WHH Predictions for seven divisions at this weekend’s CCM Motown

The CCM World Invite Motown is coming to Metro Detroit this week, and it’s bringing hundreds of hockey teams from across the country to Michigan along with it.

The annual tournament — this year featuring a whopping 306 teams across 10 age groups — has been a staple in the youth hockey calendar for top teams in North America for more than a dozen years.

With COVID-19 still restricting international travel, it will be limited to teams from only the U.S., meaning we will still have to wait to see how some of the squads stack up with their Canadian counterparts.

Each age group is split into two or three divisions, all named after CCM’s equipment lineups. The Super Tacks divisions will feature top AAA teams from across the country, while the Ribcor and Jetspeed divisions will feature talented A/AA teams with a few AAA squads mixed in.

We’ve focused our attention on the Super Tacks pools, breaking down the teams participating and providing our picks for who we think will come out on top by Championship Sunday. Here we go.

18U Super Tacks

There are eight teams participating in the 18U Super Tacks division, which means plenty of opportunities for the players competing to catch the eye of scouts in attendance. From the looks of it, three Pennsylvania teams — the Mt. Lebanon Hornets, the Pittsburgh Vengeance and the Pittsburgh Predators — will be squaring off with a team of Michigan high school all-star teams in Michigan Hockey Advancement and the Michigan Development Hockey League. We like the in-state programs here, as Michigan’s high school hockey scene brings in top players at the oldest age groups, and they’re hungry to make impressions before the winter season kicks off with their respective high schools.

Predicted winner: Michigan Hockey Advancement 18U

16U Super Tacks

The 16U field seems to be a real toss-up, as there aren’t any teams who have made a lot of noise in earlier fall tournaments. Much like the 18U group, the two Michigan high school collections will have a say in who emerges victorious, but fellow Michigan squads from Belle Tire and Fox Motors will be forces as well. Two teams that are traveling the farthest for the tournament will be ones to watch, too; the Anaheim Jr. Ice Dogs and Team Alaska don’t want to make the trek for nothing. We think Fox Motors, fresh off celebrating a college commitment to Lake Superior State for forward Hunter Ramos, will claim bragging rights. 

Predicted winner: Fox Motors

15O Super Tacks

HoneyBaked leads the field in the 15O age group. One name to keep an eye on is defenseman Dakoda Rheaume-Mullin, the son of Manon Rheaume. Dakoda and the HB boys will be challenged by in-state foes in the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies and Belle Tire, as well as the Pittsburgh Vengeance. A unique twist for this age group is that the 12 participating squads will be getting an early taste of what their USA Hockey nationals could be like in the spring, as some of the games will be played at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, which is hosting that age group’s Tier 1 championship in April.

Predicted winner: HoneyBaked

14U Super Tacks

Things really heat up when you get to the 14U age bracket for the CCM Motown. At the 2007 birth-year level, Little Caesars leads the field as the No. 4-ranked team in the U.S., with a fistful of other top American teams Compuware, Victory Honda, Fox Motors, Carshield Hockey Club and Florida Alliance. The Caesars club has a 9-2-1 record on the season, and they’ll be looking to add to it. 

Predicted winner: Little Caesars

13U Super Tacks

A 16-team field fills the 2008 division, including No. 8-ranked Little Caesars, No. 20-ranked St. Louis Jr. Blues, Buffalo Jr. Sabres and HoneyBaked. Caesars checks in at 8-0-2 on the season, but we like the 14-5-1 record the Jr. Blues have thus far. They have logged a lot of games, and that early experience is going to pay off in their visit to Hockeytown this weekend.

Predicted winner: St. Louis Jr. Blues

12U Super Tacks

A deep 2009 group will take over three rinks for the 12U Super Tacks division, and there’s a lot of budding starpower. We’ve got No. 19 Anaheim Jr. Ducks, and they’re joined by No. 20 Chicago Reapers, as well as Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and Little Caesars. All in all, the 12U tournament is going to be fun to watch play out. 

Predicted winner: Anaheim Jr. Ducks

11U Super Tacks

The 2010 class is headlined by No. 5-ranked Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and No. 11-ranked Chicago Fury, with plenty of pressure coming from the NEW Jr. Gamblers, the Chicago Reapers and Little Caesars. The little Pens hold a 10-2-1 record and could add to those totals substantially this weekend. 

Predicted winner: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite

World Hockey Hub will have continued coverage of the CCM Motown, including recaps and analysis of this weekend’s games. Like and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TwitterTikTok and YouTube for the latest news from the world of youth hockey.

More From The World Hockey Hub

USHL brings elite youth talent together for season kick-off

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.

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MN Blades host fall showcase for some of the top teams in the country

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.

A Breakdown of the International Players Bound for the CHL in 2021-22

Since its inception in 1992, the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft has served as a way for the three major junior leagues to manage international talent entering their storied franchises. 

The 30th edition of the Import Draft featured 57 CHL clubs participating; all 22 of the Western Hockey League (WHL), 18 of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and 17 of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Only the Halifax Mooseheads, the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Mississauga Steelheads opted to pass, as they retained both of their previous import draft choices.

The CHL clubs traveled the globe for their selections; a breakdown by countries of origin paints a very diverse picture of a talent pool.

What may garner some eyeballs is how quickly Latvia and Ukraine appeared on the draft board – No. 1 and No. 3, to be exact.

Fitting surprises for the strange situation that was this year’s Import Draft, as it took place before the NHL Entry Draft, not afterward like usual. Normally, the Import Draft is filled with recent NHL draftees who make the decision with their new parent organization to come to the CHL in order to acclimate with the North American game immediately.

Let’s take a look at the Top 10 players, normally all a safe bet to appear in the CHL the following season (there’s already one exception, which is noted below):

No. 10 – Louis Robin – Forward – Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)

Rounding out the top ten was the first Swiss player selected in the CHL Import Draft, as the Rimouski Oceanic selected right winger Louis Robin. A 2003 birth-year skater, he went undrafted this summer by NHL clubs, but after racking up 51 points and 81 penalty minutes in 45 games with Zug of the U20 Elit league in his native Switzerland, the Oceanic must like what they saw. He has been with Zug for the last three seasons; before that, Robin skated in the Lausanne organization from 2014-18. Robin wore an “A” for his Swiss club at the Under-18 Worlds this past spring, recording two points in three games. 

No. 9 – Filip Mesar – Forward – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

The Kitchener Rangers opted for Slovakian forward Filip Mesar, a 2004 birth-year winger who is considered a possible first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. At 5-foot-10, he won’t be an intimidating presence, but those 41 points in 33 games with his HK Poprad U20 team in 2019-2020, and 14 in 36 against professionals a year later looks appealing to any franchise. As it stands now, however, Mesar is not on the Rangers’ preseason roster; perhaps another season of pro hockey in his home country will be Mesar’s preferred route leading into the NHL Draft.

No. 8 – Jesper Vikman – Goaltender – Vancouver Giants (WHL)

The first of five Swedish products was selected at No. 8, as Jesper Vikman was claimed by the Giants to make it back-to-back net minders in the import draft. Vikman is older than most of the prospects selected, as he is a 2002 birth-year goaltender who was drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2020 (fifth round, 125th overall). Elite Prospects lists him as a dual citizen between Sweden and Finland, but he has spent the majority of his days skating with the AIK club in Stockholm. While the Giants haven’t released a preseason roster to date, Vikman has been skating with the team and he told members of the media that he’s excited to be in Vancouver.

No. 7 – Ivan Zhigalov – Goaltender – Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)

The first goaltender selected was the 6-foot-3, 165-pounder Ivan Zhigalov, who hails from Minsk, Belarus. He caught some scouts’ eyes at the U18 Worlds but went undrafted in the NHL selection process. This will be his first taste of North American hockey, after Zhigalov rose through the ranks with Dynamo Moscow

No. 6 – Kirill Kudryavtsev – Defense – Soo Greyhounds (OHL)

Another ’04 birth-year defenseman, Kirill Kudryavtsev was the first Russian product taken in the 2021 CHL Import Draft. A native of Yaroslavl, Kudryavstev has been playing for his hometown Lokomotiv Yaroslavl through his formative years, playing in the top U20 league in Eurasia in 2020-21. He’s been a key piece of a Russian club that has dominated in prestigious international tournaments, helping his country to gold at the Youth Olympic Games with four points in four games, and then gold again at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup with two points and a plus-5 rating.

No. 5 – Rayan Bettahar – Defense – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

This one’s definitely coming across the pond. Rayan Bettahar, a prospect eligible for the 2022 Draft, is a 2004-birth year defenseman who is listed as a native of Germany on the CHL site, but a dual citizen with Poland, citing a hometown of Nowy Targ on EP. He racked up 29 penalty minutes in three games at the U18 Worlds, so the Broncos know they’re getting somebody who won’t be afraid of fighting some battles in front of the crease and in the corners. Bettahar has been playing for Jungadler Mannheim of the Germany U17 league for three seasons, while getting the call up to the U20 team on occasion.

No. 4 – Simon Nemec – Defense – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)

In the weird world of 2021, it looks like the No. 4 overall pick in the CHL Import Draft may not be coming to North America. Cape Breton took a chance on defenseman Simon Nemec of Slovakia, but he doesn’t appear on their preseason roster. It was certainly worth the risk, as Nemec is rated the No. 3 overall prospect in the upcoming 2022 NHL Draft in Elite Prospects’ consolidated rankings system. The 6-foot-1 native of Liptovsky Mikulas appears to be playing another season with HK Nitra back home. He wore the ‘C’ for Slovakia at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this summer, recording six points in five games from the backend.

No. 3 – Artur Cholach – Defense – Barrie Colts (OHL)

Selected in the NHL Draft shortly after the CHL edition, Artur Cholach became the first Ukrainian to be selected by an NHL club since 2007. A native of Lviv, Ukraine, Cholach played with Sokol Kyiv of the Ukrainian Professional Hockey League in 2020-21, playing an increased role in the playoffs (he recorded a pair of goals in nine games). This won’t be his first time playing North American hockey, as Cholach came to the United States to play with the New Jersey Jr. Titans of the NAPHL and AYHL in 2019-2020. Before that, he skated for CSKA Moscow of the Russia 16U junior league, while being called up for a few games at the 18U level with the same club. His 6-foot-4, 201-pound frame made him an appealing late-round choice for the Vegas Golden Knights, who selected him in the sixth round this summer.

No. 2 – Niko Huuhtanen – Forward – Everett Silvertips (WHL)

Niko Huuhtanen, a native of Helsinki, Finland, heard his name called twice this summer, first by the WHL’s Everett Silvertips at No. 2 overall, and then, by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the seventh round of the 2021 NHL Draft. After playing many of his formative years with the Espoo Blues organization, this past season Huuhtanen suited up for Tappara U20 in the SM-Sarja — Finland’s top Under-20 league — where he posted 34 points in 37 games, along with 73 penalty minutes. In the 2021 Under-18 Worlds, he recorded two goals and three assists, along with a plus-3 rating, for Finland in seven games.

No. 1 – Niks Fenenko – Defense – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)

Baie-Comeau selected Niks Fenenko with the first overall pick of this summer’s selection process, a notable pick as there hasn’t been much talk about the 2004 birth-year defenseman out of Latvia. Fenenko, a 6-foot-1 left-handed blue-liner, has been playing for HS Riga, his hometown club, in the top-tier Latvian league. He skated for Latvia at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship this past spring, finishing with a minus-3 rating in four games. Before his time with Riga, Fenenko spent two seasons playing in the Latvia U17 league with HK Pirati, playing up multiple age groups.

The CHL is still widely considered the top developmental league for junior hockey players around the world. More than 1,100 active professional players first competed in one of the CHL’s three subsidiary leagues before being drafted into the NHL. It routinely bridges the gap between youth hockey and college/professional hockey for hundreds of players each year, and the season is set to start next month.

World Hockey Hub continues to monitor and track top youth hockey athletes as they climb the hockey ladder to higher levels of competition. For more from WHH, follow us on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Tournaments in Michigan, Massachusetts help kick off 2021-22 campaign

It’s finally here, people.

The 2021-22 youth hockey winter season is underway. 

In the United States, there’s already been a flurry of hockey action, as top teams across the country have started competing in big-time tournaments, making their marks on the new campaign.

It’s wonderful to see, of course, after the 2020-21 campaign was made so difficult by COVID-19. Challenges will continue to present themselves, but some events have helped the hockey community return to some sense of normalcy.

While some teams begin play with familiar foes close to home, two major tournaments have already brought together top talent to start the season with a bang.

The Eastern Alliance Kick-Off took place over the weekend. While no individual statistics were available online, the championship scores certainly tell the biggest stories of the event.

At the 16U, the Boston Jr. Eagles beat the Long Island Gulls 2-1 in overtime to secure a championship in their age group. The Jr. Eagles finished with a 6-1 record, out-scoring their opponents 32-13.

Defenseman Aidan Connors scored the game-winner in extra time for the Eagles, while Jake McManus — fresh off an appearance at the USA Hockey Select 16 Camp in which he recorded four points in five games — had the lone goal in regulation for the squad.

Bishop Kearney appeared in the 15U final as well, and this time the squad emerged victorious, topping Boston Advantage 4-3. The BK Selects went on an undefeated 7-0 run through the weekend tournament, with a whopping 43 goals for and only 12 against. In the elimination rounds of the tournament, BK posted 5-1 wins over the New Jersey Rockets and the North Jersey Avalanche on Sunday. Then on Labor Day, a 5-2 win over the Valley Forge Minutemen and a 4-3 championship victory over Boston Advantage

The BK Selects brought in Los Angeles native Jackson Silverberg to compete for time with incumbent Patrick Curtatone, and the duo is getting things done between the pipes thus far. 

And in the 14U Red Division championship, the Neponset Valley River Rats posted a 6-5 victory over Bishop Kearney. The River Rats finished the tournament with a 5-2 record, and a 26-17 goal differential. It was an impressive conclusion for head coach Dan Panciocco’s club, after Neponset Valley opened the tournament with a 3-1 loss to the Yale Jr. Bulldogs and a 3-0 loss to the South Shore Kings before ripping off five straight wins. 


In Michigan, Total Package Hockey (TPH) hosted its Grand Rapids AAA Kick-Off Classic, welcoming teams from as far away as Florida and Tennessee to Hockeytown West for a slate of games in the final weekend of August. This past weekend, two leading Labor Day tournaments in the New England area teamed up to host the Eastern Alliance Kick-Off in Marlborough, Mass.

They didn’t bring the entire youth hockey community together for either of the big weekends, but it certainly provided an early flavor of teams and players to keep an eye on this season.

At the Kick-Off Classic, participating teams played four games apiece in a showcase-style format. While no trophies or medals were awarded, the scoresheets still tell a significant story.

In the 14U age group, Florida Alliance posted a 4-0 record during their brief stay in Michigan. Tommy Fellman led the way in points, as he racked up one goal and five assists; teammates Nolan Mara and Jason Musa both recorded two goals and two assists apiece. Between the pipes, Frank Copestick posted two shutout victories.

Host team Fox Motors had one overtime loss keep them from a perfect record; Carter Dominowski (three goals, one assist) and Travis Lefere (two goals and two assists) led Fox on the scoresheet. Zander Holsinger allowed only three goals while recording two wins.

Eight teams showed up for the 15U division, and Little Caesars delivered a perfect 4-0 record after making the three-hour drive west. Caesars’ Charlie Michaud — a Denver native who played in Canada for St. George’s School last season — posted four goals and two assists for six points over the four contests, while teammate Austin Baker recorded three goals and two assists.

J.J. Salajko — son of Detroit Red Wings goalie coach Jeff Salajko — and Garrett Dudlar split the wins for the Little Caesars squad.

Jordan Geike of the Windy City Storm and Chicago Mission’s Jake Merens are both top 2006-born prospects and teammates at this summer’s USA Hockey Select 15 Camp. Both tied Michaud for most points in the age group, as each chipped in six for their respective clubs. Between the pipes, Aidan Rasmussen helped his Nashville Jr. Predators to a 3-1 overall record by leading them to a 2-1 win over Mission and a 3-1 win over the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies.

At 16U, Fox Motors enjoyed its home cooking, as the host team posted a 4-0 record, thanks to an eight-point weekend from Blake Bechen and a five-point performance from Allan Bottari. James King picked up two wins between the pipes, including a 5-0 shutout win over Michigan Hockey Advancement

Annelies Bergmann, a Cornell University commit, continues to impress against the boys, as the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies goaltender led her club to two victories – a 3-1 win over Compuware and a 5-1 win over the Jr. Predators. Overall, the Jr. Grizzlies finished in second on the weekend with a 3-0-0-1 record.

It’s just a taste of some of the top teams and players to get out of the gate first in the 2021-22 season. World Hockey Hub will have much more from youth hockey in North America, Scandinavia, Europe and Russia all season long! Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook for the latest news, updates, rankings and events.

An Update From The WHH 2021 Cover Athlete

It’s been a big year for C.J. Kier

After being named World Hockey Hub’s Cover Athlete of the Year in January, he wrapped up a monster 16U season for his NorthStar Knights squad. A productive summer back home in Colorado has prepped Kier for the next chapter in his youth hockey career this fall; his first at the 18U age group.

The last few months have been a busy one for Kier. When the season wrapped up in March, his focus shifted. As a 2004-born goaltender, Kier was eligible for the United States Hockey League (USHL) Draft in May, as well as the North American Hockey League (NAHL) Draft in July. He also participated in the 2021 USA Hockey BioSteel Boy Select 17 Player Development Camp in June. On top of all that, Kier went back to work, training and refining his game with Matt Zaba of Mountain High Hockey.

“We worked a lot on small details of my game,” said Kier. “footspeed, reads, down-low plays. Working with Zabs has for sure been paying off as I feel I am ready to have a personal best season.”

When both junior league drafts concluded, 55 goaltenders’ names had been called. Just nine of them were ‘04s. Kier was unfortunately not among them. Additionally, when Team USA announced its final roster for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, the Colorado native was not on the list. 

Some may take that harsh news as discouraging, but Kier’s focus is much bigger than that.

“I got the opportunity to compete against some of the best goalies in the country for a spot on the U-18 USA team,” he said. “I didn’t make the team but overall had an amazing experience at the camp. To be able to not only go up against some of the best goalies in the country but also shooters was an absolute privilege to be a part of. Even though I did not make the team, I plan to keep working hard and hope to one day achieve my childhood dream of representing the red, white and blue overseas.”

It’s far from the end of the road for Kier. At just 17 years old, he’s playing a position that historically takes a bit longer to develop for junior hockey and beyond. Of the 50-plus goalies drafted in the USHL and NAHL this summer, 25 were coming off the heels of their final 18U season as ‘02s or their first season of junior hockey as a 19-year-old. Kier is set to begin his first 18U season this fall. 

“We will be looking to win consecutive Dixon Cup championships,” he said. “I want to be a team-first guy and do whatever I can to get us wins. I’ll be working to make a name for myself and my organization this year for junior and college teams.”

NorthStar’s 18U program is the reigning North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) champion, and Kier will have big expectations as he steps into the net for a team looking to defend its title. 

As far as junior hockey is concerned, Kier continues to build his hockey resume and master his craft every day in pursuit of the next level. Sharpening his skills with goalie coaches and making a name for himself at evaluation camps. Reminiscent of the old adage, ‘it’s better to be prepared for an opportunity that may never come rather than having an opportunity and not being prepared.’ A team in the USHL, NAHL or even the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) in Canada could soon be on the horizon for Kier.

“All I can do right now is focus on making myself better for the upcoming season and using my play this year to make one of these teams [in the future],” said Kier. “Right now, the focus is on this upcoming season. If I can do my job to my fullest potential, I am confident I will see myself in a high-level juniors league next season.”

Our Cover Athlete of the Year spotlights a top athlete in youth hockey all season long on the World Hockey Hub website as well as social media channels. Follow WHH on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook for the latest on our Cover Athlete and announcements when you can apply to become the next Cover Athlete!

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.

Effort

“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.

  1. How much a player cares
  2. 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.

Attention

“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.”

Repetition

“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.

Noticeable

“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.

14U Tier-I

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.

15O Tier-I

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.

16U Tier-I

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

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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.

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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

USA POOL

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?

OLYMPIC POOL

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.

NHL POOL

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.

LIBERTY POOL

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

USA POOL

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?

OLYMPIC POOL

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.

NHL POOL

FAVORITE: HoneyBaked

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?

LIBERTY POOL

FAVORITE: Compuware

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

USA POOL

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.

OLYMPIC 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.

NHL POOL

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. 

LIBERTY POOL

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. 

Want more from the world of youth hockey? We’ll be all over the action from USA Hockey Nationals on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.