Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
For a number of NAHL teams, last weekend’s games meant a lot more than heading into the holiday break on a winning note. The contests also dictated how many players each could send to next month’s heavily scouted NAHL Top Prospects Tournament.
The event, which attracted close to 100 college and professional scouts in its first go-round last year, will be held from Jan. 18-20, 2009 at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich., and will 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 Dec. 22, with higher percentages translating into more representation. The rosters will be announced by the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament Selection Committee on Dec. 29.
The Bismarck Bobcats, who controlled their own destiny heading into the weekend, sealed down the top spot in the Central Division with a 2-0 win over the Alexandria Blizzard on Saturday.
“As an organization, we’re extremely excited for the opportunity,” said Bobcats head coach Byron Pool, whose team will send six players to Top Prospects. “It’s a great reward for the hard work all of our players put into the first half of the season.
“We’re sending six players, but all 24 should be very proud of this accomplishment."
Second-year Bobcats goaltender Matt Grogan, a 20-year-old from Phoenix, stole the show against the Blizzard, turning back all 37 shots he faced to earn his first shutout of the season.
"Matt continues to prove that he’s one of the best goaltenders in the Central Division,” said Pool. “He has one of the best work ethics I’ve seen in any player. He’s due a tremendous amount of credit for the way he’s turned around his season."
Top Prospects implications also came down to the final weekend in the North Division, where Mahoning Valley’s two-game split with the Marquette Rangers coupled with the Traverse City North Stars’ loss to the Motor City Machine on Sunday earned the Phantoms a division-most six invites.
“Anytime you can provide your players with an opportunity like this it’s very exciting, so it’s very rewarding to our organization to have six players attending,” said Phantoms head coach Bob Mainhardt.
Netminder Garrett Bartus helped Mahoning Valley nail down its 5-2 win over the Rangers on Saturday, stopping 29 shots in his only start of the weekend.
“In Garrett’s last few starts, he’s played really well and deserved the win, but we didn’t give him much support,” said Mainhardt. “It was nice to see him go out there and get that support. He played a great game.”
Top Prospects positions in the South and West Divisions were finalized prior to last weekend.
In the South, the Topeka Roadrunners will send six players to the event; the St. Louis Bandits five; and the Wichita Falls Wildcats and the Springfield Jr. Blues four each.
“Every coach wants to be a position to send as many players as he can to Top Prospects,” said RoadRunners head coach Scott Langer, whose team holds a NAHL-best 24-3-2 record. “This division has historically been very tough and very competitive. The players earned this honor, and I'm looking forward to a successful event.”
In the West, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs will send six players; the Wenatchee Wild five; and the Alaska Avalanche and the Kenai River Brown Bears will each send four.
“We’re excited with where we’re at heading into Christmas break,” said Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge, who team sits in first place in the West with a 20-4-4 mark. “Our guys have worked hard to get where we are and we’re hoping for continued success in the second half of the season.”
Top Prospects paid big dividends for the Ice Dogs last season, as all four of their players who competed in last year’s showcase are now playing Division I hockey.
“The event provided a lot of opportunities for our players to move onto college hockey last season and I have no doubt that this year’s team will also benefit from the exposure,” said Hauge, who served as the Ice Dogs’ assistant coach last season.
“This league is all about the development of its players and giving them the most exposure as possible, and Top Prospects is an excellent example of that,” added Mainhardt, whose team sent five players to the tournament last season, three of whom are now at Division I schools.
Pool, who already has two of his players committed to colleges in defenseman John Clark (Army) and goaltender David Bosner (Air Force), agrees that the event should open up plenty of doors.
“With the amount of colleges attending, it’s a very exciting time for the players,” said Pool. “I expect the hockey played over those three days to be not only highly intense and competitive, but also entertaining for the fans and a great opportunity for scouts to evaluate the top talent our league has to offer.”
In the Central, the North Iowa Outlaws will send five players to Top Prospects, with Alexandria and the Owatonna Express sending three players each. The Albert Lea Thunder will send two.
In the North, Traverse City will send five players and the Alpena IceDiggers and Marquette Rangers will send three each. The Motor City Machine will send two.
Coaches will also select one wildcard player from each of the four divisions.
The U.S. National Team Development Program's Under-17 and Under-18 Teams will also play two games each over the three days.
With the Dec. 22 date also came the announcement of the Top Prospects Tournament coaches: Pool will serve as head coach of the Central Division team with North Iowa head coach Jeff Crouse assisting; Mainhardt (head coach) and Traverse City head coach Anthony Palumbo (assistant coach) will lead the North; Langer (head coach) and St. Louis head coach Jeff Brown (assistant) will coach the South; and Hauge and Wenatchee head coach Paul Baxter (assistant) will guide the West team.
For more information on the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, visit NAHLTopProspects.com.
AROUND THE NAHL
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Matt Friese (two goals) and Adam Friese (two assists) both recorded two points in the Avs’ 7-4 loss to Fairbanks on Saturday.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: Anthony Brown notched a goal in each of the Thunder’s two losses to North Iowa last weekend. He has scored in his last three games.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Taylor Vichorek put home two goals, including the game-winner, in the Blizzard’s 6-1 victory over Albert Lea on Thursday.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: Jay Camper rang up two goals for the IceDiggers in a two-game sweep over Motor City, including the game-winner in Saturday’s 3-2 victory.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Will Aide assisted on both goals in the Bobcats’ 2-0 triumph over Alexandria on Saturday. “Will really has all the skills to be a very good player in this league, plus he plays the role of agitator very well,” said head coach Byron Pool. “Hopefully, this will be a break out game for him.”
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: Goaltender Joe Phillippi earned his first NAHL shutout after stopping all 34 shots in the Ice Dogs’ 3-0 win over the Avalanche on Friday. “He had an outstanding game for us,” said head coach Josh Hauge.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Heading into the holiday break, Jed McGlasson leads the Brown Bears in scoring with 25 points (10 goals).
MAHONING VALLEY PHANTOMS: Stefan Salituro potted a goal and two assists in the Phantoms’ 5-2 win over Marquette on Saturday. “After Friday’s game (a 5-2 loss to the Rangers), the team knew it had to come out and work hard if we wanted to win,” said head coach Bob Mainhardt. “Stefan did just that Saturday night and had one of his best games of the season.”
MARQUETTE RANGERS: Aaron Pietila rang up a goal and three assists as the Ice Diggers split a pair of games with Mahoning Valley. “Aaron is our leader and this weekend he proved just that,” said head coach Kenny Miller. “When he’s going and on his game, he’s one of the better players in the league.”
MOTOR CITY MACHINE: The Machine picked up its sixth win of the season on Sunday, dropping Traverse City, 6-4. “It’s a boost of confidence going into break and it’s something to build on for the second half,” forward Josh Bussell said.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: Goaltender Thomas Callaghan picked up both wins in net for the Outlaws as they skated to a two-game sweep over Albert Lea.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Air Force recruit Stephen Carew tallied a goal and an assist in the Express’ 5-2 loss to St. Louis on Friday.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Former Jr. Blues defenseman Darren Rowe, an NAHL All-Rookie Team selection last year, has committed to the University of Massachusetts (Hockey East).
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Goaltender Keith Kincaid made all 27 saves in the Bandits’ 5-0 win over Owatonna on Thursday, marking his third shutout of the season.
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Alec Hagaman struck for two goals in two games against Wichita Falls, including the game-winner in the RoadRunners’ 2-1 victory on Friday.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: Eric McLintock struck for two goals in the North Stars’ 6-4 loss to Motor City on Sunday. He now has five goals in his last four games.
TEAM USA: The U.S. National Under-17 Team will travel to the Alberni Valley in British?Columbia for the World Under-17?Hockey?Challenge from December 29, 2008-January 4, 2009.
WENATCHEE WILD: Nic Dowd leads the Wild in scoring heading into the holiday break with 18 points (seven goals).
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: Defenseman Adam Kuhn recorded two goals as the Wildcats split a pair of games with Topeka. In his first six games with Wichita Falls, he has three goals and an assist.