Junior, College and Pro scouts converge on Pittsburgh for early-season showcase
The USHL Fall Classic is here to ceremoniously start both the junior hockey season and the tournament season for a lot of youth hockey programs.
In what has become a premiere event over the last six seasons, the USHL Fall Classic brings all of the USHL member clubs under one roof for the first two games of each team’s schedule. Alongside that Tier-1 junior league showcase is a youth hockey one with even more participating clubs, as teams from across the country flock to the greater Pittsburgh area for a unique opportunity to compete in front of scouts and coaches of the USHL clubs, who are literally right there in the UPMC Lemieux Center Ice Arena with them. The concentrated amount of hockey across so many different age groups makes it a must-see event for scouts of junior, college and professional teams.
While the youth edition of the Fall Classic spans from Thursday to Monday, teams will be playing in jam-packed three-day tournaments, with the 14U and 15O teams playing Thursday-Saturday and the 16U and 18U teams playing Saturday-Monday.
All four age groups will play in a high-stakes preliminary round, having three games to establish themselves as one of the four teams that advance right to the semifinals. While the tournament fields quickly get whittled down, all of the participating teams will still play in consolation games to make the trip to Pittsburgh worthwhile and maximize exposure opportunities for the players.
The tournament schedulers did their homework while putting together the matchups for the preliminary round. If things go as expected — though youth hockey sure is unpredictable — there will be some monster early-season games between teams ranked very, very high on the initial U.S. rankings for the 2022-23 campaign. That’s not to say that there aren’t some big games to keep an eye on in the round-robin; we’re going to take a look at some matchups to watch below.
In the 14U division, the 2008 birth year has 16 teams in the Fall Classic, and five of them are in the American Top 10. The top-ranked Windy City Storm show up in Pittsburgh, as does No. 3 Bishop Kearney, No. 7 Pittsburgh Vengeance, No. 8 Seacoast Performance Academy and No. 10 Mount St. Charles.
On Friday at 4 p.m. the Windy City Storm and SPA wrap up the round-robin for the two highly-ranked squads. Meanwhile, four hours later, it’s the Battle of Pittsburgh, as the Vengeance gets Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 14U in the 14U preliminary-round finale.
Mount St. Charles better bring their ‘A’ game for their first tilt Thursday, as well, as they square off with HP Team Minnesota — you never know what type of talent might be lurking in a Minnesota all-star squad.
At the 2007 birth year, 22 teams from the 15O classification converge on Pittsburgh, including seven of the names appearing in the Top 10: No. 3 Mid-Fairfield, No. 4 Mount St. Charles, No. 5 Little Caesars, No. 6 Bishop Kearney, No. 7 Los Angeles Jr. Kings, No. 8 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and No. 9 Buffalo Jr. Sabres.
Little Caesars has quite the gauntlet to get through if they want to reach the semifinals, as the Detroit-based program starts things off with the home team Pittsburgh Penguins Elite on Thursday before playing Bishop Kearney Friday morning.
After that game, BK gets to play the Jr. Kings in their Friday night matchup, which means quite a day for the Selects, too.
The largest field of them all is at 16U, where 26 teams will battle for four spots in the playoffs Monday. The No. 4 ranked Boston Jr. Eagles lead the field, alongside the No. 6 Buffalo Jr. Sabres, No. 7 Windy City Storm, No. 8 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, No. 9 North Jersey Avs and No. 10 Little Caesars.
The biggest game we’ve got circled on the calendar is No. 7 Windy City vs. No. 8 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, which takes place at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday.
It’s a crazy weekend of hockey, but it does provide an early idea of which teams the hockey world should be watching this season, as teams from across the U.S. come together for the annual USHL Fall Classic.