Self-proclaimed hockey mom and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin helped put the puck in play in Minnesota earlier this month at the Republican National Convention.
Now it’s the North American Hockey League’s turn to put its fist in the air as it readies to host its sixth annual Sherwood/NAHL Showcase Tournament, which will take place at Blaine’s Schwan Super Rink from Wednesday, Sept. 17-Sunday, Sept. 21.
All 18 NAHL teams will kick off their seasons with four regular-season games at the Showcase, as will both teams from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, which last year produced 11 NHL draft picks.
In short time, the four-day festival has become an institution in the Minnesota hockey landscape. Not only is it a must-attend event for virtually every Division I, III and NHL scout, but also for local players and their families; it’s an ideal chance for them to sample the culture and competitiveness of one of the top junior leagues in North America as they begin to map out their futures after high school.
“This event, both in terms of size and prestige, rivals any in North America,” said Mark Frankenfeld, now in his third year as commissioner of the NAHL, the only USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier 2 Junior A league in the country. “And that says a lot about how far our league has come over the last few years, both from a development and exposure perspective and a marketing standpoint.”
But it’s not just NAHL teams that will reap the benefits in front of the thousands in attendance at the Super Rink. In conjunction with the Showcase, the league will also host its first Sherwood/NAHL Future Prospects Tournament of the season, and event highlighting 56 of the top Midget and Bantam teams in the county over a four-day stretch.
For scouts like the Florida Panthers’ Fred Bandel, seeing so much quality hockey under one roof in five days is reason enough to clear the calendar.
“The NAHL Showcase provides a unique opportunity for players at this level to showcase their talents in front of NHL scouts and college coaches from around the country,” said Bandel. “It’s one of the few chances they’ll have during the season to participate in an event with this many scouts and recruiters concentrated in one location for the sole purpose of evaluating talent in the NAHL.”
Jim Montgomery, an assistant coach at RPI whose Troy, N.Y.-based program boasts two NAHL graduates, is also bullish on the tournament as he gets a jumpstart on recruiting.
“The NAHL Showcase is a must for us; it’s one of the premier junior leagues in North America,” said Montgomery, a former standout at the University of Maine who played for five NHL teams. “The players come to college hockey battle-tested and mentally prepared to handle the demands of a college student-athlete.”
Midget programs understand the importance of the NAHL Showcase Tournament, too. Just ask Orange County (California) Hockey Club co-coach Ken Moyseyev, a former NAHL coach with the Cleveland Jr. Barons and the Capital Centre Pride whose team will compete in the Midget Minor division of the Futures event.
“This showcase has tremendous value because the NAHL has done a wonderful job in promoting its players and our guys out west need that type of exposure,” said Moyseyev. “This is one of the best opportunities our players will have all season to showcase themselves to the NAHL coaches and scouts."
For that same reason, Tony Zasowski, who will lead the San Jose Jr. Sharks’ U16 and U18 teams into Blaine, is hoping his team is firing on all cylinders once the puck drops on Thursday.
“The NAHL Showcase is the best event of the year,” said Zasowski, a former goaltender at the University of Notre Dame. “We got an early start to the season just to make sure we’re ready to play, especially since we can expect to play in front of every NHL, NAHL and NCAA scout.”
And the week is as much about education as it is goals and assists. Players and parents of all ages are encouraged to attend a free-of-charge symposium titled “American Development Model,” which will be held on Friday, September 19, at 8 p.m. in the National Sports Center’s main conference room next to the Super Rink.
The symposium, which will be hosted by the NAHL and the NTDP, will address the options U.S. amateur players have in today’s hockey landscape with an emphasis on domestic development options.
Tim Taylor, head coach of the 1994 U.S. Olympic Team and current NTDP assistant coach, will conduct a presentation, with a question-and-answer session to follow with Taylor and NTDP director of player personnel Ryan Rezmierski.
“Partnering with USA Hockey and the NTDP on an event like this keeps with our league’s mission to expose, educate and promote our country’s future stars,” said Frankenfeld.
But the Showcase is just another tournament without the support and commitment from its marketing partners, all of which play a huge role in the prestige and success of the event.
As the events’ title sponsor, Sherwood also serves as the Official Equipment Supplier of the NAHL.
Visit Minneapolis North, again the Official Lodging Bureau of the NAHL Showcase Tournament, continues to accommodate to the fullest despite the growing number of teams that participate in the event year after year.
And the Comfort Suites in Blaine, the newest and closest hotel to the Super Rink, went above and beyond with its participation.
“I can’t say enough about Visit Minneapolis North and what they do to make this tournament go,” said Frankenfeld. “Their staff worked tirelessly again this year and we’re lucky to have them.”
The eight-sheet Schwan Super Rink, the largest ice arena of its kind in the world, also makes the NAHL Showcase tick loud and proud year after year.
“It’s no wonder why the Super Rink attracts so many big, high-profile hockey tournaments,” said Frankenfeld. “These guys are pros when it comes to hosting an event like ours.”
The NAHL is also excited to ring in its new partnership with GDI, the Preferred Goaltending Development Partner and Preferred Goaltender Equipment Supplier of the NAHL. GDI will sponsor the NAHL Showcase Tournament and all three Future Prospects Tournament Top Goalie awards.
Another new partner, Cardinal Sports, the Official Recruiting Firm of the NAHL, will be on hand to educate the Future Prospects players on the value of playing in the NAHL, as well as assisting with scouting and academic consulting opportunities.
OT Sports, the Official Jersey Supplier of the NAHL, is sponsoring logoed practice jerseys for each of the two Midget champions and the Bantam champ, with Southern Sports Supply sponsoring the Top Defenseman award - a pair of gloves for the Midget and Bantam champion teams' top blueliners.
For the second straight year, B2 Networks will video broadcast live over the Internet every NAHL Showcase game, as well as all three Future Prospects championship games. Staying on the Web, Pointstreak will provide scores and statistics for both the Showcase and Futures Tournaments.
Another NAHL partner, OGP Enterprises, the league's Official Puck Supplier, will provide the events’ pucks, and Avis Rent-A-Car has joined the festivities as the tournament's Official Rental Car Company.
Warrior Hockey will award each Future Prospects All-Tournament Team selection a hockey bag, with Bella Restaurant, JLG Architects, Let’s Play Hockey, Menace Sports & Apparel, Performance Training and USA Hockey also on board as valued marketing partners.
“Every year we strive to add more partners to the Showcase with the sole purpose of enhancing the experience for the players, their families and the fans, and every year we succeed,” said Frankenfeld. “The Showcase would be nothing without their continued support and we can’t say thanks enough.”