Brian McDonough | NAHL.com
Already positioned as one of the largest and most prestigious fall festivals in all of North America, the North American Hockey League (NAHL) Showcase Tournament, sponsored by SBK Hockey, held true to form once again last week.
Celebrated at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minn., for the eighth straight year, the event set new highs for attendance and scout presence while ushering in hundreds of the world’s best young hockey prospects.
“From fans to parents to scouts to coaches, I heard nothing but glowing reviews and I think that speaks volumes about the reputation of the Showcase and everyone involved,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “This event has really taken on a life of its own and we can’t wait to bring it to an even higher level next season.”
All 26 NAHL teams played four regular-season games at the tournament, which was highlighted by a visit from six-time Stanley Cup winner Mark Messier, who was in attendance to announce The Messier Project’s new partnership with the NAHL as the league’s Official Helmet Supplier.
The week also included the first tournament of the second North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) season, in which 38 Midget Major (18U), Midget Minor (16U) and Bantam Major (14U) teams competed at the Tier I level.
But the hockey didn’t end there. Twenty-two teams also made up the NAHL Future Prospects Tournament, which included clubs at the 18U and 16U levels. The Minnesota Blades won the Future’s Midget Major championship; the North Jersey Avalanche took home the Midget Minor title.
All of it equated to wall-to-wall hockey at the Super Rink, which drew plenty of praise from college and NHL scouts alike.
“The talent level in the NAHL is pretty impressive; it's amazing how many good young players are out there,” said Derek Plante, an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota Duluth of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). “And the talent at the Midget and Bantam levels was also high; there were some elite athletes, which made it beneficial to watch for our program.”
“It’s an great opportunity for these young men to showcase their talents in front of scouts from all across the country,” said Tony Gasparini, an amateur scout for the Los Angeles Kings. “Having an event like this at this time of year allows every team to get a first look and feel for the league and the players, which is beneficial for everybody.”
In the end, it was the Wichita Falls Wildcats, who went a perfect 4-0 at the event, laying claim to the Showcase Tournament championship after besting the also-undefeated Topeka RoadRunners in the tiebreaker.
“There was high-end talent, as well as developing players, which makes for a good evaluation for college recruiters,” noted Tom Newton, an assistant coach with Michigan State University of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). “The ability to see that many prospects in one spot in a well-organized setting was just outstanding.”
“I thought the overall talent showcased was very good at both the NAHL
and NAPHL levels,” added Bemidji State University assistant coach Ted Belisle,
whose team has 11 former NAHL players on its WCHA roster. “The games
were very competitive and enjoyable to watch, and there were many
players who left a good impression with our program.”
Mark Catron, head coach of the Indiana Jr. Ice’s 18U team which leads its division after opening its NAPHL season with a 5-0 record (there’s a three-way tie between Thunder AAA, Omaha AAA and the California Titans in the 16U division; the Rocky Mountain Roughriders lead the 14U bracket), was wowed by all of the scouts situated throughout the building the entire week.
“What an awesome event,” he said. “Scouts were visible at every game and, as a coach, I was extremely pleased with how much they watched all of the teams.”
“The event was first class in every sense of the word,” added Omaha AAA 16U head coach David Wilkie. “The scouting presence was unparalleled.”
The tournament doesn’t come close to reaching its prestige without the Super Rink, the largest facility of its kind in the world. From its eight sheets of ice to its accommodating and experienced staff, no other building matches what the Super Rink delivers.
“We couldn’t host an event like this anywhere else, and the reason it evolves year after year is because of the great people at the Super Rink,” said Frankenfeld. “They do an outstanding job from head to toe and we can’t thank them enough for their efforts.”
“The Showcase is always a great event and one we look forward to hosting every year,” Super Rink ice arena operations and program director Pete Carlson said. “The NAHL and its staff does a phenomenal job and it’s a treat to work with them.”
In addition to the abundance of talent, scouts were also impressed with how well the tournament was run.
“I’ve always been pleased with the Showcase,” said Belisle. “Considering the amount of teams and games played, it always amazes me how smooth the event runs, and that speaks to the organization and level of professionalism of those involved with the NAHL.”
“It’s a great venue to watch a lot of hockey in one place, and it’s mind-boggling at times because there’s so much hockey going on at one time,” added Plante. “I thought the Showcase was very well organized and the staff was very accommodating to the scouting community.”
Gasparini, who's attended the event the last four years, agrees.
"Once again, I was very impressed with the level of organization involved with both NAHL events,” he said. “I thought they were well organized and very scout-friendly.”
"The coaches make themselves available in the scout area if there are questions on players, which is very helpful, too," added Washington Capitals amateur scout AJ. Toews. "The NAHL Showcase is a well-run event that's very scout friendly."
And, for many of the participating players, the experience will pay off in short time.
“Our mission as a league is to maximize the exposure of all of our players and prospective players, and there’s no better forum to do that than at the Showcase,” said Frankenfeld. “It’s a special event and one we’re very proud of and look forward to every fall.”