The Greatest Show on Ice going strong after 20 years
by Heather Rule, usahockey.com
Before passing through the automatic sliding doors at the Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota, hockey personnel and fans are met with plenty of branded signage to indicate they’re arriving at the annual NAHL Showcase.
Beyond the entry inside, a large staircase sits in the middle, leading upstairs where hockey fans and scouts can take their pick of multiple NAHL games happening at once.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the NAHL Showcase. Held Sept. 13-16, it continued a long run of success for the 32-team league starting its season playing in packed rinks and in front of the eyes of hundreds of scouts. It also attracts more than 9,000 fans overall.
“When scouts and coaches and hockey people come in here and they walk up the stairway to hockey right there, they know the season’s starting,” said Mark Frankenfeld, NAHL commissioner. “And everybody’s here. Everybody knows each other. It’s like a class reunion of every year gone by all just smashed together in hockey.
As teams played a variety of opponents each day, only the Northeast Generals finished the event with a 4-0 record. Joseph McGraw scored twice, including the overtime winner, in a 4-3 victory over the Janesville Jets on Saturday to seal the perfect weekend.
The South Division finished with a 19-12-2 record, East Division 20-14-2, Central Division 12-12-0 and Midwest Division 12-15-5.
When the NAHL Showcase started 20 years ago, Frankenfeld was an NAHL coach. The following three seasons, he was part of the NAHL hockey operations department before taking over as commissioner in 2007.
Over the years, the NAHL has stuck to the core principles of the league’s DNA. They’ve done things that are best for the players, the league, teams and the league’s brand. The NAHL Showcase simply kept growing as the league expanded from 20 to 32 teams.
“I don’t think we ever sat down and said, ‘This is what we want to grow this into," Frankenfeld said. “We just kept going. We just kept working down the court of the journey, and the path kind of emerged. All just from the core DNA.”
The showcase provides exposure for players and scouts all under one roof. With so many games happening at once, it can be challenging to be in multiple places at once, Frankenfeld acknowledged. But he added that the scouts are good at scheduling and have chances over the four days to watch as many teams and players as possible.
Due to the amount of action packed into four days, the showcase eventually became dubbed with the tagline “The Greatest Show On Ice.”
While many sports leagues see their biggest events happen at the end of a season — think Stanley Cup, Super Bowl or World Series — the showcase is the NAHL’s biggest event, one of its best and it kicks off the hockey season. It’s the most attended NAHL event by scouts, with more than 300 of them checked into this year’s event.
With the NAHL being partners with USA Hockey and the NTDP since its existence, the NTDP teams have also played a couple of exhibition games at the showcase for the past six years.
Rink 4 was filled to the rafters with fans and scouts for the Friday and Saturday exhibition games with the NTDP Under-17 team this year. The U17s defeated the El Paso Rhinos 5-3 on Friday after taking a 3-0 lead in the first period. Saturday, the New Mexico Ice Wolves represented the NAHL well with a 7-3 victory over the U17s when they erased a 2-0 first-period deficit by getting six consecutive goals from six different players.
“This building was packed,” Frankenfeld said. “It’s the first time they’ve played in front of that type of crowd. It’s really good for our guys to play against that level of skill, and compete, and let those scouts watching see how our guys compare now.”
Seeing the rink packed with fans is the most rewarding feeling for Frankenfeld and it gives him feelings of pride for the NAHL and its owners.