host team, for the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) championship.  But that’s at the end of the season. That’s playing for something meaningful. What’s being suggested here is just an exhibition to let people see major junior hockey for themselves when they might not have a chance to, and to let the players experience a city that they may not have been in before, not play for a championship.

It’s definitely something to think about, anyways. I know that I’d go watch a major junior tournament if it were held around where I live. Hockey is hockey, after all. Wouldn’t you go?

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