On Monday, the USHL announced the appointment of Bob Fallen as their new President and Commissioner. In the past 20 years this is the third Commissioner for the USHL. Fallen succeeds Skip Prince who led the USHL for the past six years—years that saw impressive growth not only in business and hockey operations but also in player development, achieving record numbers.
The USHL is celebrating its 12th season as the only Tier I junior hockey league in the United States. During the 2013 NHL Draft, the league saw a record high 32 players chosen. One of the main focuses of the USHL is to serve as a bridge for players to ultimately go on to play in colleges, and this last season saw more than 300 players on the USHL team rosters that had committed to NCAA Division I schools. This speaks volumes to the growth and leadership of the USHL in being one of the foremost producers of junior hockey talent.
Fallen brings with him professional experience that spans almost 30 years in sports marketing, publishing, sales, media relations and management. Most recently, Fallen managed the U.S. trade marketing efforts for Reebok-CCM Hockey—the world’s largest hockey equipment supplier to many leagues including the NHL, AHL and USHL. In this position, Fallen was responsible for executing retail product launches, strategic account planning, media promotion, and maintaining various league alliances.
“I am thrilled with the opportunity to lead the finest junior hockey league in the world,” said Fallen, when he was introduced during a media teleconference on Monday. “The foundation built by my predecessors, league owners, and the stakeholders through the hockey industry have made the USHL an important step along the developmental path for players, coaches, and officials. I look forward to working with our staff, aligned partners, and the international hockey community at-large to build upon our success.”
In the publishing world, before joinining Reebok-CCM, Fallen served as associate publisher for USA Hockey Magazine and Minnesota Hockey Journal along with developing the partnership developent efforts for Minnesota Hockey and the Hobey Baker Memorial Award—college hockey’s top individual honor.
Walk the Walk
But Fallen doesn’t just talk the talk. He has been heavily involved in hockey at the amateur level. He served for several years on the USA Hockey Marketing Council helping with a variety of initiatives that included marketing, sponsorship, media and membership development. He’s been a board member for the Upper Midwest High School Elite League, a Minnesota-based league for top high school hockey talent—many players of which have moved on to play in the USHL. He is a Director of Skaters Keep Achieving Through Education (S.K.A.T.E.), a non-profit organization devoted to promoting academic achievement among youth hockey players.
This importance on education fits in well with many of the initiatives of the USHL given their purposes for preparing players for colleges. One of the USHL’s awards is the Scholar-Athlete Award, established in 2007 to recognize players for both their success in the classroom and on the ice. Candidates are nominated by their coaches, teachers and academic counselors based on their grade-point-average, coursework and overall school participation. This year’s co-recipients were Team USA forward Alex Tuch, who has committed to Boston College, and Omaha Lancers forward Anthony Angello, who has committed to Cornell. Both players are NHL Draft eligible this year and are expected to go high.
In addition to promoting education with skaters, though, Fallen’s own two children have gone the college route in their hockey careers. Daughter Kelley, now 25, played NCAA hockey at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota and was a four-year letter winner, serving as a captain during her senior season in 2011. Son Thomas, now 23, spent two seasons playing in the USHL for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (2009-11), helping the team achieve the regular season Anderson Cup title in 2010-11. He enters his fourth season college hockey at Yale University, where he was recently named captain of the Bulldogs for the 2014-15 season. He was part of the school’s first-ever NCAA Ice Hockey Championship in 2013 and is among the school’s all-time scoring leaders for defensemen.
For Fallen, coming to the USHL means a return home. The Glen Ellyn, Illinois native graducated from nearby Northern Illinois University and began his professional career in the area.
Development is Key
Fallen understands the importance of having players being noticed by the NHL.
“I cannot in any way, shape or form disparage any other alternatives for developing hockey players; if people have another path to follow to the NHL, more power to them,” Fallen said on Monday. “We just consider the USHL a really excellent opportunity for people and players developing not only for the NHL but college hockey before they reach the NHL.”
And while 94 USHL alumni competed in the NHL during the 2012-13 season, more than 200 are under NHL contract right now. And Fallen doesn’t limit the development to just the players.
“It’s important to note that our development model is not just for the players,” he said. “Look at [coach] Jon Cooper, who is heading up the [Tampa Bay] Lightning. Only four years ago he was at the helm of the Green Bay Gamblers. We’re proud of whatever we can do to develop players, officials and coaches and get them to the next level.”
While the USHL saw major growth under the helm of Prince, it looks like under the leadership of Fallen it will continue to grow in all the right ways—producing professional caliber players, many of whom will understand that education is as important as playing hockey.