Every season, the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament seems to become bigger and better and the consensus upon the conclusion of the most recent event held this past week in Troy, Michigan is that this year’s Top Prospects event could have been one of the best in the league’s history. In total, 120 current NAHL players showcased their skills to hundreds of NCAA and NHL scouts over a three-day period that not only saw the competition at a very high level, but a balanced parity among the divisional teams that were represented. Couple that with the resounding reception and success of the new NAHL 18U Selects team, and everyone involved with the Top Prospects Tournament came away feeling an enhanced respect for the NAHL and the talent of its players contained within.
“I think it was the best NAHL Top Prospects event we have had in five years, which is saying a lot because we have had so many great events and so many players move onto the next level from competing in previous tournaments,” said NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “The response from the scouts who came out to the event was incredible and nothing but positive. Not only did they come out in full force and in record numbers, it provided a great opportunity for all of our players.”
The PHL Championship Series and the 3HL East Showcase also were a part of the Top Prospects Tournament, something that Frankenfeld said was essential to the overall success during the six-day mega-event. “Many of those I spoke with and watched games, myself included, felt like the PHL games were played at their highest level since the league’s inception three-years ago. We had three new champions, which made for a very entertaining end to the PHL season. Combine that with the eight 3HL teams that were represented and the quality of their games, and the event provided scouts at every level a wide variety of games and talent to watch and evaluate.”
One of the many benefits about the annual NAHL Top Prospects Tournament is that not only were all the players who participated rewarded for their outstanding achievement during the regular season with a spot on one of the six rosters, but they got an opportunity to shine and showcase their skills in front of NCAA and NHL scouts. It was evident that from the first day of competition, players were determined to do just that, with the play on the ice mirroring that of an NAHL divisional regular season game rather than an ‘all-star’ type game.
Fairbanks Ice Dogs forward Gabe Levin, who is currently the NAHL’s leading scorer and just announced his commitment to the University of Denver of the WCHA, said that the Top Prospects Tournament was an event that was beneficial for him in terms of experience and exposure.
“I think one of the best things about the Top Prospects Tournament was the competition,” said Levin, who played for the West team. “There is a sense of pride for the team you are playing for. You want to show what you have for all the scouts in attendance, but you also want to show the other guys from the other divisions that yours in the division to beat. It was a great experience and a thrill to know that you are playing in front of so many scouts. You are not only playing to get yourself noticed, but your teammates as well, so there is a lot on the line.”
The hundreds of scouts in attendance had high praise for the event and the players involved as well. “Once again the NAHL put on a great event showcasing some of the top uncommitted players in the country,” remarked Eric Rud, Assistant Coach for the WCHA’s Colorado College Tigers. “There were a lot of players competing in this event that will go on to have very productive NCAA college hockey careers."
“I thought the event was very well run and well organized,” remarked Ernie Vargas, a scout for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild who attended the event. “We as scouts enjoy having a simple place to go to find info on players and by having all the games in the same rink, there was no need to chase around from rink to rink tracking down games and players, which makes it easy on us. The set-up, the staff and the NAHL was nothing but hospitable the entire week.”
One of the changes in this year’s format was the addition of the new NAHL 18U Selects team, which featured some of the best players from all across the NAHL, who were 18-years-old or younger, and who are also qualified as eligible for the NHL later this summer. The 18U Selects didn’t disappoint and ended up being one of the many bright spots of the tournament. After winning their opening game, the Selects dropped two close games to conclude the event, but opened the eyes of the hockey community.
Vargas said the addition of the NAHL 18U Selects team was a contributing factor in his attendance. “Having the 18U Selects there was the main reason I attended because for many of the players, this is the first crack at draft eligibility (late 1993 and 1994 birth years). Overall, I thought it was very good and this is what's needed for more draft year players to come from the league. It's also great for college coaches to see the players with 1991 and 1992 birthdays. I thought the overall talent is on the rise from what I've seen in the league in previous years.”
“In addition to the numerous amount of talent on the divisional roster, it was remarkable to hear how many NHL and NCAA scouts that were buzzing about the addition and talent of the 18U Selects team,” said Corpus Christi IceRays General Manager Pat Dunn. “I think people didn’t know what to expect from them, but from the first game it was evident that some of the brightest and most exciting talent our league has to offer is in the form of our younger players. They were flying up and down the ice and were more than competitive in every game they played in. It is a clear indication that our league is strong and has a collection of remarkable young talent that we hope to showcase each and every season.”
The competition came to a head on the final day as the team from the Central Division faced-off against the team from the North Division. Both teams entered the game undefeated, but in the end it was the Central team, coached by Bismarck’s Layne Sedevie and Alexandria’s Doc DelCastillo came out on top to win the 2012 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament.
“I think it was a great showcase event for our players and that’s what it is all about,” said DelCastillo, who helped guide the Central team to a perfect 3-0 record. “I think the league does a great job of running the event and they make it easy for the scouts to come watch and evaluate the players. The scouts that I spoke with, both in the NCAA and NHL think that it is one of the season’s premier events to evaluate talent of this kind. It is all about providing that opportunity for our players to be seen. Every year we not only see players move onto the next level, but make an immediate impact for those teams as well.”
Top Prospects Rewind
• The Central team won the event as the only team to post a perfect 3-0 record. The teams from the South and North Divisions both finished 2-1, while the NAHL 18U Selects and the Midwest finished with 1-2 records. The West was the only team not to win a game, going 0-3.
• South team forward Taylor Herndon (Texas Tornado) along with North team forward Mike Moroso (Port Huron Fighting Falcons) led the event with three goals apiece.
• Herndon also tied for the scoring lead with five points along with North forward Andrew Graves (Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings), who also had five points.
• Central defenseman Christian Folin (Austin Bruins) and NAHL 18U Selects defenseman Chris Leibinger (Traverse City North Stars/Michigan Tech University) led the event in scoring for defensemen, each recording four points.
• South forward TJ Sarcona (Amarillo Bulls) led the event in +/- with a +5 rating.
• South team goaltender Gregg Gruehl (Amarillo Bulls), led the event in goals against average (0.68) and save percentage (97.1%). Gruehl allowed just one goal in 88 minutes of action.
• NAHL 18U Selects goaltender Anthony Stolarz (Corpus Christi IceRays/University of Nebraska-Omaha) led the event in saves (55) despite only appearing in half the games and was second in save percentage (96.5%) and goals against average (1.33).
Watch Video Highlights
Video highlights from all nine games of the event are now available with the broadcast team of Paul Teeple (Bismarck Bobcats) and Joey Battaino (Michigan Warriors) calling the action. Click on link below: