APRIL FOOL’S 2022: NAHL Expands to Hawaii and Forms Pacific Division for 2022-23

The North American Hockey League (NAHL) will be announcing that its Board of Governors has approved the membership application for an NAHL team in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Hawaii Hockey Club will compete in the league’s new Pacific Division beginning in the 2022-23 season and play out of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

The NAHL has had teams in the Western part of the United States since the 1990’s. The new Pacific Division is being formed for the 2022-23 season. Hawaii will join the division with the three teams in Alaska: Anchorage Wolverines (Anchorage, AK), Fairbanks Ice Dogs (Fairbanks, AK), and Kenai River Brown Bears (Soldotna, AK). Hawaii will be the fourth team in the Pacific Division of the NAHL starting in the 2022-23 season.

“We are excited to add a new team like Hawaii to the NAHL footprint. We believe they have all the pieces in place for success, which includes great community support and involvement,” said NAHL Commissioner and President Mark Frankenfeld. “The growth of hockey in the has played a large role in our league’s success and the addition of the new team in Honolulu continues to solidify the footprint and will create many new and exciting rivalries. With the addition of an expanding youth program, they have a great foundation for player development.”

The NAHL is a top destination league for players that are looking to earn an NCAA commitment and eventually play professional hockey. In the past five years, 1,400+ NAHL players have made NCAA commitments and 30 more with NAHL ties have been selected in the NHL Draft. In addition, 34% of all freshmen that played NCAA Division I hockey this past season, played in the NAHL. During this past 2019-20 season, 329 players have made NCAA commitments, 232 of which (70%) were NCAA Division 1 commitments.

The Neal S. Blaisdell Arena is a circular performance facility used for concerts and major sporting events. The arena can accommodate 7,700 seats for sports events, and up to 8,800 seats for stage events with seats set up on the arena floor. The building is in the final stage of reconfiguring the floor for ice hockey.

“Our community welcomes the group bringing such a high caliber of hockey to our city and Hawaii,” Honolulu mayor Rick Blangiardi said on Wednesday. “When owner Glenn Hefferan first contacted us with this crazy idea, our entire office got excited. Being from Massachusetts, I’ve always loved the game and feel that our community will support this club with great enthusiasm.”

Hefferan has served on the Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association Board over the past 30 years. He has been president of the Atlantic Metropolitan Hockey League for 20 seasons, after being elected to that post in the spring of 1993. Hefferan has served on the USA Hockey Marketing and Junior Councils, as well as various committees since 1994.

Glenn and his wife, Mary, reside in Ridgewood, NJ.

“My family loves Honolulu and the State of Hawaii,” Hefferan said earlier this week. This team has the rare opportunity to become a symbol for the state and community. Hockey is for everyone, and we all know that getting players to come play on this incredible island is going to be easy. Clearly, we are not another El Paso, this is a special place with amazing people.”

One of the first items on Hefferan’s agenda was to snag an outstanding coach and he did just that. Eric Ballard has agreed to terms to become the first head coach in Hawaii Hockey Club history.

The Cloquett, Minnesota native served as the executive director for Jackson Youth Hockey for the last three years. Before arriving in Jackson Ballard coached five seasons with the Colorado Buffaloes Men’s ACHA Collegiate hockey team, as the head coach. He helped guide the Buffaloes to an 89-66-5 record and 3 straight ACHA National Championship appearances.  Under Ballard’s direction the Buffs ranked in the top 10 nationally in 3 of the 5 seasons.  Ballard was also selected to represent USA Hockey as an Assistant Coach for the World University Games that were played in Krasnoyarsk Russia in 2019.

“First of all, I’m honored to get the opportunity to be the head coach in the NAHL,” Ballard said earlier this week. “I have to pinch myself about being able to bring my family to live here in Honolulu. As a coach, we could not ask for a stronger recruiting tool than telling players they get to play hockey in one of the most incredible places on earth.”

“Having the NAHL team here will be huge for Hawaii’s growing hockey community,” Ballard added. “I look forward to sharing the game with so many new hockey supporters and families. These folks will be instrumental while serving as billet families and helping us grow the game.

At least one divisional opponent is not all that excited about Ballard and Hawaii HC in their division.

“Having Hawaii in our division is like a double-edged sword,” one divisional opponent’s coach said Thursday. “They get a sizable recruiting advantage for being in Honolulu and we get to go there a few times every season. Ballard is a good coach that will be looking to establish his mark. That fact will make trips to Honolulu more than a team vacation. That guy will look to embarrass us every chance he gets.”

The club has also secured an in-kind sponsorship with Hawaiian Airlines, an agreement that will be instrumental for the long-term future of the game in the state. The airline will provide transportation to and from the mainland for both Hawaii HC and visiting teams.

Hawaiian Airlines is the largest operator of commercial flights to and from the U.S. state of Hawaii. It is the tenth-largest commercial airline in the United States, and is based at Honolulu, Hawaii. The airline operates its main hub at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on the island of Oʻahu.