Understanding the mental side of hockey and training
Skating coaches. Skills coaches. Strength coaches. Goalie coaches.
There’s an instructor that specializes in every physical aspect of the game. But what about, arguably the most important phase, the mental game?
Vince Malts has been a mental performance coach for nearly a decade. His company, Bloodline Hockey, has worked with highly committed youth, junior, college and professional athletes around the world to improve their mental capabilities in on-ice performance.
Malts was raised in the sport, playing AAA hockey in his youth before going onto the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He was eventually selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1998 NHL entry draft, and enjoyed a seven-year professional career playing in the U.S. and Europe. Malts has since moved on, giving back to the game that gave him so much, serving as both a head coach and assistant coach at junior-A, midget minor and midget major levels as well as scouting as an evaluator.
Most recently, he was hired by the Chicago Blackhawks to serve as the organization’s mindset performance manager.
“I also worked with Selects Hockey for over a decade, where I had the opportunity to spend my offseasons with some of the best up-and-coming players in the world, who are now in the NHL,” he said. “I have learned and been obsessed with the high-performing culture of hockey my entire life. My teaching journey is rooted in one fundamental question… ‘What is the easiest and most effective way to teach players how to sustain their best performance every day?’ This question keeps me pretty busy, and I have a ways to go before we figure out the answer for all high-performing hockey players out there.”
Mental performance training, Malts said, is more about learning how to create and sustain what he calls ‘mental solutions.’ In a world full of so much information and noise in the high performance world, it’s very important to develop and adapt mental strategies for your own game. Just like certain exercises and movements strengthen muscles in the gym, Malts’ approach purposefully works the mind. This focuses on what makes each player a valuable performer, and making them mentally stronger.
E-A-R-N, because you can’t fake ACTION
Effort, Attention, Repetition, Noticeable. E-A-R-N is an acronym that Malts developed while working as a scout for the Victoriaville Tigres in the QMJHL.
“I wanted to create something that looked past the usual assessment of skating, passing, shooting, puck handling, game sense, etc., I wanted to see the player’s natural and instinctive actions and tendencies first,” said Malts. “Every high-level player has the basic skill sets down today but, what makes a player stand out are the actions you simply can’t fake.”
On the scouting trails, Malts went from rink to rink watching player after player, with very little separating 15-year-old kids from becoming a CHL first-round pick as opposed to travel hockey burnouts. What he was searching for at the time was to simply read the natural habits and behaviors of the player under pressure. At a certain point, the competition level is so close and the difference in skill levels so small, that the factors separating one player from another have very little to do with tangible hockey plays. However, there is a wealth of information in a player’s performance when simply observing their instinctive actions and habitual behaviors.
What does that mean?
Well, toe drags, long skating strides and picking corners of the net are fantastic! But is a player capable of fancy stick moves when a defender is in their personal space? Is a pretty skater as clean when an opponent is barreling down on them? Can you hit your mark when the puck is in your feet? This led to Malts’ development of E-A-R-N.
“If we show consistent EFFORT when we play, it proves to spectators that we genuinely care about what we’re doing, and showcases the amount of concentrated time we’ve invested into developing our performance.”
Effort tells so much about a player. Effort instantly exposes two fundamental — emphasis on mental — characteristics of the same coin.
- How much a player cares
- How much a player works
“If I’m showing effort when I play or practice, it shows I genuinely care about what I’m doing, and it proves the amount of work I’ve put in,” said Malts. “The moment a player starts to care more about the line they are on, or the amount of points they have, or who the coach likes more, or how they need an advisor to help them, they’ve lost sight of the actions that matter most for their performance success, and it shows in the consistency and sustainability of their play.”
Effort is about controlling the controllables. Line combinations, advisors, prospect rankings, etc., are outside the athlete’s control. What is achievable every time a player steps on the ice is their effort and how hard they work drill to drill, practice to practice, game to game. Control what you can control and everything else will work itself out. Players who have consistently put in purposeful and concentrated effort look a lot different than most players who have not.
“What we pay ATTENTION to in the game shows everyone watching whether we have the ability to consistently sustain focus and concentration on what we need to succeed, or not.”
The mind can cognitively pay attention to roughly seven signals of information per second. This means that in an average 40-second shift, a player could potentially concentrate on as many as 280 signals of information. So, of those 280ish signals, what is the athlete keying in on? The way they play the game indicates what the player believes is important. Some basic examples would be responses to bad or missed penalty calls, failed scoring attempts and missed passes.
“What you pay attention in the game tells us what YOU BELIEVE is most important and valuable to give your attentiveness to,” said Malts. “If you’re giving something attention, this means this is what you have learned, or taught yourself to believe is important to you. It’s deeper than simply caring about something.”
Humans are creatures of habit. By watching the instinctive actions a player takes in the game, even the average hockey fan can key in on what the skater consistently gives their attention to.”
“The more REPETITION we see in a player’s behavior and actions, the more we feel we can trust this player to do what we know they can do in key situations for the team.”
Trust is one of the most important values in hockey and life. Whatever you do well, do it consistently. Good first-pass guy? Make a firm breakout pass every time. Heavy forechecker? Be the aggressor on every shift. Coaches lean heavily on consistency and when a player repeatedly makes smart plays in a certain aspect of the game, it builds confidence and reliability.
If Player Z religiously blocks shots and clogs up shooting lanes throughout practices and games, Coach A will feel very comfortable putting that player on the ice while protecting a one-goal lead. Player Z has made shot-blocking a repetitive behavior and is something they do regularly, so Coach A can play that player confidently knowing that they will continue to block shots and sacrifice their body.
“If we want to be remembered, we have to do something that is unique to the group.”
What type of effort is noticeable? What makes each player unique? It is important to identify what makes your game unique and what sets you apart from the rest. Every player is unique and no two players truly excel at the exact same thing… unless your last name is Sedin and you were drafted by Vancouver.
“If we want to be remembered, we have to do something that is unique to the group,” Malts said. “If no one is back-checking hard, and I am, people will notice. If no one is consistently going to the net, and I am, people will notice. If no one is battling for pucks, and I am, people will notice.”
Some will be noticed for elite scoring abilities, others will be noticed for crazy work ethic in pursuit of the puck. What some players fall victim to is when a grinder attempts to be a goal scorer, or a goal scorer tries throwing their weight around. Dolphins and Eagles both eat fish, but catch them in very different, unique ways. If a dolphin tries to fly or an eagle attempts to swim, they both will fail miserably. Find what makes you noticeable and go catch a fish.
Malts has done significant research and learning into the understanding of mental training and how to improve a player’s performance. For more from Malts, learn about Bloodline Hockey and how you can get involved, follow on Instagram.
USA Hockey’s National Champions
Four champions were crowned following the conclusion of USA Hockey’s national tournament. The six-day event took place across the 18U, 16U, 15O and 14U Tier-I age groups in two separate U.S. states. With more than 60 teams participating in 124 games, a season that began in early September finally reached its conclusion with the championship games on Monday.
The finale of the USA Hockey youth season proved to be a competitive display of talent amongst the top teams in the country. Maryland Heights, Missouri, and Dallas, Texas, collaborated to host teams from all four corners of the country including Alaska, Southern California, New England as well as Florida, and everyone in between. It’s fitting that all four boys Tier-I champs stemmed from four different USA Hockey Districts.
The No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the world were appropriately featured in the 14U finale. Shattuck-St. Mary’s had been a mainstay among top ‘06 teams all season long with high-profile prospects like Cole Eiserman, Mack Celebrini and Aidan Park. The Sabres had lost just one game all season long, and cruised their way through the national tournament out-scoring opponents 38-6 through five games.
Upstart program Bishop Kearney quickly climbed the world rankings in its first season, competing for the top spot and becoming a mainstay in the Top 10. BK came into the championship game on an 18-0-2 run that dated all the way back to February, and top prospect Christian Humphreys was among the tournament’s leading scorers. The team’s last defeat? An 8-3 drubbing at the hands of none other than Shattuck.
The rematch proved to be every bit of a heavyweight fight, with both teams flying out of the gate. Shattuck got out to a quick lead as anticipated, but every time the Sabres got out in front, BK was quick to respond and draw back to even. First, at 1-1 and then again at 2-2, as the game went to the third period in a deadlock. Two power-play goals from SSM’s two biggest contributors, first from Mack Celebrini and then by Cole Eiserman would open the floodgates. A 3-2 lead turned to 4-2, 4-2 climbed to 5-2. By the time the clock hit zeroes, Shattuck had finished its dominant season with one more dominant showing in the form of a 7-2 final.
Five of the six playoff games that led up to the HoneyBaked-Florida Alliance championship matchup were decided by just one goal, and four of those were decided by way of overtime or a shootout. The 15-only tournament was truly about who could survive and advance long enough to be the last one standing at the finish.
Florida and HB had split a pair of games during the regular season, and after being paired together in pool play, skated to a 2-1 shootout finish. Both teams arrived at the championship thanks in large part to shut-down defense, as Florida allowed a the third fewest goals in the tournament with nine, and HoneyBaked was second with eight goals against.
Surprisingly, an offensive explosion would determine a 15O champion, as HoneyBaked — propelled by a three-goal first period — stormed to a 6-3 championship win over Florida Alliance.
By the numbers, no other division was closer in terms of competitiveness than the 16U age group. 17 of the 31 games in the tournament were decided by just one goal. The North Jersey Avalanche and Colorado Thunderbirds accounted for five of those games and both needed overtime wins in the playoffs just to make it to the title game.
The Avs came in as the likely favorite, sitting atop the world rankings. However, Colorado was the one victorious when the two teams met in pool play, and won convincingly 5-2 last Thursday. Not only that, but Jack O’Rourke’s goal less than two minutes into the second period of the title game made it look like the Thunderbirds had another upset in the works.
It took almost 26 minutes of game action before top prospect Nicholas Mondenhauer made his mark for North Jersey, but once he did, the surge was on. His power-play goal was the tipping point for the Avs, as the tournament’s leading scorer Quentin Musty added two more goals from there, and Peter Klemm set up three goals as well. That snowballed into the Avalanche cruised to a dominating 5-1 victory and 16U national championship.
Other USA Hockey National Champions
18U Tier-I Boys: Rochester Coalition 4-2 over North Jersey Avalanche
19U Tier-I Girls: Chicago Mission 4-1 over Bishop Kearney Selects
16U Tier-I Girls: Little Caesars 5-2 over Minnesota Elite Vegas
14U Tier-I Girls: Chicago Mission 2-1 over Minnesota Green Giants
Want more from the world of youth hockey? Check out the latest news, updates, events and more HERE.
Survive and Advance Through USAH Nationals
Pool play at the 2021 USA Hockey Nationals concluded on Friday evening. A field that began with 16 teams at each age group on Wednesday has been whittled down to just eight. The top two teams from each of the four pools proceed to the elimination rounds slated to begin on Saturday morning and we’ve got complete bracketology of the remaining teams at the 14U, 15O and 16U Tier-I tournaments.
14U USA Hockey Nationals Tier-I Bracket of Eight
It’s Shattuck-St. Mary’s and then everyone else. Basically how it’s been all season long, as the Sabres lost just one game in their 47-game slate. Shattuck continued to dominate through pool play, going 3-0 and compiling a plus-25 goal differential. We wrote on Tuesday that this ‘06 squad may very well be the pound-for-pound best youth hockey team in the world this season, and there’s no reason to think any different after pool play.
Mount St. Charles could slow them down a touch in the semifinals with a choppy, grind ‘em out type of game. However, there’s no stopping Shattuck’s top line of Cole Eiserman, Mack Celebrini and Brodie Ziemer, as they’ve combined for 12 goals in the tournament. Bishop Kearney may be able to trade offensive blows with SSM, but getting to that title game will certainly be an uphill climb, with a major challenge in the semifinals.
15O USA Hockey Nationals Tier-I Bracket of Eight
As assured as the 14s seem, the 15s are equally unpredictable. Both championship picks above could easily be eliminated in the first round. Similarly, CYA and Compuware might just as well make championship runs of their own. Mission has been the top team all season long, so it’s another chalky pick to the final. They’ve beaten every team on their side of the bracket but an all-Chicago semifinal would provide for some fantastic cross-town drama.
On the other side, Mid-Fairfield continues to be white hot. A balanced offensive attack of 1a and 1b forward lines, plus good depth players up front, and the Jr. Rangers overwhelm opponents with a relentless wave after wave of pressure. Brian Nicholas, Logan Renkowski, Salvatore Guzzo and Aram Minnetian are at the forefront of a team that’s playing the right way at the right time, destined for a championship.
16U USA Hockey Nationals Tier-I Bracket of Eight
Lots of big names and high-profile teams in the 16U tournament of eight. Division-I commits… USHL Draft picks… there’s no shortage of star power here.
The Oakland Jr. Grizzlies were nearly left out of Nationals completely, if not for an improbable run to earn an automatic bid into the tournament. That momentum continued into pool play this week, as they went 3-0 against three opponents that all ranked higher than OJG at the beginning of the event. They can’t be counted out anymore and after that impressive showing in pool play, should be considered a strong Cinderella story candidate. The Jr. Grizzlies won’t razzle dazzle or mesmerize opponents, but the group wins by being responsible defensively and capitalizing on its opportunities. They’ve won seven straight one-goal games as a team that refuses to go away.
As great of a run as OJG is on, expect the winner of the 16U tournament to come from the opposite half of the bracket. North Jersey is the pick here, as Mick Thompson and Quentin Musty have put together big performances alongside the Avs’ top star Nicholas Moldenhauer. However, Bishop Kearney and HoneyBaked are both just as charged up with top-end kids playing at their best. Andrew Delladonna has a goal in every game of the tournament for BK, and HB has had 12 different players record a point.
Favorites, Sleepers and Predictions for USA Hockey Nationals
This is it. An entire season of training, practice, competition and development culminates this week with 16 teams in pursuit of a national championship. We key in on three primary age groups at the Tier-I level, with the 16U, 15O and 14U brackets. A quest that began more than eight months ago in the midst of one of the most unusual youth hockey seasons on record, comes to a head over the next six days.
With representatives from across the United States, only one will earn the right to end their season with a win, and the title of national champion. Each age group is broken down into four pools of four teams that will compete in-pool, round-robin style. After that, the top two teams from each pool advance to a single-elimination bracket that will ultimately decide a champ. We offer up one favorite capable of not just winning its pool, but also the whole thing. Likewise, one unsuspecting sleeper that can make a legit push to win the 2021 national title as well.
TIER-I 16U Division
FAVORITE: Shattuck-St. Mary’s
One of the top teams in the world all season long — currently No. 2 in our latest rankings — Shattuck is headlined by a dynamic group of forwards up front. Anthony Yu leads the team in scoring with 22 goals and 59 points in 44 games, and 2005-birth year Edmonton native Gracyn Sawchyn is second with 58 points. With a 35-4-5 record, Shattuck is the top-seeded team in the USA Pool and has only been defeated twice since the New Year. They can out-score opponents getting up and down the ice in an 8-6 track meet, or clog up the middle, limit shots and claw out a low-scoring 2-1 naitbiter.
SLEEPER: Seacoast Performance Academy
All gas, no brakes. When the Spartans are on, they are difficult for anyone to keep up with. Putting the pedal to the metal can have consequences too though, as SPA needed an at-large bid to qualify for the tournament after crashing and burning in Districts. They’ve played 10 of the 15 other teams in the national tournament field and beaten nine of them. Seacoast has proven they can not just compete with, but beat the best teams in the field. The question is, can they do it consistently on the game’s biggest stage?
FAVORITE: North Jersey Avalanche
The number one team in the world according to our latest rankings. The Avs boast a 16-6-1 record against fellow national-bound teams. Canadian import forward Nicholas Moldenhauer scored 15 goals and 33 points in 13 Atlantic Youth Hockey League (AYHL) games this season according to Elite Prospects. Aside from a well-balanced offense, North Jersey is tough to score on. The Atlantic District champion has allowed zero, one or two goals against 39 times this season, allowing three-or-more goals just once in its last 18 games.
SLEEPER: Fox Motors
Earlier in the season, Fox thoroughly handled fellow Olympic Pool members Colorado Thunderbirds (5-0) and Nashville Jr. Predators (5-0). They should be considered the favorite in every round-robin game with the exception of the Avalanche mentioned above, and if they can survive pool play, Fox will present a difficult challenge for anyone in the Quarterfinals and beyond. This is a group that went 16-1-0 in October and November, and if guys like Cole Knuble get a sniff of confidence in pool play, opponents will be on upset alert in Missouri.
FAVORITE: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite
They started the season on a 14-1-0 run and finished 8-2-0, claiming an automatic bid by winning the Mid-American District. The Pens have been one of the hottest 2004-born teams all season long and have 12 wins in 19 games against fellow national-bound teams. While North Jersey ranks ahead of them, PPE maintains a 2-1-1 head-to-head record this season. After pool play, the Pens could certainly be considered the favorite in single-elimination action, having already beaten most of the teams they could see at that stage.
SLEEPER: Northeast Wisconsin Jr. Gamblers
“WhAt AbOuT HoNeYbAkEd?!” The boys from Detroit are hardly a ‘sleeper’ as a Top-5 team in the country with a fistful of D-I commits. The Junior Gamblers, however, are your prototypical, fly-under-the-radar, upset city pick. Despite being one of the lowest ranked teams among the 16 in the tournament, they’ve played some of the favorites extremely tough, including HoneyBaked, taking them to overtime once and then a 5-5 tie last month. They were also one of just four teams this season to defeat Shattuck outright. Don’t bet your mortgage on NEW, but it would make for an interesting futures pick with great odds.
FAVORITE: Bishop Kearney Selects
What a fantastic story in year one of the program for Bishop Kearney, qualifying for Nationals at the 16U and 14U age groups. Nobody is satisfied with just making it to the party, though, and BK should be considered an outside favorite to win the whole thing in its rookie campaign. Pool play could be a little scary, being that they’ve only played one game total this season against their three opponents; a 4-3 overtime loss to Mount St. Charles. Whatever they lack in familiarity, BK makes up for it with a well-rounded and balanced attack with Ryan Conmy, Michael Kadlecik and Tyler Stern at the forefront.
SLEEPER: Oakland Jr. Grizzlies
The Michigan District champion after upsetting HoneyBaked in the semifinals and Fox in the championship; OJG has been playing playoff-style, desperation hockey for a few weeks now. Nothing is scarier than a hot team, and the Grizzlies wouldn’t be here if not for that survive-and-advance mentality. A ‘From the First Four to the Final Four’ type of group you see in March Madness. Nine different scorers have produced double-digit goals according to Elite Prospects, and Travis Bryson leads the way with 30 in 46 games.
TIER-I 15O Division
FAVORITE: Chicago Mission
The No. 2 team in the world according to our latest rankings, Mission headlines a 2005-born age group where the margin between teams is razor thin. The 15s are a volatile age group, which should make for some very exciting and unpredictable hockey. Mission has wins over No. 2 HoneyBaked, No. 3 Compuware, No. 4 Mid-Fairfield and No. 5 Shattuck, all coming after the New Year. They also have losses to three of those four teams in that same period of time, but expect Chicago to thrive in pool play and make a strong push at the title by Monday.
SLEEPER: Buffalo Jr. Sabres
The Sabres qualified after winning the New York District championship, and have only played eight games against national bound teams. Their record in those games is just 4-4, with all four victories coming against PPE. Expect the Sabres to top Sioux Falls in pool play, and then all it will take is an upset over Shattuck or Chicago to advance Buffalo to the elimination rounds. Can Cooper Rautenstrauch be good enough in net to steal one for the Sabres?
FAVORITE: Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers
Of the favorites in the field, none are hotter right now than MFJR. A shootout win over No. 10 Mount St. Charles punched their ticket to nationals. Their top is as good as anyone in the field with forwards Ryan Fine, Sal Guzzo and Brian Nicholas, as well as defensemen Drew Fortescue, Aram Minnetian and Lucas St. Louis. The NJ Avs are the only team that should put up any resistance in pool play, and that’s because the two teams split a four-game series in the regular season. A hot team with a favorable draw is a recipe for a playoff run.
SLEEPER: North Jersey Avalanche
These two teams feel like locks for the Quarterfinals when looking at the Olympic Pool teams and their respective bodies of work. Certainly, Team Alaska or Team Wisconsin could play spoiler, but it seems like an outlier of an outcome. Should the Avs survive and advance, they do have a history of playing top teams extremely close, including a 2-1 loss to No. 1 Chicago Mission and a 6-5 overtime loss to No. 4 MFJR. Brady Silverman and Pasha Baranchik would have to find a way to get North Jersey over the hump and win those close games, though.
Nobody’s won more games against tougher competition than HoneyBaked with 42 in 59 regular-season games. They’re battle tested too, with one-third of those games against fellow national bound teams. Forward Charlie Cerrato, defenseman Zach Schulz and goaltender Trey Augustine were all invited to the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) Evaluation Camp next month, according to the New England Hockey Journal. All three are considered top players at the position and have the potential to carry HB to a title.
SLEEPER: Mount St. Charles
Every name in the NHL Pool could make a case to advance to the elimination rounds. It’s a tough quartet of teams. Mount St. Charles tied HoneyBaked 2-2 in February, and then tied PPE 2-2 a month later. Ties ain’t gonna fly this time around though, and something’s got to give in pool play. Good offensive depth up front should give Mount enough ammunition to outlast at least two of the three teams it’ll see early on. Can forwards Tanner Adams and Christian Venticinque be the straws that stir the drink on a brack-busting run?
The one team that poses a threat to Compuware in this group-of-four is an opponent that they’ve already beaten five times this season. Compuware and CYA played six times in the span of six weeks, and then a final matchup in February, so the odds of this Michigan-based program advancing to the bracket of eight are pretty high. After that though, it could get dicey, with only an 8-8-1 record against out-of-pool opponents. Forwards Michael Burchill, Josh Diegel and Thomas Neu will have to provide a jump up front and create offense.
SLEEPER: Chicago Young Americans
Jeff Cox called CYA’s defensive corps the best top four in all of hockey in the 2005 age group. Andrew Strathmann and Daniel Johnson are damn near point-per-game guys through a 57-game schedule, and Jack Gricus and Aiden Shirey combine to add 69 more points from the back end this season. The offensive output is next level, but both Compuware and Dallas Stars Elite have scored six goals in a game on CYA, and that’s just in-pool opponents. Shattuck and Florida Alliance have also exposed Chicago at times this season. They’ll be in the hunt, but there’s a slight pause for concern when it gets to elimination rounds.
TIER-I 14U Division
FAVORITE: Shattuck-St. Mary’s
Pound-for-pound, may be the best youth hockey team in all of hockey this season. Ranked No. 1 in the world among ‘06 teams with a record of 41-1-2; the lone blemish being an 8-5 offensive outpouring from the Minnesota Blades back on September 25th. Shattuck quickly avenged that loss 48 hours later with a 4-2 win. Fueled by some of the biggest names in the age group, Cole Eiserman, Mack Celebrini and Aidan Park have all eclipsed the 100-point mark in just 42 games. The Sabres are on an 18-game win streak that could very easily continue through the duration of the national tournament.
SLEEPER: New Jersey Colonials
Shattuck should sit atop this pool, but the second spot to advance is certainly up for grabs. The AAA Blues and New Jersey Colonials met just once before, with St. Louis coming out on top 3-1 back in October. Will the rematch be more of the same or will NJ show that it’s much improved from six months ago? The Blues don’t have a game on record in a month, with their last contest being an 8-0 decision on March 28th. That long layoff puts a lot of pressure on the opening game of the tournament. Colonials win on Wednesday which will ultimately cement their place as the second team from the USA Pool.
FAVORITE: Bishop Kearney Selects
It’s Shattuck, and then everyone else at the 14U level. But if there’s one team that can give the Sabres a run, it’s upstart BK. Ranked third in the world, Bishop Kearney has some of the big names that can go toe-to-toe with anybody in America. Pittsburgh native Christian Humphreys has 126 points this season, with fantastic secondary contributors like Will Shields, Geno Carcone and Nate Delladonna. Pool play will be a challenge, but BK could shine in the elimination rounds and get to the title game.
SLEEPER: Chicago Mission
They’ve got one of the lowest goal differentials among national bound teams and a less than overwhelming 20-11-1 record. Mission has played top teams Shattuck three times, Bishop Kearney once and Northeast Wisconsin five times, though, so they’re very much battle tested. The only problem is their record is 1-7-1 in those games. So do you value the input or the output? On one hand, there’s no surprises because Chicago has seen and competed with the top teams. On the other hand, they haven’t fared well against the best of the best. Don’t rule ‘em out just yet if they can earn a seat at the final table.
FAVORITE: Boston Jr. Eagles
Compiled the best start in hockey this season with an 18-1-1 record out of the gate. The Junior Eagles cooled off a bit as the calendar wore on though, finishing the regular season just 5-2-5 down the stretch. Boston will have to get right in a hurry, as it faces arguably the toughest pool of the four at the 14U level. With Teddy Stiga and Jack Sadowski up front and Owen Keefe on the back end, the Junior Eagles have plenty of weapons at their disposal to compete with top teams. The challenge will be execution and bringing the team’s A-game to Dallas, Texas.
SLEEPER: Los Angeles Jr. Kings
This is one sleeper who could very easily end up being the top team in its pool. The Junior Kings are among the best in the age group, have some top talent and are white hot right now with an 11-0-2 record in their last 13 games. The bulk of those games have come against less than stellar opponents but LA has fared okay in limited action versus top teams. They tied the aforementioned Junior Eagles 2-2 in February, beat Northeast Wisconsin 3-2 in October and hung in a 4-2 game with top-ranked Shattuck. Colin Frank is a top forward in the country with 69 points this season and defenseman Tyler Chiovetti leads the team with 71 points from the back end.
FAVORITE: Mount St. Charles
One-of-four programs with a team at each of the 16U, 15O and 14U age groups. The Mount St. Charles ‘06 squad has one of the more unique resumes in all of USA Hockey Nationals. With 23 games played, it’s the fewest among national bound teams. Only four of those contests have been against fellow national teams, with a 2-2-0 record. It’s a limited body of work. However, forward James Hagens is exceptional, and a supporting cast of Jackson Delleo, Joseph Monteiro, Kolin Sisson and Tyler Wood can create matchup problems for anyone.
SLEEPER: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite
“No LoVe FoR N-E-W?!” MyHockeyRankings has them as the top-ranked team in the pool, so they’re hardly considered a sleeper. Pens Elite, on the other hand, are 12th out of 16 and could manage to squeeze their way into the elimination rounds. Here’s how: They beat the NJ Avs for the second time this season and steal a win from either Mount or Northeast Wisconsin. Pittsburgh doesn’t score a ton of goals, but they’ve also only been shut out twice in 36 games. They live in that three-to-four goal range that gives opponents trouble and Jack Rosensteel is the real deal.
The Field Is Finalized for the 2004-Birth Year National Tournament
A season that began with more than 110 teams eligible for the 2020-21 national tournament has been reduced to the top 16 teams at the 16U age group. USA Hockey Nationals are slated to begin on April 28th in Maryland Heights, Missouri. The field includes all 10 teams ranked in WHH’s most recent world rankings, plus six others just outside our Top 25, looking to play spoiler at the Nationals later this month.
The tournament format, according to USA Hockey, for a 16-team seeded Tier-I youth event involves breaking down the field into four pools of teams based on MyHockeyRankings. That means the four pools should be:
|Shattuck-St. Mary’s||North Jersey Avalanche||Pittsburgh Penguins Elite||Bishop Kearney|
|New Jersey Rockets||Fox Motors||Anaheim Jr. Ducks||Mount St. Charles|
|Seacoast Performance Academy||Colorado Thunderbirds||HoneyBaked||Oakland Jr. Grizzlies|
|Sioux Falls Power||Nashville Jr. Predators||Northeast Wisconsin Jr. Gamblers||Dallas Stars Elite|
Each team will play three games in-pool and after that process is completed, the top two teams from each pool will advance to an eight-team single-elimination bracket. That bracket will also be seeded based on standings at nationals: USA #1 vs. OLY #2, LIB #1 vs. NHL #2, OLY #1 vs. USA #2 and NHL #1 vs. LIB #2. The home team for the subsequent semifinals and championship games will also be determined based on this criteria.
The six-day USA Hockey Nationals tournament is slated to begin at 10:15 a.m. CT, on Wednesday, April 28th, at the Centene Community Ice Center, as well as the nearby Ice Zone in Hazelwood, Missouri. All the action will be live-streamed on HockeyTV.com and we will have wall-to-wall coverage of the tournament throughout the week. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube for more USA Hockey Nationals news.
Mark Your Calendars For The Biggest Events of the “Offseason”
Let’s be honest, hockey season never ends. Critics will point to burnout and the negative impact of specialization in sports. Advocates will say that kids are constantly looking to get better and improve their game. Pros, cons, positives, negatives, good, bad and ugly. Wherever you’re at on the spectrum regarding spring and summer hockey, it really boils down to a personal preference and what’s best for each individual.
For the hockey hungry, puck crazy athletes and families, WHH has compiled a calendar of some of the best spring and summer hockey tournaments in the world. From breath-taking destinations to elite-level exposure, this list of 10 events has something for everyone in youth hockey.
(Philadelphia, USA) A new event in 2021, it has drawn the interest of some very strong North American spring selects teams. Operated by the team at Play Hockey, and is one-of-30 tournaments run by the organization. This year’s event is slated to feature teams at the 2004, 2005 and 2006-birth years in June and July with a five-game guarantee. There are currently 63 North American teams registered across all three age groups.
(Exeter, New Hampshire) The Atlantic International Trophy (AIT) is an up-and-coming event that prides itself on attracting a diverse pool of teams greater than your average summer showcase. Slated for the second weekend in July, the AIT will feature an ‘04-05 combined division as well as ‘06 and ‘07 divisions, with teams from the U.S., Canada and Europe on the invite list. This New England city won’t disappoint either, with plenty of tourist attractions in the area.
(Finland) The Finland Lions Cup was a European summer event before the idea of summer events in Europe ever existed. Run by Pelimatkat, the event operates like a well-oiled machine with good competition that attracts a nice mix of Scandinavian and Russian teams each year. North American teams would be considered a novelty, and any organization willing to travel would be treated like royalty, welcomed with open arms. The event is held in the middle of the summer camp season, providing a tournament-camp combo option for those interested as well.
(Foxboro, Massachusetts) An iconic East Coast event nestled in the New England hockey hotbed of Massachusetts. If bigger is better, then there are few events that would top the Chowder Cup in size. Multiple age groups competing over multiple weekends spread out over a large geographical region. The talent level varies from super selects AAA all-star teams to AA-level teams that all compete in one open division.
(Europe, various locations) DraftDay and World Hockey Group – Europe teamed up to present the Eurofest Summer Festival. The event caters to a broad audience of AAA-level talent and hosts six different birth years on three different weekends in three different European destinations. Prague, Reykjavik and Stockholm are the host cities for 202. Attendees are treated to opening ceremonies and exclusive player parties with a festive atmosphere. It feels more like a play-cation combining beautiful locations with great competition for an unforgettable experience.
(Oakville, Ontario) The International Prospects Showcase is a relatively new offering but the team at DraftDay has a deep history of success in the youth hockey space. This event is geared towards the best of the best in North America, highlighted by the top-tier local players from Ontario. It has grown wildly in popularity since its inception and pending the lift of COVID restrictions in Canada, should quickly return as a must-attend event.
(Various locations) A series of three events in Montreal, Nashville and Chicago, the Triple Crown by SuperSeries targets the upper echelon of AAA players in North America. The competition level is consistent and strong, and the events run extremely smoothly. The focus here is on the best possible players and it shows, as SuperSeries do a nice job of selecting desirable locations and spots in the events are highly sought after.
(Montreal, Quebec) Loved as much for the location as the hockey event itself. Montreal is a manageable drive from the Eastern U.S. border states, which provides a truly international and timeless feel to the event. It has a level of consistency that reeks of professionalism and win or lose, teams leave feeling like they had a great weekend. The pool of teams is primarily regional to Eastern Canada and New England, with plenty of competition levels and age groups for everyone.
(Edmonton, Alberta) One of the most prestigious events in all of youth hockey. Not only is it hosted in the unique venue of the West Edmonton Mall, it has featured the likes of more than 200 current and former NHL players when they competed at the 10U age level. From the TV broadcast, to the fans hanging over the glass, the environment of the week-long tournament is unparalleled in youth sports and arguably the most coveted roster invite in hockey.
(Various locations) The Granddaddy of all spring and summer events. It has it all, uber-elite talent levels, multiple age groups, amazing venues, breath-taking locations and truly the most international event of its kind. Participants from Russia, Europe, Scandinavia and North America competing in cities like Prague, Bolzano, Stockholm and Mont Blanc. There’s just as much for the parents to enjoy in terms of sightseeing as for the players competing on the ice. The North American event — hosted in Nashville, Tennessee — is the pinnacle of this tournament series, with top 15U selects teams from around the world all in one location for junior and professional scouts to see first-hand. Hundreds of current NHL players and more than 1,000 NCAA athletes have competed in this tournament series from both the boys and girls events. The combination of competition, culture, travel and experience is unparalleled by any one event on the hockey calendar.
Seven Districts Award Bids to USA Hockey Nationals
The field for the 2021 USA Hockey Nationals tournaments are nearly finalized. Mid-American, Rocky Mountains, Southeastern, Central and Minnesota Districts had been completed in previous weeks, with Atlantic, Michigan, New England, Northern Plains and Pacific Districts finishing their respective regional tournaments over the weekend.
The North Jersey Avalanche organization earned a bid at the 16U and 15U age groups after both teams won best-of-three series. The 15s needed a third game against the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers after teams exchanged wins on Saturday and Sunday. The Avs put an exclamation point on Game 3 with a 4-0 shutout. The 16s swept the New Jersey Rockets in two games. It was the sixth and seventh times that the Avs had defeated the Rockets this season, as the cross-state rivals had tangled quite a bit this winter.
The 14U Atlantic championship needed overtime between the New Jersey Colonials and Valley Forge Minutemen. With 9:54 left in the extra frame, Christian Chouha broke the deadlock and punched his team’s ticket to Nationals with a wrist shot through the defenseman’s legs.
A top team in the state at both the ‘05 and ‘06 age groups, Compuware was crowned after a relatively chalky finish in Taylor, Michigan. The 14U squad was the highest-ranked team in the district heading into the playoffs. It became clear why, when Compuware dominated Little Caesars in the three-game series finale, winning the first two games out-scoring LC 7-1. Then, at the 15U level, a similar scenario played out when Compuware went 6-0 including two wins over Little Caesars as well.
Getting hot at the right time, the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies pulled off a bit of an upset as the unranked bunch pulled off wins over No. 10 HoneyBaked and No. 17 Fox Motors in the elimination rounds to survive the highly-contested tournament. First, OJG beat HoneyBaked 4-3 in overtime on Saturday before knocking off Fox twice to steal a spot in Missouri for Nationals later this month.
YOUTH HOCKEY HEADLINES
- Standouts From Mini-Chowder CupBryce Wiitala and Charlie Puglisi Headline Big Names To Know.
- Canada Returns With Montreal MeltdownIconic summer event is one of the first to return after year-long, nationwide pause.
- A Run To RepeatDraftDay-Black completes defense of title as World Selects champions, goes back-to-back in 2019 and 2021
Mount St. Charles made a statement, nearly sweeping national bids at the 14U, 15U and 16U age groups. The 16s dominated with 44 goals in five games, sweeping through the district and securing a big with a 6-2 victory over South Kent Selects Academy. The 14s battled with unranked Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers, trading wins over the weekend before Mount locked up the bid with a 6-3 victory on Sunday.
MFJR denied Mount of a sweep with a nail-biter at the 15U level. The two teams collided in the championship on Sunday afternoon and after a 4-4 tie carried through regulation and overtime, a shootout would decide the teams’ futures. The fourth shooter off the bench, Logan Renkowski broke the deadlock with a wrist shot low blocker side, putting the puck in the back of the net and his Jr. Rangers squad into the National tournament.
Team North Dakota and Sioux Falls Power were set to face off in all three age groups in a best-of-three format.
Competition was tight at the 14U level, as both Game 1 and Game 2 were decided by just one goal. Needing a decisive third game to determine a series winner, Team ND knocked off Sioux Falls 4-2 to earn the Nationals berth.
The 16U series was a little more lopsided, as Sioux Falls scored 11 goals in two games to sweep Team North Dakota.
Unranked ‘04 Anaheim Jr. Ducks dominated their district with smothering defense, holding opponents to just four goals in five games. The Jr. Ducks’ 2-1 victory over San Jose Jr. Sharks solidified the championship. Also unranked, Team Alaska earned the 15U district bid after a 3-1 win over the Jr. Ducks. Finally, No. 19 LA Jr. Kings has been a top team in the U.S. at the ‘06 birth year, and a 5-0-0 run through districts clinched a spot at nationals for the west coast squad.
This weekend’s tournaments mark the conclusion of District playoffs across the United States. Updated automatic bids to National tournaments are as follows…
|Atlantic||North Jersey Avalanche||North Jersey Avalanche||New Jersey Colonials|
|Central||Northeast Wisconsin Jr. Gamblers||Team Wisconsin||Northeast Wisconsin Jr. Gamblers|
|Michigan||Oakland Jr. Grizzlies||Compuware||Compuware|
|Mid-American||Pittsburgh Penguins Elite||Pittsburgh Penguins Elite||Pittsburgh Penguins Elite|
|Minnesota||Shattuck-St. Mary’s||MN Blue Ox||Shattuck-St. Mary’s|
|New England||Mount St. Charles||Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers||Mount St. Charles|
|Northern Plains||Sioux Falls Power||N/A||Team North Dakota|
|Pacific||Anaheim Jr. Ducks||Anaheim Jr. Ducks||LA Jr. Kings|
|Rocky Mountain||Colorado Thunderbirds||Dallas Stars Elite||Colorado Thunderbirds|
|Southeastern||Nashville Jr. Predators||Florida Alliance||Team Maryland|
At-large bids are expected to be announced later this week, which will finalize the field of teams at each age group. All three age groups will compete from April 28th to May 3rd, with the 14s and 15s playing in Dallas, Texas, while the 16s play in Maryland Heights, Missouri.
Want more from the world of youth hockey? Text us at 603-541-7772 to get the latest news, rankings, updates and more.
Cover Athlete finishes 16U campaign; looks to the future
The 2020-21 season came to a close for our Cover Athlete of the Year, as C.J. Kier finished his 16U season in net for NorthStar Christian Academy. The ‘04 goaltender posted a 21-7-0 record for the Knights, with an impressive .923 save percentage and 2.11 goals-against average.
NorthStar finished the season with a 34-19-0 record, and ranked 45th among 16U and 15U teams on MyHockeyRankings. The Knights were a perfect 13-0-0 during the NAPHL regular season, and then went 5-0 in the postseason through pool play and and the first two rounds of playoffs. They would come just shy of a perfect NAPHL season though, as Florida Alliance defeated the Knights 5-2 in the league championship.
“Unfortunately, we fell short of the Dixon Cup championship, but as a team we achieved much more than a championship,” said Kier. “All the boys on this team love each other and aren’t afraid to put their bodies on the line for a win.”
In just its third year, NorthStar is an up-and-coming program based out of Alexandria, Minnesota, quickly becoming a popular prep academy in the Midwest. In that short time, two players have gone onto the United States Hockey League (USHL) and seven have appeared in the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
As an ‘04, Kier is eligible for the upcoming junior league drafts this summer. The USHL Phase-II Draft is scheduled for May 27th, and the NAHL Draft will be held on July 14th. While there have been conversations of playing at the next level and it certainly remains a goal for him, Kier said the focus is on getting better every day.
“This summer, I plan to return home to work with my goalie coaches, Cam Clemenson and Mountain High Hockey,” said Kier. “I also plan to attend goaltending camps across the country and a few junior camps. Next season, I plan to return to NorthStar to be on the 18U prep team and have an even better season, but more importantly, grow in my faith with my new teammates.”
Want more from the world of youth hockey? Text us at 603-541-7772 to get the latest news, rankings, updates and more.
Three teams make their debuts on the ‘04 world rankings
World Hockey Hub’s latest rankings are out following games from the month of March. A bunch of Russian teams made significant moves up the ranks, including three that were previously unranked. Strong months from Traktor Chelyabinsk, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and Spartak Moscow made a statement to move them into the Top 25 world rankings.
Led by Ruslan Aglamzyanov with his 13 goals and 36 points, Traktor makes its debut on the rankings at No. 13 with a 20-4-0 record this season. Lokomotiv and Spartak battled over the weekend, with Spartak posting an impressive 5-0 victory. Both teams also debuted on the rankings for the first time at No. 13 and No. 15 respectively.
Certainly worth noting is the new name at the top, North Jersey Avalanche jump from No. 5 to No. 1, after going 10-2-0 in the month of March. Both defeats came at the hands of current No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and No. 12-ranked Seacoast Performance Academy. A first-round selection in last year’s OHL Draft, 2004-standout Nicholas Moldenhauer leads the way for the Avs with 33 points in 13 games and had a six-game stint in the USHL earlier this season.
Speaking of Seacoast, they make the largest leap amongst teams that were ranked the previous month, climbing from 20th to 12th. Three of the Spartans’ six wins in March were against fellow American teams in the Top 25, including the NJ Avs, No. 7 Bishop Kearney and No. 14 New Jersey Rockets. Through 40 games, Seacoast has six players that average a point per game, led by Swedish import Kim Hilmersson with 51 points.
State Tournament Underway In The State of Hockey
It’s really the perfect storm. A combination of elite-level youth hockey players, legendary programs that are deep-rooted in the community with passionate fans and student bodies. It’s the mecca of hockey in the United States; where the sport just means more than it does anywhere else. It’s dubbed “The State of Hockey” for good reason.
The Minnesota high school state playoffs are set to begin on Tuesday, with eight teams at the Class-AA level and eight teams at the Class-A level. All games taking place at the 20,554-seat Xcel Energy Center where the Minnesota Wild play their home games. In a typical season, this venue would be packed to the brim — yes sold out — for a week of some of the best local youth hockey on the planet.
Nearly 50 current NHL players call Minnesota home; that’s more representation in the league than every other country in the world with the exception of Canada, Sweden and of course, the U.S. as a whole. It’s no surprise that this hockey hotbed is also home to one of the best events in all of youth sports.
Teams are divided into two groups based on student enrollment at the schools they represent, with the largest schools making up the AA Division and the smaller schools occupying the A Division. In order to qualify for the state tournament, a team must first win its district tournament, which is a bracket of 8-to-12 teams in a localized region of the state.
Brackets are set, matchups are made and the Class-A tournament will take the stage on Tuesday, with Class-AA opening up on Wednesday.
In Class-A, top-seeded Hermantown looks to return to the title game after finishing as runner-up in the 2020 tournament. The Hawks are 19-1-0 this season and have won five in a row. Standout ‘04 sophomore Zam Plante leads the way for Hermantown with 28 goals and 58 points in 19 games. On the other half of the Class-A bracket is undefeated Gentry Academy with a 16-0-0 record. An impressive 13 players average a point per game for the Galaxy’s high-powered offense. The Academy has scored six-or-more goals in all 16 of its games this season. Are these two teams on a crash course to meet in the final on Saturday?
The puck will drop for the Class-AA tournament on Wednesday, in what will certainly be a competitive clash of powerhouses. Five of the eight teams in the field have won 18-or-more games this season, including both teams in the 4-v-5 matchup between Andover and Maple Grove. Top-seeded Eden Prairie has made it to the championship game three times in the last five tournaments, but is still in search of the Eagles’ first state title since 2011. With four NCAA Division-I college commits on its roster, No. 1 Eden Prairie is the likely favorite in the field, but will be challenged at every step of the tournament. Defending 2020 champion Hill-Murray and its 18-2-0 record could pose a threat as the No. 2 seed, as well as No. 3 Lakeville South, looking to make a run at an undefeated season.
It will be a star-studded event in St. Paul, Minnesota, for the high school state tournament. Text us at 603-541-7772 to make your predictions for who wins the championship in the State of Hockey.