Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
For a number of teams, last weekend’s games meant a whole lot more than heading into the holiday break on a high note; they also dictated how many players each could send to next month’s prestigious Sherwood/NAHL Top Prospects Tournament.
This year’s event, which annually attracts over 100 college and professional coaches and scouts, will be held January 18-20 at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich., and again feature all-star teams from the NAHL's Central, North, South and West Divisions competing in a three-game, round-robin tournament.
The number of invites each team gets to Top Prospects is based on each team’s winning percentage as of December 20, with higher percentages translating into more representation. The NAHL Top Prospects Tournament Selection Committee will announce the rosters, which will be comprised of 20 players each, on December 29.
For the West Division-leading Wenatchee Wild, which finished the first half of its season with a NAHL-best 25-5-2 record, the selection process was a definite motivator heading into the holidays.
“I think this was important to everybody on our team, whether they thought they’d be selected for the event or not, because they want to see their teammates get the opportunity to be noticed,” said Wild associate head coach Ryan McKelvie. “The Top Prospects Tournament is another excellent showcase event for college and pro scouts to see some of the top players in our league."
With the wildcard pick - the selection committee will choose one from each of the four divisions to round out the rosters - the Wild, which already has a league-high seven players from this year’s team committed to Division I schools, will send seven players to Top Prospects - all of whom should have bright futures in the collegiate ranks, according to McKelvie.
“I feel that all of them are legitimate Division I prospects,” said the coach.
Bismarck Bobcats head coach Byron Pool, whose team also put a lot of emphasis on the Top Prospects roster deadline, will send at least six players to Ann Arbor thanks to his club's first-place standing in the Central.
“One of the goals we set for ourselves was to be in first place at Christmastime - the sole reason being the amount of players we’d be able to send to the Top Prospects Tournament,” said Pool, whose Bobcats hold an 18-8-6 record (42 points) in their division.
Nearly 30 players who competed in last year’s Top Prospects Tournament committed to Division I schools after the event - a stat not lost on Pool, who already has three players on this year’s team with college deals in place.
“Just look at the number of players who’ve played in the tournament the last two years who’ve went onto play Division I college hockey and you realize it’s an outstanding opportunity for our players to showcase their skills to coaches at the next level,” said the coach. “We’re extremely excited and proud that we’re able to send six players to this prestigious tournament.”
As are the Marquette Rangers, who locked down the top spot in the North Division with two wins last weekend. They’ll also send a division-high six players to Top Prospects with the possibility of a seventh as the wildcard.
“It's quite an honor for entire our organization to be where we’re at in the standings heading into the holiday break,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller, whose team sits atop the division with an 18-10 record, good for 36 points. “Although only a handful of our guys will play in the event, every player from our club deserves credit for this accomplishment.
“I’m proud of all our guys, the coaching staff and the support staff we have in place for their hard work up to this point in the season.”
With two current Rangers committed to Division I schools, Miller is confident Top Prospects will open a lot more doors for a handful of his deserving student-athletes.
“Because this event is so popular with the college scouts, it’ll be a great opportunity for our players to showcase their talents,” said Miller.
Annually one of the NAHL’s leaders in grooming Division I players, the St. Louis Bandits, thanks to two wins last weekend which resulted in a division-leading .796 winning percentage, sealed up the top spot in the South.
“Finishing with the highest winning percentage at the cutoff was a priority for our organization, because getting our young men to the next level is our main responsibility,” said Bandits assistant coach Rocky Russo.
Three Bandits who competed in last year’s tournament are playing college hockey this season, including league MVP Keith Kincaid (Union College). Four players from this year’s team already have their college plans charted.
“The Top Prospects event has given so many players the opportunity to play at the Division I level, and the ability to put six of our players in that situation is fantastic,” said Russo.
In the Central Division, the second-place Owatonna Express will send five players to Top Prospects; the North Iowa Outlaws (third place) and Alexandria Blizzard (fourth place) three apiece; and the fifth-place Albert Lea Thunder two.
The second-place Janesville Jets will send five players in the North, followed by the third-place Traverse City North Stars and fourth-place Motor City Metal Jackets, who will send three players each, and the fifth-place Alpena IceDiggers, who will send two.
In the South, the second-place Topeka RoadRunners will send five players; the Texas Tornado (third place) and Springfield Jr. Blues (fourth place) three apiece; and the fifth-place Wichita Falls Wildcats two.
The second-place Alaska Avalanche will send five players in the West, followed by the third-place Fairbanks Ice Dogs and fourth-place Kenai River Brown Bears, who will send four apiece.
With the December 20 date also came the announcement of the Top Prospects Tournament coaches: Pool will serve as head coach of the Central Division team with Owatonna head coach Pat Cullen assisting; Miller (head coach) and Janesville head coach Dane Litke (assistant coach) will lead the North; St. Louis head coach Jeff Brown (head coach) and Topeka head coach Scott Langer (assistant) will coach the South; and Wenatchee head coach Paul Baxter (head coach) and Alaska head coach Dave Boitz (assistant) will guide the West team.??
In conjunction with the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, the fourth event of the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) season will also be played at the Ice Cube from January 15-18.
After the season’s third showcase, the Southern California Titans hold the lead in the U18 division, while the Florida Panthers Alliance sit atop the U16 standings.
It’s the final event before the NAPHL Championship Tournament Series, which will be played in San Jose from February 12-15.
For more information on the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, visit NAHLTopProspects.com.
For more information on the North American Prospects Hockey League, visit NAPHL.net.
AROUND THE NAHL
ALASKA AVALANCHE: With last weekend off, the Avalanche returns to NAHL action Jan. 2-3 for a two-game set in Wenatchee.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: Forward Stephen Obarzanek (Macomb, Mich.) tallied the overtime game-winner and an assist in the Thunder’s 3-2 victory over Owatonna on Saturday. He has points in his last four games (six).
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Forward Alex Altenbernd (Moorhead, Minn.) put home a goal and three assists, including one on Tyler Resch’s (Alexandria) game-winner, as the Blizzard downed Owatonna on Friday, 5-4.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: Forward Kevin Crowe (Galloway, N.J.) rang up the game-winning goal in the IceDiggers’ 3-2 triumph over Marquette on Sunday.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Goaltender Ryan Faragher (Fort Frances, Ontario) backstopped the Bobcats to a two-game sweep over North Iowa, turning aside 53 of 57 shots.
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: Brown University recruit Michael Juola (Lake Forest, Calif.), a forward, added to his league-leading point totals (51) with a goal and two assists in the Ice Dogs’ 5-3 win over Kenai River on Saturday.
JANESVILLE JETS: Forward Cam Severson (Seattle) connected for three assists, including one on Mike Shenfeld’s (Littleton, Colo.) game-winning goal, in the Jets’ 5-3 victory over Traverse City on Saturday.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Goaltender Dainis Vasiljevs (Latvia) will represent his country at the upcoming World Junior Championships, which will take place from Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan.
MARQUETTE RANGERS: Goaltender Kevin Kissaw (Goodrich, Mich.) recorded a 2-1 record against Alpena, turning aside 71 of 76 shots. “Kevin is our backbone and once again he was rock solid all weekend,” said head coach Kenny Miller. “He gives us a chance to win every night.”
MOTOR CITY METAL JACKETS: Forward R.J. Kleiman (Dewitt, Mich.) tallied a goal in Motor City’s 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis on Saturday.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: Forwards Connor Gaarder (Edina, Minn.) and Tyler Klein (Fargo, N.D.) each netted a goal and an assist as the Outlaws dropped a pair of games to Bismarck.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Goaltender Mike Shibrowski (Edina, Minn.) will begin his Division I career at Colorado College (WCHA) after the holiday break.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Goaltender Andrew Martin (Stoughton, Wis.) stopped all 25 shots as the Jr. Blues blanked Wichita Falls on Friday, 4-0.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Forward Craig Kitto (Ashburn, Va.) connected for three goals, including the overtime game-winner in Saturday’s 5-4 victory, as the Bandits skated to a two-game sweep over Motor City. “Craig has really elevated his game and we’re looking forward to a big second half from him,” said assistant coach Rocky Russo.
TEXAS TORNADO: Forward Jack Prince (United Kingdom) added to his team-leading point totals (29) with a goal and an assist in the Tornado’s 5-3 loss to Topeka on Saturday.
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Forward Erik Higby (New Braunfels, Texas) tallied two goals, including the game-winner in a 3-1 win on Friday, and three assists as the RoadRunners celebrated a two-game sweep over Texas. “Erik has really raised the level of his game and is contributing offensively for sure, but also winning faceoffs, killing penalties and playing solid defensively,” said assistant coach R.J. Enga.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: Lake Superior State University recruit Dan Radke (Orinda, Calif.), a forward, registered a goal and an assist in the North Stars’ 3-5 loss to Janesville on Saturday.
WENATCHEE WILD: With last weekend off, the NAHL-leading Wild will return to action Jan. 2-3 for a two-game set against Alaska.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: Forward Broderick Browne (Coppell, Texas) connected for a goal and two assists as the Wildcats went 1-2 against Springfield.