Over the course of many seasons in the southwest, the hockey pyramid had shifted with more kids playing travel hockey than playing in the house leagues, clearly an unsustainable situation. Not only were travel teams becoming uncompetitive, but players who were not ready for travel hockey were being recruited to fill roster spots and paying the higher fees, only to spend far too much time during games sitting on the bench. Worst of all the pipeline of potential travel players was quickly drying up, as othe house leagues became smaller and smaller.
Following in the footsteps of TAHA’s streamlining of Tier I hockey in the region, the DSTHL took initial steps to reduce the number of “AA” Tier II teams while allowing the market to catch up in attracting and developing new players. With the full support of the Dallas Stars, the League helped to ‘right the pyramid’ in the TAHA region. The reduction in Tier II teams meant that more kids were able to play locally, either at the lower A/B travel level or in the house leagues where their costs were less and their playing time increased, thereby accelerating their development. At the same time, the Dallas Stars instituted regional programs to help rinks recruit more players at the younger ages, strengthened their house and high school programs and created bridge programs to help transition kids from house league to travel hockey.
As the DSTHL wraps up its fourth season, travel hockey in TAHA is robust and strengthening. After three years of intentionally shrinking the number of travel teams, the League has likely achieved the point where no more reduction is needed, the quality of teams continues to improve and the ever growing house leagues are once again a true part of the developmental pyramid. For the 2015-16 season, the League even redefined the “AA” level so that all DFW associations could attempt to field teams at that level, ensuring that every DFW organization would have an equal opportunity to compete nationally. No less than nine DSTHL teams are currently ranked in the top 50 nationally in their age brackets at the Tier II level, including three Bantam teams in the top 20 and a top-ten Squirt team. Six different organizations are represented in this group.
The makeup of the DSTHL management also underwent a shift prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, bringing in greater representation from the League as a whole in the day-to-day operation of the League and the addition of a Hockey Operations committee (comprised primarily of coaches) to help with the pure hockey related decisions of the League. Looking to the future, the DSTHL will continue to adapt to the market, while steadfastly encouraging and supporting the proper proportions for the pyramid structure of travel hockey.
The future of the League looks bright indeed. Through collaborative efforts with the Dallas Stars, TAHA is now among the leaders in the nation in the growth of USA Hockey registrations at the Mite age level. As more rinks are built and the base of the pyramid continues to grow, the DSTHL looks forward to the day in the not-so-distant future when travel hockey can once again begin to expand in TAHA while maintaining the quality of play that the League’s current membership embodies.
The concept of a hockey ‘pyramid’ is predicated on the notion that at the top of the pyramid are the absolute best players, the NHL, while at the base are the beginners learning the sport. As you move up the pyramid, there are fewer players at each level, but the quality of play accelerates. The Dallas Stars Travel Hockey League (DSTHL) was formed in 2012 with the goals of creating a system where players competed on teams they were properly suited to play on, reducing the proliferation of travel hockey teams that were unable to compete successfully, and helping to control the economic value of play for youth hockey players and their families.