The “Other” College Hockey
Q and A with Marshall Stevenson
American Collegiate Hockey Association
Want to play college hockey but can’t get to the NCAA level? Check out the American Collegiate Hockey Association, where more than 10,000 players suit up every season for 400-plus teams spanned throughout five divisions.
Don’t be fooled – it’s good hockey.
Marshall Stevenson, a Potsdam, New York, native, was the ACHA secretary for the first 11 years of the league before he took over as president, so he knows the organization as well as anyone. Its growth has been exponential since the first 25 teams met in a Chicago hotel room. The association now houses teams in 49 states and has produced professional-level players.
We sat down with Stevenson to discuss the ACHA’s growth in numbers, level of play and fan excitement.
USAH: You’ve been involved since the very beginning of the ACHA 1991. How did it all get started?
Marshall Stevenson: Not to make it more dramatic than it is, but it began in some smoky hotel room in Chicago. There were 25 teams there and they wanted to pull together. The rest is history. Then the next year we pulled a constitution and a manual together. That has obviously been tweaked several times over the years, but we have a pretty good solid foundation in writing, which basically governs how our organization is going to run.
USAH: Did you ever imagine this much growth?
Marshall Stevenson: I can’t say back then that I did. But I knew that as soon as the organization was out there and it got a little publicity, we were on the right track. We tried to find areas for teams to play – and to play for something like a national championship. That’s when we developed a Division 2 and Division 3 for men. We felt the women needed to have an avenue to this as well. We put the women’s division in and that eventually broke into a Division 1 and Division 2.
USAH: What are you doing to help with growth and retention?
Marshall Stevenson: We’ve always had a mentoring program and we have instituted that across all the divisions. We have individuals who are willing to talk to organizations, teams, players, coaches and managers to try to give them support if they need it. Especially right now, it’s crunch time for teams to get their eligibility forms and payments in. There could be 70 new coaches out there this year who don’t know what’s going on. All those questions are what the mentors are for.
USAH: What does the future hold? Are you still trying to add programs and add divisions?
Marshall Stevenson: Absolutely. Last year was the first year that we dropped in numbers. Lindenwood leapt up to the NCAA Division I level for women. Penn State moved up as well for men and women. We lost another 10 teams last year, but out of 455, that’s not a bad percentage.
USAH: Losing Penn State and Lindenwood to NCAA Division I status – how does the ACHA feel about that?
Marshall Stevenson: I think it’s a great thing. I don’t think there’s anybody in the ACHA that begrudges them. Everybody is looking positively at it. It’s a good thing for our organization. I went to three of the Penn State games last year when they were still playing ACHA as well as NCAA teams. It’s exciting.
USAH: Why is the ACHA a good option for somebody who might not be able to play NCAA hockey?
Marshall Stevenson: Our level of play has really improved over the last several years across all divisions. We’re getting better players and better coaching. It’s good hockey. If you have a chance to go to the NCAA – take it. If you don’t, there are other options for you. One of our alums went on to play in the East Coast Hockey League and was just invited to the Philadelphia Flyers’ training camp. We’ve had a number of kids that have been picked up by teams in Europe. We do send men’s Division 2 and 3 select teams to Europe. It’s good hockey, it’s exciting and the kids get a great experience for the rest of their life.
USAH: That fits in with USA Hockey’s mission to grow the game. Kids that don’t make it to the NCAA might hang up the skates for a while if there aren’t other options.
Marshall Stevenson: It sure does. In any one year, we’re probably looking at about 12,000 players.
USAH: There are some rabid crowds at those games, too.
Marshall Stevenson: Oh yeah. We have a tournament director now and there’s quite a bit of demand to get the ACHA tournaments to come to their location. You get down to some of those schools in the south. Georgia and Georgia Tech will pack in 4,000-5,000 people at those games.
USAH: Sounds like the ACHA is continuing to move down the right path.
Marshall Stevenson: It is. There are always attempts to make things better and provide more things. The biggest thing is that almost everybody here is volunteering their time. It takes time and we’re glad to have the commitment from our administration.