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Southern Oregon Spartans move to new league

Wins are wonderful, but exposure for his players is even more valuable for Southern Oregon Spartans owner/head coach Dylan Martin.

With that, the Junior A hockey club announced a decision Friday to become part of a western expansion by the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) for the upcoming season, set to begin in mid-September and run through March.

“It’s a chance of a lifetime to jump in when we have jumped in,” said Martin, who joined his wife Brie in purchasing the Spartans last June. “This will be the biggest league in North America. There’s power in numbers but absolutely getting more eyeballs on our kids is what tipped us into going this way.”

The Spartans will be part of an eight-team expansion of programs that previously played in the Western States Hockey League (WSHL).

Joining Southern Oregon will be the Fresno Monsters, San Diego Sabres, Anaheim Avalanche, Utah Outliers, Las Vegas Thunderbirds, Pueblo Bulls and Northern Colorado Eagles.

The Spartans will play in a six-team Pacific Division of the USPHL with Fresno, Anaheim, San Diego, Las Vegas and, according to Martin, a sixth team on the West Coast that will be added “pretty soon.”

The other Colorado and Utah teams will form a six-team Mountain Division.

Founded in 2012, the USPHL Premier Division is now up to 60 teams with the expansion. It boasts a presence in 24 of the lower 48 states for 2020-21, giving it the largest footprint for any junior league in the United States.

“This league spans from Boston now all the way out to California and up the Pacific Coast,” said Martin.

The Spartans had no specific issue with the WSHL, mind you, it was just an ability to increase exposure that sparked them in the process toward joining the USPHL.

“The skill level is pretty much the same,” said Martin. “I would give the tipping point to this new league as far as skill, but, again, this league just provides more opportunity for kids and that’s what we’re really after in Medford. We’re not necessarily looking to move up in rank or in skill necessarily with this move but more just continue what we do here, which is move kids on to college or professional programs.”

Being part of the USPHL also affords Spartans players the chance to be affiliated with the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC), which is a 13-team tuition-free junior hockey league directly above the USPHL that’s located in the Northeast and acts as a Division I feeder program.

The Spartans expect to continue to take part in the annual Las Vegas showcase, as they did when in the WSHL, but will now travel to Boston and compete in a showcase there against East Coast teams during the season.

“The USPHL does a fantastic job with their showcase series,” said Martin. “ A showcase is pretty much where a lot of teams gather in one central location. It’s easier for scouts to attend because they’re not just going for two teams, they’re going to watch 16 teams play.”

Martin said there will be a league meeting in June to coordinate schedules and so forth, but he anticipates a similar 45-52 game schedule and similar roster size.

Filling that roster, given limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic, has been a little interesting thus far for Martin, who expected to be in Europe at this time of year on a recruiting trip.

“With this shutdown, that kind of hindered our plans,” said Martin, “but hopefully we can get going here soon.”

To remain on top of things, Martin said he has turned to technology these days.

“I’ve just switched from a face-to-face recruiting method to a digital recruiting method,” he said. “You can find a lot of videos online of prospects, and social media is a fantastic way to connect with prospects. I’ve just switched from flying all around the country and all over the world to just concentrating on my computer here. That’s really the only way I can recruit at the moment.”

For more information on the Southern Oregon Spartans, go to sospartans.com, email coachmartin@sospartans.com or call 541-282-8430.

Have a story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

The Southern Oregon Spartans will be part of an eight-team expansion of programs that previously played in the Western States Hockey League. (Photo courtesy of Southern Oregon Spartans)