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.
There’s one high school hockey tournament that captures the world’s attention.
You know the one.
The 2022 Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament played out in front of packed crowds at the Minnesota Wild’s Xcel Energy Center, with Hermantown High School capturing the 1A title and Andover High School capturing the 2A title.
The two schools earned state-wide bragging rights on March 12, with Hermantown taking on Warroad High School at noon, and Andover battling Maple Grove High School at 7 p.m.
Schools in Minnesota are split into two divisions — 1A and 2A, as noted above — based upon enrollment and geography, as determined by the Minnesota State High School League.
Plante Leads Hermantown
Every two years, they re-adjust their classifications to maximize competitive balance.
Junior forward Zam Plante — ranked No. 40 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting heading into this summer’s NHL Draft — led his Hermantown squad to victory with a pair of goals in a 3-2 win.
It was a family affair for the Plante family; Zam’s brother, Max Plante, is a sophomore who skates on the same line as his older sibling. The duo — sons of former NHLer Derek Plante — grew up watching their grandfather, Bruce Plante, routinely lead Hermantown to state finals appearances. It took a while for grandpa’s teams to prevail; Hermantown finally won titles in 2016 and 2017 in Bruce’s final two seasons.
“I’ve been watching it since I can remember, since my grandpa was coaching,” Zam Plante said via the MN Boys’ Hockey Hub. “Second place, second place, finally got two at the end. And to finally get to do it myself is the best feeling in the world.”
Plante, who has been splitting seasons between Minnesota High School Hockey and the USHL, racked up 61 points in 22 games this season with Hermantown, despite missing time with an injury.
Hermantown only lost two games all season, both coming to Class 2A schools that reached the state tournament in Cretin-Derham Hall and Maple Grove.
Dane Callaway led the way between the pipes for Hermantown, stopping 19 of the 21 shots sent his way. On the season, he recorded a 20-2-0 record, with a 1.47 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and five shutouts.
The victory wrapped up a dominating postseason for Hermantown; the Hawks won their three Section 7A games 13-0, 6-0 and 11-0 to secure their spot at Xcel Energy Center. There, they posted a 5-1 win in the Class A quarterfinal and a 7-1 win in the semifinal before Saturday’s championship bout.
Andover’s OT Thriller
The 2A title game, played in front of 18,950 fans, was a Saturday night thriller that needed two overtimes to decide a winner.
There, in that second extra period, senior forward Logan Gravink scored the biggest goal of the weekend, giving Andover a state title in a 6-5 double overtime win over Maple Grove.
“Lou Nanne came and talked to the boys and said this was the best hockey game he’s seen since 1969,” said Andover coach Mark Manney; Nanne has been the state tournament analyst since 1964. “It was fun on the bench and probably a great game to play in. Fortunately, we got the bounce and Logan finished it for us.”
Junior Gavyn Thoreson had quite the memorable goal, as well, as he forced OT by tying the game 5-5 with 1:50 left in regulation. Thoreson led Andover in scoring on the season, as he racked up 29 goals and 74 total points.
Austin Brauns was the leader from the crease for Andover throughout 2021-22 — he finished with a 22-5-1 record, 1.78 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and five shutouts.
Josh Giuliani did everything he could for Maple Grove; the senior forward scored a hat trick in the title game, a day after scoring a hat trick in the semifinals.
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It has went through different variations over the years, but the purpose has remained the same — promote some of the top American players hoping to be selected in the NHL Draft.
The BioSteel All-American Game, slated to take place at USA Hockey Arena on Jan. 17, brings together a collection of USHL players and members of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (USNTDP) for an all-star showcase event in front of scouts and media alike.
What was first a September game known as the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game played at NHL arenas, USA Hockey moved the event to the middle of the season and to its home in Plymouth, Michigan. Originally pitting the NTDP vs. a USHL all-star game, organizers have aimed to increase balance by splitting up the NTDP players, so both teams have the same dynamics of players skating alongside foreign teammates.
For the 2022 edition of the BioSteel game, the majority of the Team Blue and Team White rosters are made up of the top 2004 birth-year players eligible for the upcoming 2022 NHL Draft. USA Hockey also promotes elder statesmen still hoping for an NHL team to call their name on the second or third time through the draft process.
Forty-four players are on the initial rosters; they represent 20 different states. Minnesota leads the way with 11 players selected. Twenty of the players currently play for the NTDP, while two alums are suiting up, as well.
For our latest ‘Origins’ story, we’re taking a look at the 22 players who have made the BioSteel game rosters without playing for the NTDP (at least in a full-time capacity). The flagship program may be a top-tier destination for youth players trying to advance to hockey’s highest levels, but it’s not the only path. The USHL offers great opportunities for players, and this particular roster collection shows all the different ways to reach American junior hockey’s highest league.
The 22 players come from all over the continental United States; the collection reflects hockey’s expanding footprint into previously untapped areas like California, Arizona and Texas.
To see the full rosters for the game, click here.
Ten of the 22 are 2004 birth-year players preparing for their first NHL Draft opportunity. Eight are 2003 birth-year players, which means they were passed by in the 2021 draft, or their birthday came after the Sept. 15 cut-off date. The other four are 2002 birth-year players, with their last chance at being drafted.
Every single player played AAA hockey, while 11 played in some form of high school hockey. In Minnesota, high school hockey reigns supreme, while in other states, players are able to compete for their high schools alongside playing for AAA programs. Michigan is the lone state of the traditional hockey hotbed states to prohibit such dual-rostering.
World Hockey Hub also took a closer look at some of the major tournaments and showcases the players participated in during their formative years, as there’s always a debate as to what a player should and shouldn’t be doing to maximize their development.
Ten of the 22 players skating in the BioSteel game competed in the Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament in their respective birth-years. Five, meanwhile, played in the Brick Tournament in Edmonton. Those statistics are based off each player’s Elite Prospects page – it’s certainly possible that there were more.
Twelve of the 22 competed in the World Selects Invitational tournament series, billed as the top spring event for elite hockey players.
Meanwhile, the numbers also show the importance of the players excelling in their state or USA Hockey region to secure a spot at the USA Hockey Select Camps each summer. Eighteen of the 22 players have skated in at least one of the national camps to train with USA Hockey’s best, and gain important exposure with national teams and scouts.
Nine of the players were selected to compete for Team USA at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup; USA Hockey uses the their Select 17 camp to select their roster for the prestigious early-season tournament.
Top 2004 birth-year players to watch from the non-NTDP group include defenseman Vinny Borgesi and forward Zam Plante; both ranked in the top 20 in the country by PuckPreps.
Borgesi is no stranger to most of the highly-regarded players in the birth year after playing for Team USA at the Youth Olympic Games in 2019-2020 with a substantial amount of the NTDP ’04 group. After playing for Team Comcast and the Valley Forge Minutemen at the 13U and 14U age groups, Borgesi played one year at South Kent Selects Academy before making the jump to the USHL with the Tri-City Storm.
Plante, meanwhile, has been on the Minnesota elite hockey route for a while now, thriving in the AAA world and skating in the prestigious Upper Midwest High School Elite League around his high school hockey season with Hermantown High. This year, he played the start of the season with the USHL’s Chicago Steel before returning to Hermantown for his senior year of high school hockey – another testament to the skill level and dedication on display for the State of Hockey’s high school hockey scene.
The BioSteel game is a tremendous opportunity for the players, as the alumni list for the various incarnations of the game reads like a fantasy hockey wishlist. Last year, the game featured first-round picks in Matty Beniers, Cole Sillinger, Matt Coronato, Chaz Lucius and Mackie Samoskevich. Previous rosters are even more intimidating, with names like Seth Jones, Dylan Larkin, Alex Tuch, Jack Eichel, Zach Werenski, Kyle Connor, Clayton Keller, Josh Norris, Brady Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes, Jack Hughes, Trevor Zegras and more.
With the province of Ontario entering a lockdown reminiscent of the initial COVID-19 wave in 2020, Canada’s largest hockey league has hit pause once again.
The Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) officially announced a halt in operations Monday, following the announcement from the Ontario government that youth hockey — like most everything else — would be put on the shelves until further notice.
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is sweeping through North America and causing another round of disruptions for normal activities in the youth hockey community.
Per the Government of Ontario’s new temporary restrictions, the province moves to a ‘Stage Two of the Roadmap to Reopen’ plan. That means indoor sports are paused for a period of at least 21 days beginning on Jan. 5 at 12:01 a.m. Indoor sports facilities are closed until at least Jan. 26.
Similar lockdown measures are being enforced in British Columbia and Quebec, the latter of which has a strict 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. complete curfew.
An ominous photo of hockey nets padlocked together on an outdoor rink in Quebec has been making the rounds on social media as a statement about the severity of the lockdown.
The Quebec government has locked together hockey goals to prevent children from playing outdoor hockey. pic.twitter.com/7XyF0sPFyq— Marie Oakes (@TheMarieOakes) January 2, 2022
The GTHL Top Prospects Game, originally scheduled to take place on Jan. 13, has been postponed, and a new date will be announced when the lockdown measures are lifted.
The Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic, an annual tournament that brings top talent from both Canada and the U.S. together, was a recent casualty, as well.
No official word yet on the status of the Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament; the iconic event was slated to proceed as usual after some heavy lifting by tournament organizers to secure fully vaccinated teams from six different countries.
“As we continue with our provincial vaccine booster efforts, we must look at every option to slow the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant,” Ontario premier Doug Ford said in the official release from the province announcing the new policies. “Putting these targeted and time-limited measures in place will give us more opportunity to deliver vaccines to all Ontarians and ensure everyone has maximum protection against this virus.”
Canadian youth hockey players lost the entire 2020-21 hockey season, and the hope was that it would be the only time a youth hockey generation would have to experience something so drastic. With the IIHF World Junior Championship canceled, NHL games being postponed, it’s hard to know when Canadian hockey players will be able to get back onto the ice, but we hope it will be as soon as possible.
It’s become one of the premiere youth hockey events of the fall – and that’s even without who else is in the building.
The United States Hockey League (USHL) Fall Classic marks the opening weekend of the country’s top junior league. It also brings top youth hockey teams from across the United States to the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Pittsburgh, Pa., for a weekend tournament that runs in conjunction with the USHL’s first games of the season.
All of the USHL member clubs play a pair of games to kick off their respective seasons in the same building as the youth tournament, which means a scouting bonanza for both the youth and junior levels of play.
“The Fall Classic has become a top-tier hockey event in the United States for scouts and fans alike,” said former USHL President and Commissioner Tom Garrity at the time of the announcement that the showcase would return in 2021. “With all 16 USHL teams in attendance, and a plethora of youth teams, scouts from every level of hockey and every type of hockey fan will find something to interest them at this event. Our partnership with the Pittsburgh Penguins for this event is always top notch and we anticipate another amazing event to kick off next season.”
This unique event offers an exclusive opportunity for youth hockey players to experience and learn about the USHL, which represents the best of American junior hockey. Geographically, though, it is contained primarily in the midwest region of the country. Players from the likes of Florida or California rarely get to see a USHL contest up close, but at the UPMC this upcoming weekend, they get to see the entire league in action in between their own games.
Along the same lines, the leadership for USHL clubs get a great look at a whole bunch of talented youngsters. That’s one of the obvious reasons that highly-ranked programs seek out the USHL Fall Classic, and the 2021 edition of the event — after a one-year hiatus — features some elite competition. A total of 86 youth teams will be arriving in Pittsburgh this week; 18 at the 14U level, 22 at the 15U level, 26 at the 16U level and 20 at the 18U level.
At each age group, there is top-level talent, too. In 14U play, scouts will get an early look at a 2007 birth-year class with such teams as the World Hockey Hub’s No. 4-ranked Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and No. 6 Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers.
In the 15U age group, teams will get a crack at the No. 2, No. 6 and No. 10-ranked squads. The No. 2 Bishop Kearney Selects, fresh off putting on a clinic at the Minnesota Blades Fall Showcase last weekend, arrive in Pittsburgh with a substantial amount of momentum. Meanwhile, the No. 6 Northeast Wisconsin Jr. Gamblers and the No. 10 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite will be looking to make statements of their own.
The 16U group is just as, if not more, loaded. Five top-ten teams will suit up at the UPMC: No. 2 Compuware, No. 4 Florida Alliance, No. 6 Team Wisconsin, No. 7 Windy City Storm and No. 10 New Jersey Avalanche. With the changes in college hockey recruiting rules that reined in early commitments, the ’05 class will be even more hungry to impress the coaches and scouts in attendance.
The players will also get to see just some plain and simple great hockey when they’re not worrying about their own games, too. The USHL is the main gateway to college hockey for a reason. For more information regarding the USHL Fall Classic, click HERE.
When the Minnesota Blades bring together some of the most notable programs in the country, it gives the youth hockey community an early measuring stick to see how top teams stack up at the start of the season.
The annual Minnesota Blades Fall Showcase brought in 14U, 15O, 16U and 18U teams to the Brooklyn Park Ice Arena in Minneapolis. While most of the teams were still finding their sea legs with both bright spots and blunders this early in the season, a few took advantage of the opportunity to solidify themselves as contenders for national supremacy.
At the 15U level, Bishop Kearney continued its early-season dominance. Fresh off winning the Eastern Alliance Kick-Off, BK posted an impressive 4-0 record over the weekend. Ranked the No. 2 team in the 2006 birth-year in our preseason rankings, and No. 6 world-wide, BK Selects have already compiled a very impressive resume.
They started with a 7-0 shutout victory over Team Wisconsin to open their showcase schedule in style on Thursday, and they never slowed down. Then, BK went on to beat Detroit Little Caesars 6-4 Friday and topped the host team Blades 5-4 on Saturday. Before heading home to New York on Sunday, they polished off a perfect weekend with a 5-2 victory over No. 4-ranked Chicago Mission.
Bishop Kearney’s Christian Humphreys made our list of top 2006 birth-year players last year, and he’s picking up right where he left off. Meanwhile, the Selects have a goaltending tandem of Patrick Curtatone and Jackson Silverberg that should have the BK program feeling confident for the remainder of the 2021-22 youth hockey season.
The showcase opener for the 15s was a battle of in-state powers, as the Blades started things off with a bang against a Shattuck-St. Mary’s team that won the 14U national championship a season ago. The All-Minnesota battle went the Blades’ way, as the host team prevailed 3-2.
And while Chicago Mission fell to Bishop Kearney in the final day, it was the 15O squad’s only loss on the weekend. On Thursday, they beat Little Caesars 6-5 and on Friday, they took care of Team Wisconsin 5-3. Saturday’s matchup was a convincing 4-0 victory over Florida Alliance to give Mission a three-win weekend.
The 16U age group was a star-studded affair, as well. Six of the eight teams participating in the showcase appeared on our preseason rankings: No. 1 Detroit HoneyBaked, No. 3 Chicago Mission, No. 4 Florida Alliance, No. 5 Shattuck-St. Mary’s, No. 6 Team Wisconsin and No. 7 Windy City Storm.
Unfazed by the status of their counterparts, the Minnesota Blades made sure to establish themselves in the conversation with three straight wins to begin the weekend. The Blades took down Shattuck 4-3, then shut out Little Caesars the next day. And on Saturday, they recorded a dominating 7-1 win over defending national champion HoneyBaked to put an exclamation mark on their weekend.
It’s a full roster of names to keep an eye on, but two to highlight are forwards Cam Briere and Simon Seidl. Briere, a dual citizen, was playing for the Nashville Jr. Predators before making the move north to Michigan, and he’s already made a verbal commitment to Nebraska-Omaha. Seidl, meanwhile, is the younger of two brothers who were adopted and brought stateside from the Democratic Republic of the Congo a decade ago. Seidl and his brother, Sawyer, have been profiled by the likes of NHL.com and NBC Sports for their on-ice talents and unique background. Simon is a 2006-born forward who played up an age group this weekend for the Blades’ 16U squad.
World Hockey Hub will have continued coverage of the 16U, 15O and 14U age groups in the U.S., as well as worldwide content throughout the entire 2021-22 season. Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook for the latest news from the world of youth hockey.
More than 250 teams are set to converge on metro Detroit for the 2020 CCM World Invite Motown, with tons of top-tier talent and big-time matchups. There are plenty of primetime matchups between Top-10 teams scheduled during the first two days of the tournament, and we’ve spotlighted the four biggest ones. Preview this weekend’s games and get our picks for who wins in Detroit.
The ’09s headline the biggest matchups of the tournament, beginning with No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite versus No. 7 Chicago Young Americans. CYA took the first meeting 3-1 few weeks back, but I think PPE gets some redemption here, with a power-play goal or two and this feels like a 4-2 final to me in favor of Pittsburgh.
Another big matchup in that division is No. 3 Highland Park against No. 5 Little Caesars on Friday at 4:30 p.m.
This is another rematch here, H.P. outscored Caesars 6-4 back in September and I think it’s going to be high scoring again. I don’t know that the Falcons can beat Caesars a second time though, so we’ll take the hometown team to even the season series.
One more ’09 matchup, this one on Saturday morning between No. 8 Jr. Flyers and last year’s No. 5 Chicago Mission. Two relative unknowns so far in 2020; Mission hasn’t seen much action at all and the Jr. Flyers haven’t faced real tough competition yet. We’ll roll the dice a bit with Chicago 4-1 in this one.
The 2007 Division has a monster matchup between top-ranked Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and No. 5 Little Caesars on Saturday morning. These two teams played a three-game series at the beginning of this month in Ohio, where PPE scored a total of 18 goals in those contests. I think Caesars keeps it closer, but the Pens are just too much at the end of the day. I’ll take Pittsburgh 5-2 over LC.
In addition to that, we’ve got predictions for Sunday and who wins the championship across all nine elite divisions:
2010: Chicago Mission
2009: Little Caesars
2008: Chicago Fury
2007: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite
2005: Little Caesars
2004: Chicago Mission
02-03: Belle Tire
Who do you got? Make your picks and tell us who’s gonna win on Twitter.