By Tom Williams
In late June, 50 hockey players with ties to the United States Hockey League were selected in the NHL Draft.
USHL commissioner Bob Fallen could not be prouder.
“[That’s] comparable to any league in the world,” Fallen said earlier this week during the Youngstown Phantoms’ golf outing at The Lake Club. “It’s astounding when you consider these are amateur athletes who [chose] college.”
Fallen’s favorite team, the Chicago Blackhawks, took seven USHL prospects. Fallen overheard a Blackhawks executive explain why.
“He said to the media, ‘We picked the best available. Furthermore, our organization doesn’t need to rush 18-year-olds into the National Hockey League. We like to select them from a league where they have time to develop as players and young men.’” Fallen said.
“It was like a marketing spiel for our league,” Fallen said. “I was able to get permission from the Blackhawks to use the quote.”
This fall, the Phantoms will play in their sixth season in the USHL, the nation’s top junior hockey league. Unlike Canadian junior leagues where players are paid, the USHL players are amateurs.
Fallen, a marketing executive for Reebok-CCM, was hired in early June, replacing Skip Prince. He said his goal is simple: “Don’t screw it up.”
“This is the greatest junior league in North America,” Fallen said. “I believe that now moreso than even when I was interviewing for the position. “
Fallen has experienced the USHL from a parent’s perspective. His son Tommy is a senior defenseman for Yale who played for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.
Fallen said he’s proud of “what we stand for not only in terms of creating better hockey players but better young men and affording the opportunity where kids can be student athletes.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but 95 percent of our athletes got Division I scholarships at some level, which is astounding,” Fallen said.
Fallen is pleased Troy and Aafke Loney have joined Bruce Zoldan is owning the Phantoms. Loney, who is running the day-to-day operations for the Phantoms, played in the NHL for 15 seasons. The Loneys’ son Ty played for the Phantoms for two seasons before getting a scholarship at the University of Denver.
Fallen said Loney’s background “certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s about street cred. Troy Loney has street credibility in this market. He knows all about the developmental cycle.
“A lot of these guys [like Loney] who grew up playing major junior in Canada are like. ‘[the USHL] is really good,’” Fallen said.
“He’ll tell you that from a hockey perspective, the USHL is on par with any junior league in the world and that was proven in Philadelphia with the [NHL] draft,” Fallen said.