NAHL Showcase: A Celebration of the Player
September 27, 2013
By Alex Kyrias
The opening morning of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) Showcase at the Schwan Super Rink is a sight to behold. Just a mere few hours prior to the first game there is an anticipation of the impending rush of fans and scouts that are going to be there for the next five days. The kind of feeling that players can relate to when they got their first hockey stick on Christmas morning or attended their first-ever NHL game.
One of the best parts about the Showcase is that it is a celebration of the players and the league. Like it has the last 11 years, the Schwan Super Rink became transformed into NAHL Central. Just a few paces up the stairs and into the lobby and patrons were greeted with a rush of NAHL decoration and pageantry, celebrating and highlighting the players that made the NAHL into what it is today.
The evolution of the NAHL Showcase since its inception in 2003 can only be described as remarkable. What was once a 19-team event just a mere 11 years ago has now turned into an 80+ team event that runs from morning until night, on all eight sheets of ice, for five days straight.
The NAHL Showcase is the greatest and grandest event of its kind in North America. An estimated 10,000 fans, 2,000 players and 300+ scouts are in the building during the five days. The majority of teams at the Showcase are playing their first games of the season. Everyone starts the season in 1st place and everyone arrives there with a renewed sense of spirit and awe, and that may be what makes the event so exciting. It is the unknown about what is about to come and how players will respond to it. Inevitably, almost every one of the scouts will leave the Showcase having discovered someone new, who wasn’t on their radar heading into the event.
One NCAA scout mentioned that the NAHL Showcase was not only a great event for its size, its structure and its magnitude, but remarked that he really gets to see what a player is made of right from the start. All the games matter, they all count in the standings, and in the case of the NAHL, the players are still battling for a spot on the final 23-man roster. Everyone on the ice is placed in the same exact situation, which allows the scouts to give a more accurate evaluation of the players. As the scout put it, “…it separates the men from the boys real quick.”
By Noon on the opening day, the stands and the viewing areas were filled with scouts adored in dark-colored jackets holding and writing in their padfolios. Judging by the number of them that arrived on the first day (a new record of 212), the final number was going to be big. A total of 347 scouts checked in during the event, an all-time record.
“I can't think of another event that provides this much opportunity for our players to be seen by so many scouts under one roof. The event is already considered an anomaly, but some how gets better each year,” said NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “We owe that to and thank all the members of the hockey community that attend the Showcase to watch great hockey. Reaching a prodigious level of scout and fan attendance was as exciting as the tremendous level of play on the ice.”
That number of scouts included the 160 NCAA coaches that were in attendance, including 86 NCAA Division I coaches. It included all six of the major Division I conferences in the college hockey landscape and the names on the check-in list where a who’s who of hockey.
What may have been the most impressive was the number of head coaches that were there. Traditionally, it is the assistant coaches that travel North America throughout the season, trying to find the missing pieces to their rosters and logging the long miles, but because the Showcase happens before the college hockey season starts, many of the Division I head coaches take the time to travel to Blaine and take it all in, getting a first-hand look of their potential future.
One of those head coaches that is an annual visitor is Frank Serratore from Air Force. Of the 29 players on the 2013-14 Air Force roster, 19 (or 65%) of them are alums of the NAHL, which is the most of any NCAA Division I team. In summary, Serratore really likes NAHL players when building an NCAA team.
“The common talk amongst the coaches is that the Showcase is such a great event because there is something here for everybody. All age levels, all abilities and all different kinds of players, both older and younger. Let’s put it this way… If you are working at a school at the Division I level and you don’t show up to this event, then you probably aren’t doing your job the right way,” stated Serratore. “It is a great 4-5 days. You get an apples to apples evaluation of all the players. They are thrown into the same setting, same environment and same situation as everyone else. To take it a step further, the NAHL then serves as a place that we can not only recruit from, but also see our future committed players develop and grow. We feel a lot of comfort knowing they are going to get the right kind of training and preparation in this league.”
The new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) debuts this fall and when it does, Miami University will start the season as the NCHC’s top-ranked team. Miami Assistant Coach Nick Petraglia, who was in attendance during the entire event, explained how the Showcase is used to provide depth on their roster.
“I don’t think there is any question that the Showcase is the premier event of its kind in the country. There are so many opportunities for us to view high-level prospects, that it is almost overwhelming at times. You are looking at the younger players at the 16U and 18U levels for 2-3 years down the road and you are looking at the NAHL players for someone who would be a more immediate fit. I can’t imagine an organization here this weekend that can’t find someone who would be a nice fit for them, be it in the short-term or down the road. I think we know when we get a player from the NAHL we get a high-character player that can step in right away and make contributions at the high level we play at.”
Maybe one of the most knowledgeable on the subject of NAHL players is Jason Guerriero. 13 years ago, Guerriero was playing in the NAHL and earning NAHL Most Valuable Player honors in 2000-01. He attended the Showcase this season in a much different capacity, as an Assistant Coach for the defending NCAA Division I National Champions, Yale University.
“It is astounding to me what the league has evolved into today. Events with the composition and magnitude of the NAHL Showcase simply didn’t exist. I think most important part of it all is the opportunity it gives the players that are in the league today. Back when I played in the league, scouts would show up at individual games and the events we had were small in scale. Now, a player can be skating in a game with 40-50 schools looking at him, as well as, those from the NHL. That is a unique opportunity that doesn’t present itself on too many occasions. The beauty of it is that every NCAA team is different. What is may not be the right fit for one team, may work for another team. Everyone keeps coming back to this event and keeps scouting the NAHL because the level of play and coaching is very good, year after year. We know we are going to get someone who is prepared for the next level.”
NHL Central Scouting’s Greg Rajanen is one of those annual visitors, who rely on the event to evaluate a host of players who could be considered an NHL prospect. Two days after the event ended, NHL Central Scouting released its ‘Prospects to Watch’ list. The only other non-major junior league in North America that had more players listed than the NAHL was the USHL. A total of 48 NHL scouts, including those from NHL Central Scouting, were on hand scouting players at the NAHL Showcase.
“Any time you bring this many teams to one site, it may be a bit overwhelming at first, but it really enables us to do our job in evaluating the players that could have the potential to be NHL prospects. It is easier for the scouts to move around and look at different players, rather than go from city to city and rink to rink. The NAHL has had great success recently when it comes to the NHL Draft and I think this year will be no exception judging by what we saw.”