The weather outside may have been frightful, but that didn’t stop the North American Hockey League (NAHL) - specifically its student-athletes - from reaping the benefits of another successful Top Prospects Tournament.
Despite the blizzard conditions, the event, which was held last month at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich., ushered in yet another strong scouting contingent - a trend that’s become commonplace at every NAHL event throughout the season.
“We know what to expect when we come to Michigan, and that’s hundreds of college and professional coaches and scouts who have a serious interest in our student-athletes,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “It was another outstanding event for our league and one that keeps getting bigger and better year after year, both in terms of exposure for our players and prestige throughout the entire hockey community.”
The tournament, which was held from Feb. 20-22, marked the NAHL’s fourth straight in Ann Arbor and featured four teams - Team Central, Team North, Team South and Team West - competing in a three-game round robin.
Team West, consisting primarily of players from the NAHL’s West Division, went 2-1 at the event and won the championship in a head-to-head tiebreaker over Team Central, which also finished with a 2-1 record but lost to the West on the first day of the tournament, 6-2.
Dawson Creek Rage forward Dakota Mason, a college hopeful who led the West in scoring with five points in the three games, was take aback by the festivities, specifically the talent level and number of scouts.
“I had no idea what to expect going into something like that, but the overall experience was great; it was a lot of fun,” said Mason. “All four teams had four great lines, three great D pairings and two great goalies. It was the fastest hockey I’ve ever played and it was exciting playing in front of a hundred scouts a game.”
And the talent evaluators were equally impressed with the product they witnessed on the ice.
“The NAHL continues to put together quality events that showcase their players to scouts and recruiters, and this was another great opportunity to see some of the top uncommitted players together in one setting,” said Robert Morris University head coach Derek Schooley, whose team competes in the Atlantic Hockey Association. “The NAHL continues to provide quality players to the NCAA because of tournaments like these.”
“It’s great for college coaches,” added Mercyhurst College assistant coach John Rosso. “Having all the top uncommitted players in the league playing against each other in one place makes it a must-see showcase.”
Brian Huebel, head coach of the Alaska Avalanche who led Team West along with Fairbanks Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge, is bullish on events like the Top Prospects Tournament, which, in his estimation, help elevate the stock of every participating player.
“Absolutely it’s a good experience for the athletes,” said Huebel. “Anytime they can get seen by numerous scouts in one location at one time is a good thing.
“Many of the schools we’ve been talking to throughout the year about our players now had the opportunity to see them play in person and showcase their skills.”
Bismarck Bobcats head coach Layne Sedevie, the coach of Team Central along with Coulee Region Chill head coach Garrett Strot, agreed.
“I think the experience is awesome for everyone involved,” said Sedevie. “For our guys to have that kind of exposure and showcase their skills in front of that many scouts for three days straight, it’s a great thing.”
But the NAHL wasn’t the only league in focus in Michigan last month. The North American Prospects Hockey League (PHL) showcased its Championship Tournament Series at the Troy Sports Center in Troy, Mich., with the championship games in each the Midget Major (18U), Midget Minor (16U) and Bantam Major (14U) divisions held at the Ice Cube.
In the end, the DC Capitals (18U), Pikes Peak Miners (16U) and Rocky Mountain RoughRiders (16U) were crowned champions in their respective divisions.
“The exposure and recognition on a national scale is tremendous,” Miners head coach Luc Trombetta, who guided the program to its second straight 16U championship, said of the PHL. “It’s come a long way in a very short period of time and it’s exciting to think about what the league, as a whole, will accomplish next season.”
The North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) was also front-and-center during the weekend’s festivities, as it showcased its two-game Top Prospects Tournament on Feb. 20-21.
While Team Black defeated Team Red twice, all of the participating players benefited from the chance to garner deserved exposure from all spectrums of the hockey community.
“This being (the NA3HL’s) first experience as part of the North American Hockey League family, I was very impressed with the entire event,” said Pittsburgh Jr. Penguins head coach Paul Taibi, who guided Team Black. “The players really enjoyed themselves, the games were competitive and it was a tremendous opportunity for our players to showcase their abilities in front of the NAHL coaches and scouts.”
The experienced and accommodating staffs at both arenas, in particular Crew Gary and Jim LaPointe at the Ice Cube and Vickie Lamerato at the Troy Sports Center, also played a key role in seeing all of the events go off without a hitch.
“Once again, everybody at both facilities deserves a lot of credit and we can’t thank them enough for all the hard work they put in,” said Frankenfeld. “They’re friendly, knowledgeable and professional and truly grasp what goes into making a successful tournament weekend.”
And, for all of the participating players mapping out their futures on the ice and in the classroom, it’s another event sure to pay dividends in the not-too-distant future.
“We pride ourselves on our unique events schedule with the sole purpose of elevating our players’ visibility in the college and professional scouting circles,” said Frankenfeld, whose league hosted its first Top Prospects Tournament of the season in Massachusetts in December. “That’s the mission set forth by every one of our owners and, given our successful track record, one we’re focused on strengthening even more.”