All 16 United States Hockey League teams are gathering this week in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, for what has become the league’s season-opening annual kickoff.
The Fall Classic opened Thursday and continues through the weekend. In addition to the junior games, the event includes a youth hockey tournament that brings teams in from around the country.
“The Pittsburgh Penguins and Cranberry Township have welcomed us with open arms and have really made this a great event,” USHL president and commissioner Bill Robertson said. “We expect record attendance this year and we have close to 90 youth teams competing as well.
“It is a fabulous event if you want to see the rising stars of amateur hockey.”
Of the 16 USHL member teams, 14 will play their first two regular-season games at the event while the U.S. National Team Development Program and the Waterloo Black Hawks will each play only their first game.
In addition to celebrating the start of another season, Robertson sees benefits to having all the teams in the only USA Hockey Tier I junior hockey league in one place at the beginning of the campaign.
“The best part of it is that we can get everybody together,” he said. “Teams get a chance to reconnect in person because it’s so hectic during the season.
“It’s a great way to jump start the regular season for the USHL. It’s our crown jewel event. We have several events that do well and are successful, but this is the only event that we have where all 16 teams are competing.”
This year, the league has all 16 clubs in the same places as a year ago. This also means the divisional alignments and the schedule format remain the same. So when the teams gather, there will be plenty of familiarity. But there are still talks going on around future changes for the league off the ice.