Premier early-season showcase for top U.S. teams
The USHL Fall Classic is quickly becoming a premiere early-season showcase for top teams across the United States.
This year’s edition certainly lived up to the hype, as 84 teams from the 14U, 15O, 16U and 18U age classifications converged on the greater Pittsburgh area for a massive tournament from Sept. 22-26.
Let’s take a look at which teams made September statements with tournament victories in front of a big contingent of junior and college scouts:
Windy City Storm takes 16U crown
There were 26 teams in the 16U field, and five of them appeared on the World Hockey Hub’s initial U.S. rankings for the 2022-23 season. The No. 7 Windy City Storm ‘06s have their case for a ratings bump after surviving a five-game gauntlet against top competition from Saturday through Monday in Pittsburgh.
The Storm claimed the 16U crown with a 3-2 victory over Detroit HoneyBaked in the finals Monday afternoon, capping a perfect 5-0 run through the tournament. With a three-game round-robin followed by semifinals and finals, the USHL Fall Classic requires a perfect weekend to take home hardware, and Windy City was the only team to pull off the feat the 2006 age group.
Windy City started things off with stiff competition, taking on Selects Academy Saturday afternoon and prevailing with a 3-2 win. Sunday featured two games with ranked opponents, and the Storm won them both, taking down No. 10 Little Caesars 6-2 in the morning before escaping No. 8 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite with a 4-3 win in the afternoon.
In the semifinals, they ran into the Rocky Mountain RoughRiders, and the Storm prevailed 3-2 – the same score as the finals showdown with HoneyBaked later in the day.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the Storm are off to a hot start on the season, as their line-up sheet has plenty of draftees at forward. Ihnat Pazii, a product of Kharkov, Ukraine, is a Tri-City Storm affiliate, who comes to Windy City after playing for the Anaheim Icedogs last season. Vermont’s James Chase joined the Storm after playing for the BK Selects last season; he’s a Tri-City Storm affiliate as well as a draftee of the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. Tommy Holtby, a returning forward for the Storm hailing from New York, was selected by the Fargo Force last spring, while fellow returnee Tyler Atchison of Nevada is property of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL.
On the blue line, Minnesota native Cade Kozak is a Sioux City Musketeers draftee who spent 2021-22 with the Green Bay Gamblers 15O team; Brandt Dubey is a New York product and property of the Tri-City Storm. Meanwhile, the Storm welcomed Alberta native Ryan Seeley into the fold this season – he spent last season with the Northern Alberta Xtreme U16 team and is a Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) draftee.
Little Caesars prevails in 15O Division
It was a major showcase weekend for the 2007 birth-year as their junior draft-eligible season gets underway. Twenty-two teams showed up in Pittsburgh for the USHL Fall Classic at the 15O division, and it was Little Caesars on top at the end of their three-day battle.
Ranked No. 5 in the country by WHH to start the season, LC lived up to the hype, winning games against other Top-10 teams in four of their five contests en route to the title.
They faced the hometown team to start things off on Thursday, and Caesars prevailed over the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 4-1. On Friday, they beat the No. 6 Bishop Kearney Selects 5-2, before shutting out the North Jersey Avs 7-0 in the afternoon.
In the semifinals, the Penguins got a rematch and an opportunity for revenge, but LC prevailed 4-3 once again. In the finals, it was more tough competition for the Detroit-based program, but they took care of business, topping No. 4 Mount St. Charles 4-1.
Pittsburgh Penguins Elite defend home ice in 14U
At the 14U age group, the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite successfully defended their home ice, winning the USHL Fall Classic title at the 2008 birth-year.
Making a case to move up in the rankings, the Penguins played two ranked foes in their five wins – taking care of crosstown rival Pittsburgh Vengeance 3-1 Friday night, and beating No. 10 Mount St. Charles in the final on Saturday afternoon.
South Kent captures 18U
Of the 20 teams competing in the 18U division, it was South Kent prevailing over them all in the oldest age group of the 2022 Fall Classic.
The Selects Academy squad, fresh off winning the USA Hockey national championship at the 16U level, won tight ones to start, beating Chicago Fury 4-2 and Windy City Storm 2-1.
From there, however, they didn’t allow a single goal, as South Kent registered a 3-0 win over the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes, then a 5-0 win over the Chicago Reapers in the semifinals, and a 3-0 win over Pittsburgh Penguins Elite in the finals.