By Joshua Boyd / USPHLNCDC.com
The United States Premier Hockey League and its Tuition-Free Tier II National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) are proud to welcome the ownership of an NCDC team in Rock Springs, Wyoming, to the NCDC for 2023-24, joining the NCDC West Division.
The NCDC is a step up from Premier division in the USPHL and Rock Springs fans will see a higher brand of hockey with players who are destined to be NCAA Division 1 players and NHL draft choices.
Longtime colleagues Wes Mussio and Darren Naylor, who bring extensive Tier II experience from the British Columbia Hockey League, have purchased the franchise of the former Rock Springs Prospectors and will elevate the franchise from the USPHL Premier to the NCDC for the coming season.
“This is a joint venture, a partnership. We will be naming the team the Grizzlies and bringing Tier II junior hockey to the town,” said Co-Owner Wes Mussio, who previously owned the BCHL’s Nanaimo Clippers from 2017 through 2022.
“When researching markets in the NCDC West’s footprint, Rock Springs stood out”, GM and Head Coach Darren Naylor stated. “Current USPHL Prospectors’ Governor David Amonti’s assistance was instrumental in making the jump to NCDC happen and the City officials have been welcoming.”
Mussio was the President of the Burnaby Winter Club in British Columbia for 5 years which is one of the top development programs in North America and includes many current NHL players including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Matthew Barzal and Dante Fabbro.
Naylor, originally from White Rock, B.C., played in the WHL and then 10 years of professional hockey before transitioning to coaching. Naylor was a coach at BWC and together with Mussio, they won over 54 championships at every level and then the two guided Nanaimo to success in the BCHL.
“Having an experienced hockey team like Wes and Darren who sent 12 or more players a year to NCAA Division 1 hockey is a great addition to our NCDC West division.” Commissioner Bob Turow added. “This is an ownership group that also gives back to the community through charity, time spent in local schools, hospitals and alike. Wes and Darren are about great hockey and a better community.”
Rock Springs is a community that puts a lot of pride in its hard-working populace, most working in the energy sectors of oil or natural gas drilling in the surrounding area.
“When you come down to the statistics of it, you want to get into a market where we are the only show in town, and not competing with university sports or football. We wanted an arena with a certain seating capacity, and we just had a feeling that this town is really starving for something like this,” said Naylor.
“That is the first sign that you have a market where you will have success. At the Tier II level, the NCDC is doing a great job and it’s expanded already, and it will expand more over time,” added Mussio. “We did quite a bit of investigation on the league and the market, and so far the city of Rock Springs has been unbelievably receptive to junior hockey.”
About the NCDC
The NCDC is the USPHL’s Tier II Tuition-Free Level that will feature nearly 20 teams in the northeastern U.S. as well as the Rocky Mountain States, with the debut in 2023-24 of the NCDC West. The world’s top players now have both Eastern and Western U.S. options for development towards an NCAA Division I career, as well as potential pro hockey beyond college.
With the unmatched USPHL Showcase Series, NCDC players have several opportunities each season to play in front of several scouts at well-attended multi-day, multi-tiered events.
There were more than 700 former players from the USPHL’s top division skating with NCAA hockey teams during the 2022-23 season, and more than 200 have committed to NCAA Division I schools. More than 150 players committed to college hockey out of the 2021-22 NCDC season alone.
The NHL has also taken notice as the League saw three players selected directly out of the NCDC in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the best for any North American Tier II league.
Alumni of USPHL organizations currently skating in the NHL include players such as Jack Eichel, Charlie Coyle, John Marino, Jimmy Vesey, and Stanley Cup Champions Zach Sanford, Trevor Van Riemsdyk, Ross Colton and Brian Dumoulin.
Most recently, five NCDC alumni helped Quinnipiac University win their first-ever NCAA Division I National Championship.
About The USPHL
The United States Premier Hockey League of 2022-23 is the nation’s largest junior amateur ice hockey league and the only league to span the continental United States and parts of Canada. From Seattle to San Diego, and from Maine to Florida, the USPHL has a home for student-athletes with the skill and determination to play college hockey.
Overall, across all its divisions, the USPHL has more than 3,100 alumni playing college hockey each year, plus 250 more alumni in pro hockey, including the NHL.