The AAA Kickoff Classic was the first big tournament of the fall in the United States, and in the process it provided an early look at some teams to watch for this season.
While the 15U, 16U and 18U divisions were showcase-style events with no true playoff structure, the 14U division featured a round-robin preliminary round before semifinal and championship contests, allowing Seacoast Performance Academy to flex some muscle at the 2008 birth year.
The SPA crew finished 5-1-1 over the course of the four-day event, leaving Grand Rapids, Mich., with a tournament title before the calendar flips to September.
In the championship game, the Spartans and Team Wisconsin both scored three goals apiece in the opening frame, but in the final two periods, SPA took control, and eventually won 6-3.
It was a big victory for SPA in terms of winning the AAA Kickoff Classic title, but also because they avenged their only loss in the early-season tournament. The Spartans started things off with a 3-2 nail-biting loss to the same Team Wisconsin club, ending up on the wrong end of a three-goal third period between the two clubs.
That was the only time they would lose in Grand Rapids, however, as Seacoast rebounded with a 7-1 thumping of Team Illinois Friday morning. In their second Friday tilt, SPA played one of the two clubs from Czechia, battling the Pilsen Wolves to a 5-5 tie.
On Saturday, SPA won their two contests by scoring five goals in each – first they beat Chicago Fury 5-2, before taking care of the Nashville Jr. Predators 5-1 later in the day.
In the first of two playoff games on Sunday, SPA took on the other Czech club, and HC Trinec dragged them all the way to a shootout. The Spartans prevailed in the shootout session, leaving with a 2-1 final on the scoreboard and a rematch with Team Wisconsin at 2 p.m.
In the title contest, Timothy Kazda wasn’t about to let SPA fall to Team Wisconsin again. A native of Slovakia, Kazda was dominant in the final, scoring a hat trick in the first period alone, and finishing with five goals in the 6-3 win.
That five-goal outing put Kazda in first place in scoring for both the 14U division and the Kickoff Classic field across all age groups. He finished with 12 goals and 13 total points. Aside from Kazda, SPA had well-balanced scoring throughout the tournament, as Jackson Smail had six points, while Daniel Trucka, Rockland Babcock, Hunter Chadbourne and Garrit Turcotte all had five.
Kamden Jackson and Filip Vavro took care of business between the pipes for SPA, both appearing in four contests apiece.
Team Wisconsin had plenty of firepower throughout the tournament, as well, as the next three spots in the 14U scoring race went to members of the second-place squad. Mack Diggins had 11 total points, while Grant Molski and Owen Porter both had nine.
They didn’t play in as many games as the 14U division, but the 16U Team Wisconsin made their own early-season statement in Grand Rapids.
After making the trek across (or probably around) Lake Michigan, Team Wisconsin played to a perfect 3-0-0 record in the showcase-style event.
None of their games were decided by more than two goals, showing that TW can go up against top competition and hold their own when things get tense.
On Friday, they took down SPA 3-1. Caden Feinstein scored in the first, Dylan Bryne scored in the second, and Will McDonald wrapped things up in the third.
Saturday, they took care of Team Minnesota, a collection of high school players from the ‘State of Hockey.’ Bryne’s third-period goal turned out to be the difference in that one; Riley Boyle and James Flanigan also scored for TW.
To wrap things up, they went toe-to-toe with Little Caesars in a Sunday afternoon affair, taking on a team that was a national title contender last season. All three goals in the contest were scored in the third period; TW scored twice, while LC only scored one. Quinn Smith and Jackson Hoem had the goals in a 2-1 win, as TW picked up a statement win early in the year.
Smith ended up leading TW in scoring with five points in the three games, while three players — Bryne, Vincent Greene and Joseph Coghlin — had two points apiece.
Rowan White started two games, finishing with a .938 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average. Devin Rustlie played in one game, allowing two goals and registering a .913 save percentage.
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It’s the first big tournament of the 2022-23 schedule, which means one thing — hockey season is officially here. The 2022 AAA Kickoff Classic is back for its second year, bringing together talent from across the country — and the globe — to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Played across the 14U, 15O, 16U and 18U age groups, the early-season event kicks off today at the Southside Ice Arena and Kentwood Ice Arena on the west side of the Great Lakes State.
Let’s take a look at the competition for each of the divisions:
Eight teams are coming to Grand Rapids for the 14U age group, as the 2008 birth year begins play in its first nationals-bound season. The first game of the age group, however, features one of the teams that won’t be competing for a USA Hockey national title — HC Trinec of Czech Republic. HC Trinec, which will play the Nashville Jr. Predators to kick things off at 3 p.m. EST, is joined by the Pilsen Wolves, as two 14U teams from Czechia are making the pilgrimage to Grand Rapids.
Joining those three squads in the eight-team field are the Chicago Fury, Team Wisconsin, Seacoast Performance Academy, Team Illinois and Fox Motors, Southside Ice Arena’s primary tenant.
The 4:35 time slot at Kentwood will be a good one; the matchup between SPA and Team Wisconsin will certainly be one to keep an eye on. Last year, TW finished as the No. 8-ranked team in the country on our World Hockey Hub rankings, while SPA checked in at No. 19 on MyHockeyRankings. Rosters change every fall, but when those two squads clash, it will be a good matchup of Top-20 teams in the country.
The 15-Only age group features six teams competing from the 2007 birth-year. Team Minnesota and Michigan Hockey Advancement bring high school talent from two hockey powerhouse states together for the tournament. SPA brings its ’07 group, Fox Motors is in, and the Pittsburgh Predators and the Nashville Jr. Preds battle for the title of best Preds squad in the age group. It may just be six teams, but it’s going to be a fun weekend of hockey in the age group.
On Saturday, MHA and Team Minnesota battle it out; that’s definitely one to tune in for.
In the 16U group, we have 10 teams slated to participate. Like the younger age groups, there’s SPA, Fox Motors, the Pittsburgh Preds, Team Wisconsin, Michigan Hockey Advancement, Team Minnesota and the Nashville Jr. Predators. To spice things up a bit, Little Caesars, the Tri-State Spartans and a Team Wisconsin Prep team also enter the ring for the 2006 birth-year bracket.
Last year, the Little Caesars ’06s finished ranked No. 5 in the country and No. 11 in the world by World Hockey Hub. The roster will look a little different this fall, like it will for most teams, as some of the players have moved on to junior hockey. Still, LC will be expected to compete for a national title again this season, and they’re one of the many teams in this group to keep an eye on.
Caesars takes on SPA on Saturday, and Team Wisconsin to round things out on Sunday. Each of those battles could provide a glimpse into our preseason rankings set to come out next month.
In the biggest field of any age group, 12 teams will be competing in the 18U division at the Kickoff Classic. HoneyBaked makes the drive from Metro Detroit to GR for the tournament, as does Compuware. They will be battling SPA, Fox Motors, Team Wisconsin, Chicago Fury, MHA, Tri-State Spartans, Team Minnesota, the Nashville Jr. Preds and the Pittsburgh Preds over the four-day span.
The 18U Nashville Preds and Team Wisconsin squads finished two spots apart in last year’s 18U final rankings on MyHockeyRankings — they clash on Saturday for a big early-season battle.
Fox Motors and SPA wrap up a wild first day of hockey with an 8 p.m. puck drop Thursday night as well.
WHH will have more coverage from the Kickoff Classic, and other major tournaments to start the 2022-23 season. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for the latest news!
The bad news? It’s back-to-school season.
The good news? It’s hockey season.
While youth hockey players pack up their backpacks to begin another school year, they’re also loading up their hockey bags for the beginning of the fall hockey campaign.
While the Canadian hockey community may be waiting a few more weeks to really get going, the end of August marks the start of some big, early-season tournaments in both the United States and Europe.
Let’s take a look at some of the early-season offerings and tournaments the World Hockey Hub will be keeping an eye on as we put away our sunblock and dust off our preferred rink attire.
The AAA Kickoff Classic brings top talent to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a season-opening tournament in the 14U through 18U age groups. At the 14U level, eight teams will do battle, including two from Czechia — HC Trinec and the Pilsen Wolves. The six-team 15U division features the likes of Team Minnesota and New Hampshire’s Seacoast Performance Academy, while 10 teams show up for 16U, including Little Caesars, Team Wisconsin, and the Nashville Jr. Predators. The largest field is a 12-team 18U division.
While the west coast of Michigan will have a big-time AAA tournament taking place, the east coast of the United States will be having one, as well. The NJ August Showcase for the Eastern Exposure Series is bringing a select group of teams together in the same 14U through 18U age brackets for an early-season tune-up. At 14U, the St. Lawrence Steel, Mercer Chiefs, New Jersey Devils and New Jersey Jets will square off for a five-game weekend, while the older groups will play three-game showcase-style tournaments. Showing up in the older brackets are the likes of the North Jersey Avalanche, the Philadelphia Hockey Club, the New Jersey Rockets, and the PAL Jr. Islanders. It will be some tough competition for teams that will be spending a lot of time together this year.
The Sweden Hockey Trophy tournament series kicks off Sept. 1 – 4 for the 2008 age group. 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 birth years will follow suit over the following weeks, making Stockholm the place to be in Sweden. This preseason event regularly sets the tone for top teams in the country, separating contenders from pretenders. It isn’t just local, either. Teams from Finland, Norway, Czech Republic, Slovakia and other Central European countries have competed in this Swedish tournament in recent years.
Another top-level, early-season Scandinavian event is the U15 DIF Elitcup, set to showcase 2008s next month. Hosted by one of the top clubs in the country, Djurgårdens IF welcomes other reputable programs like Frölunda HC, Färjestad BK and a select few others to compete in an elite eight-team tournament. Nearly 30 games in three days of some of the best teams in Sweden.
Tuki-Areena in Rauma, Finland, will host a bevy of teams from the 2010 age group across three different divisions. The AAA+ Division features arguably the top eight clubs in the country with Jokerit, Kärpät, and Tappara leading the way.
Just concluded over the weekend, but worth noting another event out of Finland. The Symppisturnaus featured 16 teams at the U15 age group across two divisons: AAA+ and AAA. Only one team was shut out on the weekend; each of the other 15 teams all picked up at least one point in the three-game round robin. Tappara Black defeated KalPa Black 3-2 in the AAA+ championship game; the last of 23 tournament games to be decided by two goals or fewer over the weekend.
A tournament that typically features 40-50 summer hockey teams, hosted just 14 teams over the course of two weeks in Sweden and France. While it was significantly downsized, the European Hockeyfest had a very intimate feel in 2022. A smaller field of teams provided participants with an exclusive experience both on and off the ice.
While this year’s lineup was a fraction of what we’ve typically come to expect from Hockeyfest, it still featured players from as many as six different countries. Sweden, Finland, Norway, Czech, Latvia, U.S. and Canada were all represented in the two host cities of Stockholm and Paris. The 2010 age group got the event started on July 22, while the ’09s and ’12s closed it down on July 30.
Here’s a look at the results from all three birth years:
Sweden SHD Light Blue prevailed 6-2 over Sweden SHD Blue in the final. It was a revenge game for the Light Blue squad, after Sweden SHD Blue handed them their lone loss on July 29 — a 3-1 final. Aside from that, the Light Blue squad took care of business over the week, winning a bunch of tight contests before running away with things in both the semifinals and finals.
They topped Finland SHD Blue 6-3 to start, before recording a 3-2 win over Norway Selects, a 1-0 win over Sweden SHD Blue, a 5-3 win over Finland SHD Blue and a 4-3 win over Norway Selects in preliminary-round play.
To earn another match with Sweden SHD Blue in the final, they topped Norway 6-2 in the semifinals.
The Light Blue squad did it with balanced scoring, as Ludvig Westman was the only player to have more than a point per game; he finished with seven points in six games in the prelims. Filip Leijonhielm had six points, while Samuel Barthelson and William Olofsson had five apiece.
Yury Rodichev and Andrii Pyl split time between the pipes en route to the championship.
A pair of Sweden Blue skaters led the tournament in scoring, as Oscar Wennberg had 12 points in six games, and Filip Wahlen had 10. Norway’s Isak Bjorland also cracked the top five in scoring, registering seven points in six games.
Carl Johnsson and Vilmer Salen-Forsberg were outstanding between the pipes for Sweden Blue, as well — Johnsson finished with a .938 save percentage, and Forsberg had a .914.
The Czech Knights Gold squad got a wake-up call when they lost in the first round of the playoffs. After posting a perfect 5-0 mark in the preliminary round, they dropped a 5-4 battle to Finland SHD, but luckily for the Knights, they got a chance for redemption in Round 2.
There, they blanked the same Finland squad 7-0, and in the finals, they continued to roll, beating the Sweden SHD team 10-0.
The dominating performances in their final two games certainly represented the Knights’ trip to Paris; aside from the aforementioned loss to Finland, they were unstoppable all week.
In the preliminary round, they out-scored the competition 40-3 in their five games, beating Draftday Canada 6-1, ALPS SHD 16-0, the Czech Knights Black squad 8-0, Sweden SHD 5-1 and Finland 5-1.
Six of the top seven scorers in preliminary-round play were members of the Czech Gold squad. Denis Dobias led the field in scoring with 14 points in five games, while Jakub Milanic had 13, Nicholas Novak had 12 and Sven Stalder had 11. The lone player outside of the Czech Knights Gold team to crack the top seven was still a Czech skater; Czech Knights Black’s Erik Zahradnik had 11 points, as well.
Novak led the postseason in scoring with seven points in two games, while Dobias had six, which means that those two tied for the tournament overall scoring lead with 20 apiece in just seven games.
Sweden’s River Kallander posted some impressive numbers between the pipes, registering a 2.40 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in the five preliminary contests. August Uutela of Finland was right there with him, racking up a 2.67 goals-against and .909 save percentage.
As we’re sure you guessed from the numbers discussed above, Tobias Orechovsky of the Czech Gold team put up some remarkable stats, as well. He finished the prelims with a 0.60 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage.
Finland SHD Blue emerged victorious in a four-team field for the 2012 birth-year, topping Sweden SHD Blue in the last contest by a score of 6-2.
The 2012 birth-year featured a Finland SHD Blue squad, Sweden SHD Blue and Sweden SHD Yellow, and a Latvia SHD squad.
The Finland squad posted a 5-1 record in the preliminary rounds before recording a 13-0 win over Latvia in the semifinals, and the aforementioned final against Sweden in the championship.
Ashton Salts of Sweden Yellow and Robin Torkki of Finland Blue finished atop the scoring list with 16 points in six games apiece. Signar Klingzell of Sweden Blue had 15, while Neo Huang of Sweden Blue had 14, Liam Jarvinen of Finland had 13 and Mikael Saila of Finland had 12.
While the hockey world may be fired up for the rare summer edition of the Under-20 World Junior Championships coming up in August, there is also a pretty sizable international preseason tournament for bright, young stars that can’t be overlooked.
The 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup takes place July 31 through Aug. 6 in Red Deer, Alberta, as some of the world’s best Under-18 players converge on Canada.
It has had its share of different titles, debuting as the Phoenix Cup in 1991 in Yokohama and Sapporo, Japan. After three years there, it moved to Mexico City for one year, back to Japan in 1995 and then to Nelson and Castlegar, B.C., in 1996. In 1997, the tournament — by then called the Junior World Cup — moved to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where it first alternated between countries from 1997-2001 and then became a joint affair from 2002-17.
The tournament was renamed in honor of Ivan Hlinka, the Czech hockey legend who passed away after a car accident in 2004. When it moved back to Canada in 2018 (Edmonton and Alberta), it was renamed once again, this time the Hlinka Gretzky Cup to include none other than Wayne Gretzky.
In short, it’s the kick-off event for the players’ NHL Draft season, and it’s always worth a watch when you consider some of the players that have skated in the tournament.
It’s a who’s-who of Canadian hockey royalty on the alumni list – Paul Kariya played in the inaugural event, while Jerome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Sidney Crosby, Carey Price, Steven Stamkos, Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad and Alexis Lafreniere have represented their country at the event.
The international list is star-studded, as well, as the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Gabriel Landeskog, Tomas Plekanec, Teuvo Teravainen, Kirill Kaprizov and Mikko Rantanen are just some off the top.
The Americans, however, handle the tournament a little differently. The Hlinka Gretzky Cup for USA Hockey is the opportunity to get international experience and exposure for the players not playing for the National Team Development Program. Talented players are on every roster – Johnny Gaudreau, Mikey Anderson, Casey Mittelstadt, Kailer Yamamoto, Alex Nedeljkovic and Kyle Connor are some of the more recent – but it’s not exactly the ‘best-on-best’ you will see at the World Juniors.
Ironically, the other countries are being forced to adopt a little bit of the Americans’ strategy this go-round, since players who are going to be competing in the World Juniors later in the month won’t be expected to play in two tournaments. The biggest name to not be skating in the tournament is Connor Bedard, the projected No. 1 overall pick in next summer’s NHL Draft. He was on Team Canada’s roster for the canceled World Junior tournament last winter, and he’s not on the Hlinka Gretzky roster, so we’re expecting to see him in action in the U20 event later in the month. Adam Fantilli is not on Canada’s Hlinka Gretzky roster, either, but he is a late ’04 birth-year.
Slovakia’s Maxim Strabak and Dalibor Dvorsky are 2023 NHL Draft eligible players who were on their country’s World Junior rosters in the first go-round, as well; Dvorsky especially is appearing high on way-to-early mock drafts.
And while COVID-19 may not be impacting the tournament like it has the last few seasons (Canada didn’t play last year out of safety concerns), the continuing war in Ukraine has led to tournament organizers deciding to not invite Russia to the Hlinka Gretzky.
Star-power abounds, nonetheless, as we are excited to see Brayden Yager of Moose Jaw (WHL), Calum Richie of Oshawa (OHL) and Zach Benson of Winnipeg (WHL) lead a high-powered Team Canada offense. Theo Lindstein is one to watch out of Sweden, as is Eduard Sale of Czechia and Kasper Halttunen of Finland.