AAPG coaches have eyes opened by on-ice talent

Thursday, 09.26.2013 / 1:02 PM | Wes Crosby  - NHL.com Correspondent

Mark Johnson and Joe Mullen have spent one day with their players prior to the 2013 All-American Prospects Game, but the coaches were impressed with the prospects' skill level during practice at Consol Energy Center on Thursday.

Johnson, head coach of the University of Wisconsin women's ice hockey team, said he was amazed with the prospects' development compared to the level of his peers' progress when they were 17 years old. The players' size impressed Johnson the most, as he said they towered over him, even before stepping into their skates.

"I'm used to looking at my players on the level that I'm looking at you right now," Johnson said. "All of a sudden, you're looking up at them. The size and the speed [stood out]. Obviously, when I was playing we had some big players in the League, but they didn't move quite as well as these players do.

"So, it's very impressive to even watch them in a 30-minute workout, and certainly tonight behind the bench it's going to be exciting to see them compete against each other."

Ryan Mantha, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound defenseman, and center Nick Schmaltz, who scored 52 points (18 goals, 34 assists) with the United States Hockey League's Green Bay Gamblers last season, particularly stood out.

"There's some kids who are going to stick out in tonight's game," Johnson said. "Then obviously, Schmaltz, I know a bit about him. I know in Green Bay last year he had a very good season as a young player and is certainly high on a lot of people's lists. So, it will be fun to watch him tonight."

Mullen, assistant coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, was similarly impressed by forward Blake Clarke, who scored 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) for the Ontario Hockey League's Brampton Battalion (now the North Bay Battalion) last season.

"I really liked the way Clarke was shooting the puck out there," Mullen said. "He seems to have some good speed [and] good size, and I was watching him shoot the puck and I don't think any shot that I had seen didn't go in the net. So, he impressed me a lot."

With little experience with his team, Mullen said he shared simple advice with the group.

"I think the message is just don't be too nervous and go out and have fun," Mullen said. "If you're having fun, your legs are working and everything else will fall in place."

Both coaches joked about the possibility of a bet hinging on tonight's outcome. Johnson said he is flying in a Cheese Head, synonymous with the National Football League's Green Bay Packers, while Mullen said he thinks Johnson wants him to eat bratwurst.

"I think he's just looking for a cheesesteak out of me," Mullen said.

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