Top American youth hockey teams begin ’22-23 season with showcase in Michigan
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!