It may only be November, but a few teams can already start making travel arrangements for the 2023 USA Hockey National Championships in April.
Massachusetts crowned its 15O, 16U and 18U Tier-I state champions this past weekend. They join Minnesota as two hockey powerhouses that award national bids well before the other 11 districts in the country.
The Neponset Valley River Rats captured the 15O title in the Massachusetts Hockey State Championships after entering the weekend tournament the No. 2 seed. They and the No. 1 seed Boston Jr. Eagles had byes into the quarterfinals, which meant avoiding a Friday contest before a jam-packed weekend.
The River Rats took care of business in the quarters, beating Patriot Hockey 7-1. Four players — Joseph Marchi, Jake Assad, Thomas Anderson and Anderson Kilbourne — found the back of the net in the first period alone. That allowed Neponset Valley to quickly assume control of the contest and coasted into the semifinals.
There, things were tighter. The Cape Cod Whalers had the score tied 2-2 in the third period, thanks to a pair of goals from Giacomo Caliri. The River Rats’ Collin Rowe, however, scored two goals in the contest as well, and his second strike broke the 2-2 tie. Michael Munroe finished things off with a late one to give Neponset Valley a 4-2 win.
In the final, it was smoother skating, as the River Rats took down Militia Hockey 5-1, with five different players scoring for the champs.
Despite having one game less than most of his peers, Munroe led the weekend in scoring, as he tallied two goals and seven points in three games. Anderson and Marchi both had four points in total.
Alfred Farese, meanwhile, took care of the goaltending duties for the River Rats all weekend. In his three games, he allowed only four goals, which gave him a 1.33 goals-against average in the state playoffs.
The biggest upset of the tournament came by way of the 95 Giants, who ended the Boston Jr. Eagles’ weekend plans rather abruptly. The Jr. Eagles were ranked No. 10 in the country and the top seed in the Massachusetts tournament entering the weekend. However, they fell to the Giants in a 1-0 defensive battle in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
Joseph Andreozzi scored the only goal of the contest, and it came at the 15:31 mark of the middle period. The Jr. Eagles sent 34 shots towards Giants’ netminder Angelo Evangelista, and he stopped every single one of them. Militia Hockey ended the Cinderella story the next day, however, beating the Giants 3-2 in the semifinals.
At the 16U level, the Boston Little Bruins will be representing Massachusetts at nationals after using their No. 1 seed to march through states.
They faced their fare share of challenges in the weekend, starting with a high-scoring Saturday afternoon battle with Boston Hockey Academy. The Bruins needed five, and got six to beat Boston Hockey Academy 6-4 in the quarterfinals. Second-period goals from Grayson Cohen and Jackson Delleo proved to be the difference in the contest. Boston Hockey Academy’s Tyler Kirchner had two goals and an assist, while Gryphon Watson-Bucci had four assists, but their herculean efforts weren’t enough for an upset.
In the semifinals, the Bruins had a much easier time, as first-period goals from Cameron Cooke, Alex Gomes and Joseph Mense put them on the path to an easy 5-1 win over the Valley Jr. Warriors.
It looked like it was going to be more smooth sailing in the championship game, but the Boston Jr. Eagles made things interesting in the final frame. The Bruins scored five goals through the first two periods, but the Jr. Eagles’ Edward Mutryn registered a natural hat trick in the third to make it a nail-biting 5-4 final for the Little Bruins.
Balanced scoring carried the Bruins to the state title, as Delleo led the way with five points, while Gomes and Dennis Davidson had four. Sixteen different Bruins found the scoresheet over the course of the three games.
At the 18U level, the Boston Jr. Eagles captured the state title, prevailing over the Cape Cod Whalers 3-2 in the final.
Much like the 16U champs, the Jr. Eagles scored by committee en route to their nationals bid, as four players — Jake McManus, Sean Leetch, Cullen Emery and Jonathan Lanza — all led the team in scoring with three points apiece.
Paul Dalessio played all three games between the pipes to pick up three wins and a 1.44 goals-against average in the process.
Massachusetts isn’t the only major hockey market to be finalizing national bids this early in the season. Minnesota does the same, with the 14U, 15O, 16U and 18U representatives already decided.
Shattuck-St. Mary’s will represent Minnesota at all of the aforementioned age groups, after the 14U, 15O and 16U teams won their Minnesota District titles in the Minnesota High Performance postseason.
At the 14U level, SSM defeated the Polars of District 5 by a 4-0 final. Tynan Lawrence had two goals for SSM, including the empty-netter to wrap things up. Xavier Wendt stopped 18 shots between the pipes for the shutout win.
In 15O play, Shattuck topped the Blue Ox by a final score of 7-1. Alex Donovan registered two goals and an assist, while Andrei Nabokov posted one goal and one assist. Additionally, Grayson Hanggi stopped 20 of 21 shots sent his way.
The 16U SSM squad wrapped things up with a dominating 11-3 win over the Blue Ox.
World Hockey Hub will have continued coverage of all 13 USA Hockey Districts, automatic bids and USA Hockey Nationals. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Discord and YouTube for more!
The party starts Thursday, while the games officially start on Friday. This weekend, Chicago will be the busiest city on the planet when it comes to youth hockey. Roughly 528 teams will be in the Windy City for the annual CCM World Invite.
A total of 10,032 players will be playing in a combined 1,210 games from Nov. 4-6, as the tournament continues to claim the honor of the largest youth hockey event in the world.
Because of those grandiose attendance numbers, most age groups are split into as many as three sub-divisions — Supertacks, Jetspeed and Ribcor. This provides a competitive balance for all teams involved. Because of this, our focus is narrowed to the Supertacks Divisions that include elite and top-level AAA teams.
We’re starting with the 2009 birth-year because it reads like a USA Hockey Nationals lineup, not a November tournament.
Six of the top 10 teams in the country are slated to compete in the World Invite. The No. 1-ranked Chicago Reapers will look to defend home ice, while being challenged by No. 2 St. Louis AAA Blues, No. 4 Windy City Storm, No. 6 Little Caesars, No. 7 New Jersey Rockets and No. 10 Chicago Mission.
An added bonus? The Huron-Perth Lakers, ranked No. 9 in Canada, crossing the border to join the crowded field.
Big games appear on the calendar rather quickly, as Little Caesars and New Jersey Rockets square off at 2:55 p.m. on Friday. Elimination rounds should be where the most drama happens, as these top teams will likely clash in playoffs.
Continuing down in age groups, the 2010 birth year has so many participating clubs that they made Supertacks Crosby and Supertacks Ovechkin Divisions. The 2010 Supertacks Crosby has the highest-ranked teams competing, and there are three from the American Top 10. The No. 3 Chicago Mission, No. 4 Anaheim Jr. Ducks and No. 10 Chicago Fury will clash in the top 2010 division.
American teams like Florida Alliance, South Shore Kings and Top Gun Elite will travel from across the country to challenge the top group. Additionally, the Sun County Panthers join the mix from Canada. The trio of top-rated teams will have plenty of hurdles to clear if they want to win a World Invite title.
In the 2011 Supertacks Division, the hometown Windy City Storm is the only ranked competitor — they check in at No. 5. The K&B Slovakia Stars surely don’t want to waste a trip all the way across the globe though. There are plenty of storied programs showing up in Chicago, as well. The 16-team field contains the Los Angeles Jr Kings, Sun County Panthers, Chicago Mission, St. Louis AAA Blues, Belle Tire, Oakville Rangers, among others.
Going back up the age groups, the 16U Supertacks field is wide open. None of the teams are ranked, but that doesn’t mean it’s a group to sleep on. Minnesota and Michigan both show up with all-star teams of high school hockey players in Minnesota SDP and Michigan Hockey Advancement, while the Wenatchee Wild and Elgin-Middlesex Canucks represent the Canadian contingent. There’s also three California teams in the Los Angeles Jr. Kings, Golden State Elite and Anaheim Jr. Ice Dogs.
The 15O age group — split into Crosby and Ovechkin divisions — has some ranked teams, on the other hand. In the Crosby Division, No. 1 ranked Chicago Mission looks to win a tournament without leaving home, while No. 3 Mount St. Charles arrives in the Windy City looking to make some noise. Those two will be challenged by No. 5 Little Caesars, and a bevy of other squads looking for some hardware. Watch out for Minnesota SDP, Minnesota Blue Ox and Team Wisconsin, among others.
And to round things out, the 2008 age group is led by No. 2 Chicago Mission. They are the only ranked team out of the 16 participants, but nonetheless, they will have challenges. The Burlington Eagles, Lambton Jr. Sting, and Markham Waxers all come in from Canada, while in-state rivals Chicago Fury and Team Illinois will try to make things rough, too.
The USHL Fall Classic is quickly becoming a premiere early-season showcase for top teams across the United States.
This year’s edition certainly lived up to the hype, as 84 teams from the 14U, 15O, 16U and 18U age classifications converged on the greater Pittsburgh area for a massive tournament from Sept. 22-26.
Let’s take a look at which teams made September statements with tournament victories in front of a big contingent of junior and college scouts:
There were 26 teams in the 16U field, and five of them appeared on the World Hockey Hub’s initial U.S. rankings for the 2022-23 season. The No. 7 Windy City Storm ‘06s have their case for a ratings bump after surviving a five-game gauntlet against top competition from Saturday through Monday in Pittsburgh.
The Storm claimed the 16U crown with a 3-2 victory over Detroit HoneyBaked in the finals Monday afternoon, capping a perfect 5-0 run through the tournament. With a three-game round-robin followed by semifinals and finals, the USHL Fall Classic requires a perfect weekend to take home hardware, and Windy City was the only team to pull off the feat the 2006 age group.
Windy City started things off with stiff competition, taking on Selects Academy Saturday afternoon and prevailing with a 3-2 win. Sunday featured two games with ranked opponents, and the Storm won them both, taking down No. 10 Little Caesars 6-2 in the morning before escaping No. 8 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite with a 4-3 win in the afternoon.
In the semifinals, they ran into the Rocky Mountain RoughRiders, and the Storm prevailed 3-2 – the same score as the finals showdown with HoneyBaked later in the day.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the Storm are off to a hot start on the season, as their line-up sheet has plenty of draftees at forward. Ihnat Pazii, a product of Kharkov, Ukraine, is a Tri-City Storm affiliate, who comes to Windy City after playing for the Anaheim Icedogs last season. Vermont’s James Chase joined the Storm after playing for the BK Selects last season; he’s a Tri-City Storm affiliate as well as a draftee of the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. Tommy Holtby, a returning forward for the Storm hailing from New York, was selected by the Fargo Force last spring, while fellow returnee Tyler Atchison of Nevada is property of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL.
On the blue line, Minnesota native Cade Kozak is a Sioux City Musketeers draftee who spent 2021-22 with the Green Bay Gamblers 15O team; Brandt Dubey is a New York product and property of the Tri-City Storm. Meanwhile, the Storm welcomed Alberta native Ryan Seeley into the fold this season – he spent last season with the Northern Alberta Xtreme U16 team and is a Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) draftee.
It was a major showcase weekend for the 2007 birth-year as their junior draft-eligible season gets underway. Twenty-two teams showed up in Pittsburgh for the USHL Fall Classic at the 15O division, and it was Little Caesars on top at the end of their three-day battle.
Ranked No. 5 in the country by WHH to start the season, LC lived up to the hype, winning games against other Top-10 teams in four of their five contests en route to the title.
They faced the hometown team to start things off on Thursday, and Caesars prevailed over the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 4-1. On Friday, they beat the No. 6 Bishop Kearney Selects 5-2, before shutting out the North Jersey Avs 7-0 in the afternoon.
In the semifinals, the Penguins got a rematch and an opportunity for revenge, but LC prevailed 4-3 once again. In the finals, it was more tough competition for the Detroit-based program, but they took care of business, topping No. 4 Mount St. Charles 4-1.
At the 14U age group, the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite successfully defended their home ice, winning the USHL Fall Classic title at the 2008 birth-year.
Making a case to move up in the rankings, the Penguins played two ranked foes in their five wins – taking care of crosstown rival Pittsburgh Vengeance 3-1 Friday night, and beating No. 10 Mount St. Charles in the final on Saturday afternoon.
Of the 20 teams competing in the 18U division, it was South Kent prevailing over them all in the oldest age group of the 2022 Fall Classic.
The Selects Academy squad, fresh off winning the USA Hockey national championship at the 16U level, won tight ones to start, beating Chicago Fury 4-2 and Windy City Storm 2-1.
From there, however, they didn’t allow a single goal, as South Kent registered a 3-0 win over the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes, then a 5-0 win over the Chicago Reapers in the semifinals, and a 3-0 win over Pittsburgh Penguins Elite in the finals.
The USHL Fall Classic is here to ceremoniously start both the junior hockey season and the tournament season for a lot of youth hockey programs.
In what has become a premiere event over the last six seasons, the USHL Fall Classic brings all of the USHL member clubs under one roof for the first two games of each team’s schedule. Alongside that Tier-1 junior league showcase is a youth hockey one with even more participating clubs, as teams from across the country flock to the greater Pittsburgh area for a unique opportunity to compete in front of scouts and coaches of the USHL clubs, who are literally right there in the UPMC Lemieux Center Ice Arena with them. The concentrated amount of hockey across so many different age groups makes it a must-see event for scouts of junior, college and professional teams.
While the youth edition of the Fall Classic spans from Thursday to Monday, teams will be playing in jam-packed three-day tournaments, with the 14U and 15O teams playing Thursday-Saturday and the 16U and 18U teams playing Saturday-Monday.
All four age groups will play in a high-stakes preliminary round, having three games to establish themselves as one of the four teams that advance right to the semifinals. While the tournament fields quickly get whittled down, all of the participating teams will still play in consolation games to make the trip to Pittsburgh worthwhile and maximize exposure opportunities for the players.
The tournament schedulers did their homework while putting together the matchups for the preliminary round. If things go as expected — though youth hockey sure is unpredictable — there will be some monster early-season games between teams ranked very, very high on the initial U.S. rankings for the 2022-23 campaign. That’s not to say that there aren’t some big games to keep an eye on in the round-robin; we’re going to take a look at some matchups to watch below.
In the 14U division, the 2008 birth year has 16 teams in the Fall Classic, and five of them are in the American Top 10. The top-ranked Windy City Storm show up in Pittsburgh, as does No. 3 Bishop Kearney, No. 7 Pittsburgh Vengeance, No. 8 Seacoast Performance Academy and No. 10 Mount St. Charles.
On Friday at 4 p.m. the Windy City Storm and SPA wrap up the round-robin for the two highly-ranked squads. Meanwhile, four hours later, it’s the Battle of Pittsburgh, as the Vengeance gets Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 14U in the 14U preliminary-round finale.
Mount St. Charles better bring their ‘A’ game for their first tilt Thursday, as well, as they square off with HP Team Minnesota — you never know what type of talent might be lurking in a Minnesota all-star squad.
At the 2007 birth year, 22 teams from the 15O classification converge on Pittsburgh, including seven of the names appearing in the Top 10: No. 3 Mid-Fairfield, No. 4 Mount St. Charles, No. 5 Little Caesars, No. 6 Bishop Kearney, No. 7 Los Angeles Jr. Kings, No. 8 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and No. 9 Buffalo Jr. Sabres.
Little Caesars has quite the gauntlet to get through if they want to reach the semifinals, as the Detroit-based program starts things off with the home team Pittsburgh Penguins Elite on Thursday before playing Bishop Kearney Friday morning.
After that game, BK gets to play the Jr. Kings in their Friday night matchup, which means quite a day for the Selects, too.
The largest field of them all is at 16U, where 26 teams will battle for four spots in the playoffs Monday. The No. 4 ranked Boston Jr. Eagles lead the field, alongside the No. 6 Buffalo Jr. Sabres, No. 7 Windy City Storm, No. 8 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, No. 9 North Jersey Avs and No. 10 Little Caesars.
The biggest game we’ve got circled on the calendar is No. 7 Windy City vs. No. 8 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, which takes place at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday.
It’s a crazy weekend of hockey, but it does provide an early idea of which teams the hockey world should be watching this season, as teams from across the U.S. come together for the annual USHL Fall Classic.
It is USA Hockey’s premiere destination for American-born youth hockey players.
USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (USNTDP), located in Plymouth, Mich., brings together top players in each birth year to develop and prepare for international competitions and success at hockey’s highest leagues.
The program’s alumni list reads like a fantasy hockey dream team, with the likes of Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane, Jack Eichel, Zach Werenski, Cole Caufield and Trevor Zegras, as well as the Tkachuk brothers and the Hughes brothers, just scratching the surface of a substantial Wikipedia scroll.
So who gets to play at the NTDP?
Kevin Reiter plays a substantial role in answering that question. As the director of player personnel for the NTDP, Reiter leads the scouting operations, overseeing both the two birth years currently participating in the program, and, more importantly, the birth year that will make up next year’s Under-17 Team.
“My biggest role here with USA Hockey and the National Team Development Program is basically to identify, educate, evaluate, recruit our next group of NTDP players,” Reiter said. “This year, coming into the season, it will be the 2007s. We’ve already picked our 2005 and 2006s. Now in saying that, we’re watching those ‘05s and ‘06s throughout the year, as well, both for guys [outside the NTDP] who may be passing our players up, or we have injuries or we have illnesses or we have academic issues – any things that come along, we’re trying to find replacement players… One of our interns was recently going through some of the paperwork from last year and he said, ‘you guys had more than 75 players come and practice with you’ just from when we’re short bodies or different things.
“In short, my main role is knowing these birth years, one we’re actively educating, scouting and recruiting, and then the two we have here with the NTDP.”
While the majority of youth hockey players will not make the NTDP — players from other countries need not even apply — understanding what they look for in a hockey player, both on and off the ice, is valuable information for anyone aspiring to reach hockey’s highest levels.
“I think from our perspective, there’s a big misconception that everyone thinks we just want the best players,” Reiter said. “I can tell you that we’re looking for the right players for our program. Ones that have the inner drive, perseverance, can be successful on a daily basis. We’re looking for players who we truly believe over a course of two years will develop and reach their true potential and someday they will help us win a gold medal internationally. I always tell parents one of the biggest things is that we want good young men who come from good families who will represent our country in a first-class manner, and that’s on and off the ice, on a daily basis, no matter who they are dealing with or where they are at.
“Whether it’s a teacher, it’s at a Holiday Inn somewhere, they’re on a plane to wherever – we don’t only want to be proud of them as hockey players, but as human beings, as well. This place is for players who are driven and want to be hockey players. Our players face a tremendous amount of adversity, and it’s all about how they respond.”
In terms of what he’s looking for on the ice, here’s a breakdown of Reiter’s most important traits:
“The game’s fast, and it’s getting faster. You have to be a good skater. It’s funny, having been here for a while now, having some of the players come back and talk, some of those first guys I worked with here, the Zach Werenski‘s and the like, they’re talking about how fast the game’s getting, and how much faster it is now. You have to be a good skater because the game’s fast.”
“Obviously we talk about stick skill, how important it is, because you need to be able to make plays. There’s a certain threshold of skating and stick skill and all that to be a National Team player. You have to make plays in tight areas and not just play one-on-one hockey — a lot of youth hockey is one-on-one but your ability to use your teammates and make give-and-go plays, that’s going to help us play fast and that’s one of our mottos as a country.”
“We talk hockey sense, hockey IQ all the time. Players that can think the game at a high level, they’re able to get better and better because they can take what our coaches tell them and apply it – and apply it quickly. We’re looking for guys who create time and space for themselves and their teammates, and playing away from the puck is a big one. Ninety, ninety-five percent of the game is playing without the puck, and putting yourself in good places. We need players who are able to find that next play and are able to have patience. Guys I’ve been around here, they have an unbelievable amount of deception and manipulation skills. Scanning the ice is a big one now that [NTDP Under-18 Team Head Coach] Dan Muse is talking about, knowing and being aware of their surroundings – processing that information and being able to find that next play.”
“Our coaches say it all the time, ‘wins in life, wins in hockey’ – we’re looking for natural competitors. Our best players treat every drill in practice and in skill sessions, they’re out there for a purpose, they want to compete and get better. They show up every day to prove that they’re not only the best player in their birth year or the country but in the world. Some of the top players that have come through here, that’s what separates them from other players – they just have an inner drive. When they wake up, they want it more than the next guy and they have an extraordinary work ethic. There’s no substitute for hard work. The competitiveness, inner drive, perseverance, those things are really important.”
There’s a lot more to it than that, however. Reiter talked about scouting for character, which is crucial to the NTDP, but not unique for player evaluation. Think a team only cares about what you do on the ice? Think again. The NTDP — and a lot of other programs — will be digging deep into your hockey background to learn more about what type of person you are, both to decide on whether you belong on a Team USA roster, and also if you’re going to thrive while doing so.
“We talk about character a ton,” Reiter said. “You have to be a great teammate. You can’t be a great hockey player without being a good person, is what we say. Being a good teammate, having a team-first mentality, being coachable, our coaches say it all the time, we don’t want to coach punks, we don’t want to coach guys with bad body language or who aren’t good teammates or are going to talk back if we’re going to talk to them, yelling things at a teammate, coming back to the bench and slamming their stick, all of those things are things we’re looking for and trying to figure out. For me, character is huge and we dig and dig and dig as much as we can, not only with former coaches but maybe current teammates, current people that are in their circles, how do we get to know these players as much as we can because character is becoming more and more important.”
The NTDP U17 Team plays a full slate of USHL games, along with international competitions. The NTDP U18 Team gets NCAA Division-I opponents thrown in, too. It’s all on purpose, as they put the players through as much adversity as possible. Whether you play there or play elsewhere, you’re going to get pushed to your limit if you want to ‘make it’ in hockey.
“The best ones here, they get back up. They’re still confident, they’re not embarrassed by failing. You know how much adversity we put our guys through here, and they just keep getting back up. It’s pretty neat to watch, and I always just go back to the best guys because now, I’ve got a perspective through experience, not that it’s fool-proof by any means. Projecting players, believe me, is difficult. You have to find out which players can make the most growth here among their teammates in two years. It’s pretty cool to see now which guys made it and why they made it and other guys, this is probably why he didn’t make it.”
So what else can players — and their parents — do to help their chances of hockey career success? Reiter said it’s crucial to surround yourself with the right type of people.
“My goal is to give parents and players all of the information so that they take that information and hopefully make the best decisions possible as they navigate this hockey world. I’ve got a lot friends – it’s weird, I’m getting older – with kids who are coming up in those certain age groups, and surrounding their sons and daughters with coaches and support staffs and team managers who, here at the program, we deeply care about their sons, and that’s what you want. That’s who you want your kids to be around. Those types of situations. In my opinion, there are some youth hockey organizations that could be toxic, but finding a place, I just relate to what we do here, we show up here every day, and meet all of the time about how can we make these players better. Finding a way to make your son better. The coaches spend a ton of time together trying to figure out how to make these players better, not only better hockey players but better people.
One piece of advice, specifically for the parents? Don’t make it harder.
“We need parents to support their sons and daughters and not make it harder for them. We want them to embrace the adversity they’re going to have throughout the year, but block out all the noise, block out the distractions, things that don’t matter. If they can help their kids focus on being a good teammate, embracing the adversity that’s going to happen, and just choosing excellence on a daily basis, they’re going to grow, they’re going to become better hockey players, and they’re going to have a good experience and have an opportunity to make our team.”
In the end, it’s all going to work itself out.
“We often talk about how the player pool changes drastically. Seth Appert talked the other day about Joel Farabee and Logan Cooley. A few months before the NTDP tryout, they weren’t named to the Youth Olympic roster. Parents could have went crazy, and you know what? We didn’t get a call. They just believed in the process, trusted the process. Joel Farabee got called up at the end of his first year and ended up helping the ’99 team win a World Championship. Logan Cooley wasn’t on the Youth Olympic team, and we can argue where he was at when he came in here, but they both ended up being the best player in their birth year at the end of the two years.
“One thing we always say is that the path isn’t going to define the player, that player is going to define their path with their work ethic, their talent, their character, their decisions on a daily basis – that’s going to determine their path.”
First debuting on the international scene in 2017, the Canada East Selects have represented the top youth hockey players in Quebec at the World Selects Invitational four times across three different age groups. This spring, the world will once again be challenged by the best that French Canada has to offer when C.E.S. competes at the 12U and 14U WSI events in Bolzano as well as the 13U event in Mont Blanc.
It’s an international stage. The best players from hockey hotbeds across Canada like Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Top American prospects from the likes of New England, Detroit and Chicago. Elite talents from across Europe representing Sweden, Finland, Czechs, Russians and more. Insert Quebec and its top prospects to the mix to round out every corner of the hockey community worldwide.
“The idea that they will play different countries, right away, they light up when you mention you’re going to play Russia, Latvia, Sweden,” said Canada East Selects program director Dave Harroch. “It’s a great measuring stick. We measure ourselves locally; to North America. Now, we can measure ourselves to the world.”
In the program’s short history, Canada East has fared well at the WSI. In its tournament debut, the ‘05 squad went 2-2-1 in pool play, qualifying as the No. 9 seed in the playoffs. There, they upset 8-seeded Midwest Selects and nearly pulled off another upset of top-seeded ProKhorkins Selects, giving up a goal in the final seconds of overtime to fall 4-3. Two years later, the ‘07 squad qualified for the playoffs as the No. 5 seed and made a run all the way to the championship with upsets over the No. 4 and No. 1 seeds along the way.
“One of the things that stands out the most, is how the groups become close,” said Harroch. “These people stay friends for a long time after. People who didn’t know each other before the tournament, stick together to this day as friends. Parents do appreciate it.”
Teams are assembled primarily through an extensive recruiting process that stems from the Montreal Meltdown. The annual tournament has created a footprint in the youth hockey landscape that has lasted more than 30 years. Top spring and summer teams from 10 different age groups compete across three different skill levels at an event that spans over six weekends in Montreal. This provides the perfect platform for C.E.S. scouts and evaluators to get eyes on prospective players for WSI tournament teams.
Who has qualified for these tournament teams in the past, you ask? How about the likes of current QMJHL prospects like Etienne Morin, Marc-Olivier Beaudry, Natan Ethier, Bradley Nadeau, Sam Luca Thifault and Kyle Hagen. Forward Mathieu Cataford took the ice for Canada East in 2017 before representing Team Canada last month at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Tournament teams are typically made up of top players from Montreal and Quebec, but have pulled from across the entire province, with additional prospects as far west as Ottawa and as far east as New Brunswick.
Canada East Selects is one of seven North American organizations to receive franchise status in the World Selects tournaments — meaning they receive an automatic bid to elite events each year. For more information on Canada East Selects and how to get involved with their programming, click HERE.
The concept is nothing new to the youth hockey audience, but it’s the participating teams list that makes the MAHA Tier-1 Showcase one of the more unique events in the sport.
First organized and executed in 2019, the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association (MAHA) has created an annual Tier-1 Showcase, which brings all of the state’s AAA programs at the 14U, 15O, 16U and 18U age groups together for a series of games over a three-day weekend.
That’s eight Tier-1 organizations, and four age groups, all bringing the best Michigan has to offer for the 2022-23 campaign to the Troy Sports Center in Metro Detroit to start the season with a bang.
“The MAHA Tier I Showcase is a highly competitive weekend of hockey,” said Jason Reynolds, MAHA Director of Operations and Marketing, in a press release. “There’s a great deal of pride taken in being able to highlight some of our top hockey talent in Michigan. We know there will be eyes on these games, whether in-rink or streaming online, and the early-season exposure may lead some of these elite players to opportunities in the future.”
In regards to the streaming, YouthSportsPLUS will be bringing all the games to interested parties who cannot attend the weekend showcase.
“The Showcase is a great kickoff event for all of the Tier-one organizations in Michigan,” said Mike Slobodnik, Hockey Director at Fox Motors Hockey Club, in the press release. “For the players, the opportunity to compete against peers from across the state is always exciting. It’s also a chance for college, junior and professional scouts to get an early look at our teams and players. For coaches and administrators, we’re proud to bring this one-of-a-kind experience to all of our participants.”
The Troy Sports Center is a four-sheet facility, which means each of the age groups get their own rink for the weekend. On Rink 1, the 18U teams will welcome the lone non-Michigan organization in, as Chicago Mission makes the trek to Detroit for games with Biggby Coffee, Belle Tire and the Soo Indians. That last team, the Soo Indians, is the reason Mission gets an invite — the Sault Ste. Marie-based program was grandfathered in when MAHA reclassified its Tier-1 operations, and the Indians continue to operate a 18U AAA team out of Northern Michigan. That brings the total of 18U Tier-1 teams in Michigan to nine, so an at-large team fills in to make it an even number.
Last year, Belle Tire won the 18U Tier-1 state title. Along with Mission, they will also take on Fox Motors and the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies in the weekend showcase; both could serve as early tests for the club looking to defend its title.
At the 16U age group, teams will be trying to dethrone the ’06 Little Caesars club, which won the 15O state title last spring. It will be a new-look Caesars team, however, after Austin Baker and Lucas Van Vliet made the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (USNTDP) Under-17 Team, and Liam Storch has already signed with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit as well.
Caesars starts things off with a showdown against Victory Honda on Rink 2, before running into Biggby Coffee and Fox Motors in the final two days.
The ‘07s start their important 15-Only season on Rink 3, and just like the aforementioned age group, Little Caesars is looking for a state championship repeat. Can the storied AAA franchise connected to the Detroit Red Wings repeat in the 15O age group as the 2007 team moves up into their junior draft season?
The LC ’07s feature plenty of firepower with the likes of Aiden Janz, Easton Pace, Evan Jardine and William Horcoff, son of former NHLer and Red Wings assistant general manager Shawn Horcoff. They start things off with a rivalry battle against HoneyBaked as the first game of the weekend on Rink 3 Friday afternoon, and then LC gets Fox and Belle Tire to round out the weekend.
The 2008 birth year begins its first season with a spot at USA Hockey Nationals on the line. Last year, HoneyBaked claimed the crown at the end of the state tournament for the age group. Will they be repeating this season?
The HB squad starts things off with a battle against Biggby to wrap up the Rink 4 activities on Friday. Saturday, they close the rink after a skate with Victory Honda. On Sunday, they wrap things up with the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, who are the de facto host team as the primary resident of the Troy Sports Center.
There can be some big turnover on rosters from year-to-year in the state of Michigan, which makes forecasting an early-season showcase hard to do. That said, the one thing we can be sure of is that there will be a whole bunch of junior and college scouts watching from the corners of the rinks, looking to see what the Mitten State has to offer this year.
The AAA Kickoff Classic was the first big tournament of the fall in the United States, and in the process it provided an early look at some teams to watch for this season.
While the 15U, 16U and 18U divisions were showcase-style events with no true playoff structure, the 14U division featured a round-robin preliminary round before semifinal and championship contests, allowing Seacoast Performance Academy to flex some muscle at the 2008 birth year.
The SPA crew finished 5-1-1 over the course of the four-day event, leaving Grand Rapids, Mich., with a tournament title before the calendar flips to September.
In the championship game, the Spartans and Team Wisconsin both scored three goals apiece in the opening frame, but in the final two periods, SPA took control, and eventually won 6-3.
It was a big victory for SPA in terms of winning the AAA Kickoff Classic title, but also because they avenged their only loss in the early-season tournament. The Spartans started things off with a 3-2 nail-biting loss to the same Team Wisconsin club, ending up on the wrong end of a three-goal third period between the two clubs.
That was the only time they would lose in Grand Rapids, however, as Seacoast rebounded with a 7-1 thumping of Team Illinois Friday morning. In their second Friday tilt, SPA played one of the two clubs from Czechia, battling the Pilsen Wolves to a 5-5 tie.
On Saturday, SPA won their two contests by scoring five goals in each – first they beat Chicago Fury 5-2, before taking care of the Nashville Jr. Predators 5-1 later in the day.
In the first of two playoff games on Sunday, SPA took on the other Czech club, and HC Trinec dragged them all the way to a shootout. The Spartans prevailed in the shootout session, leaving with a 2-1 final on the scoreboard and a rematch with Team Wisconsin at 2 p.m.
In the title contest, Timothy Kazda wasn’t about to let SPA fall to Team Wisconsin again. A native of Slovakia, Kazda was dominant in the final, scoring a hat trick in the first period alone, and finishing with five goals in the 6-3 win.
That five-goal outing put Kazda in first place in scoring for both the 14U division and the Kickoff Classic field across all age groups. He finished with 12 goals and 13 total points. Aside from Kazda, SPA had well-balanced scoring throughout the tournament, as Jackson Smail had six points, while Daniel Trucka, Rockland Babcock, Hunter Chadbourne and Garrit Turcotte all had five.
Kamden Jackson and Filip Vavro took care of business between the pipes for SPA, both appearing in four contests apiece.
Team Wisconsin had plenty of firepower throughout the tournament, as well, as the next three spots in the 14U scoring race went to members of the second-place squad. Mack Diggins had 11 total points, while Grant Molski and Owen Porter both had nine.
They didn’t play in as many games as the 14U division, but the 16U Team Wisconsin made their own early-season statement in Grand Rapids.
After making the trek across (or probably around) Lake Michigan, Team Wisconsin played to a perfect 3-0-0 record in the showcase-style event.
None of their games were decided by more than two goals, showing that TW can go up against top competition and hold their own when things get tense.
On Friday, they took down SPA 3-1. Caden Feinstein scored in the first, Dylan Bryne scored in the second, and Will McDonald wrapped things up in the third.
Saturday, they took care of Team Minnesota, a collection of high school players from the ‘State of Hockey.’ Bryne’s third-period goal turned out to be the difference in that one; Riley Boyle and James Flanigan also scored for TW.
To wrap things up, they went toe-to-toe with Little Caesars in a Sunday afternoon affair, taking on a team that was a national title contender last season. All three goals in the contest were scored in the third period; TW scored twice, while LC only scored one. Quinn Smith and Jackson Hoem had the goals in a 2-1 win, as TW picked up a statement win early in the year.
Smith ended up leading TW in scoring with five points in the three games, while three players — Bryne, Vincent Greene and Joseph Coghlin — had two points apiece.
Rowan White started two games, finishing with a .938 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average. Devin Rustlie played in one game, allowing two goals and registering a .913 save percentage.
It’s the first big tournament of the 2022-23 schedule, which means one thing — hockey season is officially here. The 2022 AAA Kickoff Classic is back for its second year, bringing together talent from across the country — and the globe — to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Played across the 14U, 15O, 16U and 18U age groups, the early-season event kicks off today at the Southside Ice Arena and Kentwood Ice Arena on the west side of the Great Lakes State.
Let’s take a look at the competition for each of the divisions:
Eight teams are coming to Grand Rapids for the 14U age group, as the 2008 birth year begins play in its first nationals-bound season. The first game of the age group, however, features one of the teams that won’t be competing for a USA Hockey national title — HC Trinec of Czech Republic. HC Trinec, which will play the Nashville Jr. Predators to kick things off at 3 p.m. EST, is joined by the Pilsen Wolves, as two 14U teams from Czechia are making the pilgrimage to Grand Rapids.
Joining those three squads in the eight-team field are the Chicago Fury, Team Wisconsin, Seacoast Performance Academy, Team Illinois and Fox Motors, Southside Ice Arena’s primary tenant.
The 4:35 time slot at Kentwood will be a good one; the matchup between SPA and Team Wisconsin will certainly be one to keep an eye on. Last year, TW finished as the No. 8-ranked team in the country on our World Hockey Hub rankings, while SPA checked in at No. 19 on MyHockeyRankings. Rosters change every fall, but when those two squads clash, it will be a good matchup of Top-20 teams in the country.
The 15-Only age group features six teams competing from the 2007 birth-year. Team Minnesota and Michigan Hockey Advancement bring high school talent from two hockey powerhouse states together for the tournament. SPA brings its ’07 group, Fox Motors is in, and the Pittsburgh Predators and the Nashville Jr. Preds battle for the title of best Preds squad in the age group. It may just be six teams, but it’s going to be a fun weekend of hockey in the age group.
On Saturday, MHA and Team Minnesota battle it out; that’s definitely one to tune in for.
In the 16U group, we have 10 teams slated to participate. Like the younger age groups, there’s SPA, Fox Motors, the Pittsburgh Preds, Team Wisconsin, Michigan Hockey Advancement, Team Minnesota and the Nashville Jr. Predators. To spice things up a bit, Little Caesars, the Tri-State Spartans and a Team Wisconsin Prep team also enter the ring for the 2006 birth-year bracket.
Last year, the Little Caesars ’06s finished ranked No. 5 in the country and No. 11 in the world by World Hockey Hub. The roster will look a little different this fall, like it will for most teams, as some of the players have moved on to junior hockey. Still, LC will be expected to compete for a national title again this season, and they’re one of the many teams in this group to keep an eye on.
Caesars takes on SPA on Saturday, and Team Wisconsin to round things out on Sunday. Each of those battles could provide a glimpse into our preseason rankings set to come out next month.
In the biggest field of any age group, 12 teams will be competing in the 18U division at the Kickoff Classic. HoneyBaked makes the drive from Metro Detroit to GR for the tournament, as does Compuware. They will be battling SPA, Fox Motors, Team Wisconsin, Chicago Fury, MHA, Tri-State Spartans, Team Minnesota, the Nashville Jr. Preds and the Pittsburgh Preds over the four-day span.
The 18U Nashville Preds and Team Wisconsin squads finished two spots apart in last year’s 18U final rankings on MyHockeyRankings — they clash on Saturday for a big early-season battle.
Fox Motors and SPA wrap up a wild first day of hockey with an 8 p.m. puck drop Thursday night as well.
WHH will have more coverage from the Kickoff Classic, and other major tournaments to start the 2022-23 season. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for the latest news!
The bad news? It’s back-to-school season.
The good news? It’s hockey season.
While youth hockey players pack up their backpacks to begin another school year, they’re also loading up their hockey bags for the beginning of the fall hockey campaign.
While the Canadian hockey community may be waiting a few more weeks to really get going, the end of August marks the start of some big, early-season tournaments in both the United States and Europe.
Let’s take a look at some of the early-season offerings and tournaments the World Hockey Hub will be keeping an eye on as we put away our sunblock and dust off our preferred rink attire.
The AAA Kickoff Classic brings top talent to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a season-opening tournament in the 14U through 18U age groups. At the 14U level, eight teams will do battle, including two from Czechia — HC Trinec and the Pilsen Wolves. The six-team 15U division features the likes of Team Minnesota and New Hampshire’s Seacoast Performance Academy, while 10 teams show up for 16U, including Little Caesars, Team Wisconsin, and the Nashville Jr. Predators. The largest field is a 12-team 18U division.
While the west coast of Michigan will have a big-time AAA tournament taking place, the east coast of the United States will be having one, as well. The NJ August Showcase for the Eastern Exposure Series is bringing a select group of teams together in the same 14U through 18U age brackets for an early-season tune-up. At 14U, the St. Lawrence Steel, Mercer Chiefs, New Jersey Devils and New Jersey Jets will square off for a five-game weekend, while the older groups will play three-game showcase-style tournaments. Showing up in the older brackets are the likes of the North Jersey Avalanche, the Philadelphia Hockey Club, the New Jersey Rockets, and the PAL Jr. Islanders. It will be some tough competition for teams that will be spending a lot of time together this year.
The Sweden Hockey Trophy tournament series kicks off Sept. 1 – 4 for the 2008 age group. 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 birth years will follow suit over the following weeks, making Stockholm the place to be in Sweden. This preseason event regularly sets the tone for top teams in the country, separating contenders from pretenders. It isn’t just local, either. Teams from Finland, Norway, Czech Republic, Slovakia and other Central European countries have competed in this Swedish tournament in recent years.
Another top-level, early-season Scandinavian event is the U15 DIF Elitcup, set to showcase 2008s next month. Hosted by one of the top clubs in the country, Djurgårdens IF welcomes other reputable programs like Frölunda HC, Färjestad BK and a select few others to compete in an elite eight-team tournament. Nearly 30 games in three days of some of the best teams in Sweden.
Tuki-Areena in Rauma, Finland, will host a bevy of teams from the 2010 age group across three different divisions. The AAA+ Division features arguably the top eight clubs in the country with Jokerit, Kärpät, and Tappara leading the way.
Just concluded over the weekend, but worth noting another event out of Finland. The Symppisturnaus featured 16 teams at the U15 age group across two divisons: AAA+ and AAA. Only one team was shut out on the weekend; each of the other 15 teams all picked up at least one point in the three-game round robin. Tappara Black defeated KalPa Black 3-2 in the AAA+ championship game; the last of 23 tournament games to be decided by two goals or fewer over the weekend.