Marksmen Help to Legitimize SPHL

Marksmen Help to Legitimize SPHL

By Chris Cole

January 6, 2020

The Fayetteville Marksmen are having quite the successful 2019-20 season in the SPHL. They currently sit in third in the ten-team league, which so far has been their strongest showing on the ice under the ownership of Chuck Norris (not the Chuck Norris you're thinking of). What makes their top three placing more impressive is the fact that the team has been playing with what could be called a “revolving door roster”.  

As they get closer to the halfway point of the season they have had a significant portion of their roster loaned out to teams in the ECHL, the next step of the minor league ladder.  Nine players who have been on the Marksmen roster this year are right now on assignment in the ECHL: Luke Stork, Dylan Vander Esch, Alec Marsh, Danny Tirone, Beau McCue, Derian Hamilton, Malcolm Hayes, Frankie Melton, and Ben Halford.  Other players on the roster like Shane Bednard have played in a handful of games in the ECHL this year too but are back with the Marksmen.  

Many of the players that are in the next league helped make the Marksmen contenders this year, but with that said there is a solid core of the team who are successfully holding down the fort and continuing to etch out wins.  Brian Bowen leads the SPHL in goals with 15 and is fifth in points with 26 and not far behind him are his teammates Max Cook (6 G, 17 A; 23 Pts.) and Taylor McCloy (8 G, 13 A; 21 Pts.). On the defensive end Travis Jeke is holding down the fort along with goaltender Blake Wojtala.  

This is a team that will win no matter what you throw at them.  Plus, it makes a clear point to rest of the minor hockey world: the SPHL should be more incorporated into the NHL minor league set-up.  

While teams in the SPHL will say their players are being “called up” into the ECHL, that’s actually not a true statement.  Players sent to the ECHL from the SPHL are loaned to the AA league as no SPHL team has an official affiliation with the ECHL, or the NHL when you look at it fully.  Teams in the SPHL can loan out a player to any team in the ECHL. All nine players out on loan with the Marksmen are on eight different teams (Stork and Hamilton are together with the Reading Royals).  

While the freedom of that seems nice, it’s not great logistically.  Knowing which team(s) you would be going to on a yearly basis instead of whenever any of the 26 ECHL teams needs a player would be beneficial.  

The most ideal scenario for the SPHL would be to expand the league to half the amount of teams that are in the ECHL.  This would mean each SPHL team could feed into two ECHL teams. The ECHL plans to expand to be the same number of teams as the NHL and AHL, but that decision was announced 2015 when the NHL had 30 teams and now they are on the cusp of Seattle entering the league as team No. 32.  

Subsequently, the NHL would have their organizations include SPHL teams as part of their set since right now NHL teams have affiliations with AHL and ECHL teams only.  Eventually after that there can be an additional rung to the ladder added if the Federal Prospects Hockey League becomes the official feeder to the SPHL (the SPHL to me is considered Advanced A Minor while the FPHL is Single A) as they conduct loans to the SPHL in the same manner.  

To sum it up nicely, we are at a point where the organization of professional hockey in North America can be fully realized without the convolutedness that is seen in minor league baseball.  There are other issues that hockey needs to work on to bring more people into the sport, but having a league system from Single A to NHL would bring it partly out of the wilderness.