Top Prospects brings exposure, opportunity
Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
It’s only three years old, but the Sherwood/NAHL Top Prospects Tournament has already firmly solidified its reputation as one of the elite college and professional recruiting showcases of the season.
This year’s event, which was held last week the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich., home of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, again staged a competitive on-ice environment, and, as a result, attracted a top scouting draw from all over North America.
“Top Prospects has really taken off and turned into something special,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “All of the feedback I received from scouts and coaches was outstanding, and, because of the exposure, I don’t think there’s any question a lot of the participating players are going to receive Division I opportunities in the coming weeks.”
Close to 30 players who participated in last year's Top Prospects Tournament, which pits the NAHL's Central, North, South and West Divisions in a three-game, round-robin tournament, earned scholarships to Division I schools.
Marquette Rangers head coach Kenny Miller, who led the North Division team, along with Janesville Jets head coach Dane Litke, to a perfect 3-0 record at the event, including a victory over the previously-undefeated Central Division on the tournament’s final day, also labeled Top Prospects a resounding success, especially from a scouting standpoint.
“I was very pleased with the turnout,” said Miller. “When I talked to the college guys, they were very happy with the level of play.”
Among those in attendance was University of Minnesota assistant coach John Hill, who was at the Cube to evaluate the best available prospects the NAHL had to offer.
“We were there looking for players who can be a asset to our program and we believe we found some,” said Hill, whose program already has a commitment from Owatonna Express forward Jake Youso. “College hockey is filled with productive players who played in the NAHL, and we wanted to see them in a very competitive environment against skilled players who were competing hard to showcase their games.”
Forwards Tyler Klein (North Iowa Outlaws), Ross Mauermann (Janesville) and Doug Clifford (Traverse City North Stars) all finished Top Prospects with a tournament-leading five points.
Janesville goaltender Matt Wichorek, along with the Bismarck Bobcats’ Ryan Faragher, was credited with two wins, with Wichorek and Evan Karambelas (Topeka RoadRunners) each fashioning 1.34 goals-against averages (Karambelas led all goaltenders with a .963 save percentage).
For University of Alaska-Anchorage assistant coach Regg Simon, whose Seawolves have commitments from two NAHL players in Albert Lea Thunder defenseman Derek Docken and Alaska Avalanche forward Matt Friese, Top Prospects is a can’t-miss when it comes time to map out his recruiting schedule.
“The level of play is elevated because it's all the best players together, so from a scouting perspective it's really something you need to be at,” said Simon. “You can certainly tell at this event if players are able to elevate their game because the speed and skill level is that much higher.”
Frank Serratore is no stranger to the NAHL and what it offers in terms of development. The Air Force Academy head coach, who has 14 former players on his roster this season with another eight current ones set to join his program, leans on Top Prospects to help round out his future rosters.
“We’re trying to finish up our recruiting for next year and the Top Prospects Tournament provides an opportunity for us to look at the top players still available in the NAHL player pool at one site,” he said. “As a scout and a team-builder, I was looking for players who possessed some of the ingredients we feel our team still needs.”
But the NAHL wasn’t the only league on display at the Ice Cube last week. The North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL), which boasts 34 U18 and U16 Midget teams competing at the Tier I level for a league title, wrapped up its regular season in conjunction with the Top Prospects Tournament.
After 20 games, the So Cal Titans (U18) and the Pikes Peak Miners (U16) hold the No. 1 seeds in their respective divisions as the teams ready for the NAPHL Championship Tournament Series, which will be held from February 12-15 in San Jose.
“We were expecting a lot of competitive games right to the finish and we got them,” said NAPHL director Denny Scanlon. “The stakes are going to be even higher in San Jose, which is even more exciting.”
The week also went off without a hitch thanks to the continued support of the Ice Cube staff, as well as the host hotels, namely the Holiday Inn in Ann Arbor.
“The experience and professionalism the rink staff and hotel staffs bring every year really make this event come together,” said Frankenfeld. “It’s a pleasure to work with such dedicated people who know what it takes to orchestrate tournaments of this magnitude.”
And the scouts took notice.
“This event gets better every year, and I think the proof can be seen by the number of professional and college scouts that came through the building,” said Simon.
“Coming in, you know you're going to see great hockey and you're going to see a well-run event that's truly scout-friendly. It really is a first-class event.”
Added Serratore: “The event couldn’t have been organized any better from an administrative perspective. The NAHL staff did a wonderful job in every aspect; I wouldn’t change a thing.”
AROUND THE NAHL
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Forward Robb Haider (Anchorage) recorded four assists as the Avalanche celebrated a two-game sweep over Kenai River. He was also a plus-2.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: Defenseman Patrick Kinkopf (Seattle) netted two goals as the Thunder went 2-1 last weekend. He was also a plus-3.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: In his first two games with the Blizzard since being acquired from Alaska, forward Nardo Nagtzaam (Netherlands) put home three goals and an assist.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: Jimmy McCusker (Novi, Mich.) rang up a goal and two assists as the IceDiggers dropped a pair of games to Marquette.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Forward George Malliaras (Palos Hills, Ill.) registered a goal and an assist in the Bobcats’ 5-4 shootout win over North Iowa on Saturday. “George and his linemates (Bryce Schmitt and Trent Johnson) were our most consistent line the whole weekend,” said head coach Byron Pool. “They really add depth and energy to our lineup.”
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: Goaltender Mike Taffe (Maple Grove, Minn.) has committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha (CCHA), which will join the WCHA next season.
JANESVILLE JETS: Forward Rui Encarnacao (White Plains, N.Y.) tallied three goals as the Jets split a pair of games with Albert Lea.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Forward Doug Beck (Plymouth, Mich.) recorded a pair of assists in the Brown Bears’ 8-3 loss to Alaska on Friday.
MARQUETTE RANGERS: Goaltender Lukas Hafner (Toledo, Ohio) stopped 39 shots in the Rangers’ 4-2 triumph over Alpena on Saturday. “Lukas played very well for us,” said head coach Kenny Miller. “He kept us in the game all night, which is what you want your goaltender to do.”
MOTOR CITY METAL JACKETS: Goaltender Phil Graveline (Marshall, Mich.), who was recently acquired from Wichita Falls, split two games with Traverse City, including a 28-save performance in a 4-3 shootout win on Saturday.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: In his first three games since being acquired from Janesville, forward Cam Severson (Seattle) rang up a goal as the Outlaws went 0-2-1.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Forward Cory Thorson (Crystal, Minn.) struck for two goals and an assist as the Express picked up three points in two games.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: With last weekend off, the Jr. Blues return to action this weekend for a two-game set against St. Louis beginning on Friday.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Forward Joe Kalisz (Davison, Mich.), a University of Alaska-Fairbanks recruit, tallied two goals and assisted on Jordan Bourgonje’s game-winner on Friday (a 4-1 win) as the Bandits skated to a two-game sweep over Topeka.
TEXAS TORNADO: Forward Rock Einersen (Chicago) connected for a goal and an assist in the Tornado’s 6-5 loss to Wichita Falls on Saturday.
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Held scoreless in two games last weekend, forward Erik Higby (New Braunfels, Texas) still ranks tied for second in league scoring with 51 points (20 goals) through 40 games.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: Forward Dan Radke (Orinda, Calif.), a Lake Superior State University recruit, registered a hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in the North Stars’ 7-1 triumph over Motor City on Friday.
WENATCHEE WILD: In his only start last week, goaltender Brandon Jaeger (Champlin, Minn.) made 35 saves in the Wild’s 5-1 victory over Fairbanks on Saturday.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: Forward J.T. Osborn (Alpine, Calif.) notched three goals and three assists in the Wildcats’ two-game sweep over Texas. “J.T. has the natural ability to find the back of the net," said interim head coach Mike Flanagan. "When he competes shift by shift, he can be a dangerous player.”