When Blackhawks prospects Alex Broadhurst and Michael Paliotta take the ice at USA Hockey’s Evaluation Camp in August, they will be one step closer to carrying on a 10-year tradition for the organization: representing Team USA at the annual World Junior Championship, held this year in Ufa, Russia.
Paliotta is a veteran of the U.S. National Team Development Program at the U-17 and U-18 levels, so evaluation camp, which will be held in Lake Placid, N.Y., from Aug 4-11, will signal recognizable drills and expectations for the defenseman, who tries to exhibit a hard-nosed mentality to go along with his large frame.
“Probably 75 percent of the kids at camp have played with the program, so there will be a lot of familiar faces,” Paliotta says. “I’m familiar with how USA Hockey runs things. It’ll definitely help a lot, going into camp.”
A 19-year-old native of Westport, Conn., Paliotta just completed his freshman year at the University of Vermont, logging big minutes against tough competition in one of the NCAA’s most competitive conferences. The team recorded just a 6-27-1 record, but Paliotta relished the experience of playing in all situations, ranking third among Catamount blueliners with four goals and six helpers in 30 appearances.
His hard work paid off when he received a call from Jim Johannson, the head of USA Hockey development.
“He told me they were going to invite me to camp in August, and to stay tuned and stay in shape and make sure I was ready to go for camp,” Paliotta says. “I don’t want to go out there and change anything. I got invited to camp for a reason, and I’m just going to give it my best shot and make a good impression, and let everything else fall into place.”
Unlike Paliotta, center Alex Broadhurst hadn’t been on Team USA’s radar, at least until a breakout 2011-12 campaign that culminated in a lap around the rink with the United States Hockey League’s Clark Cup. The Orland Park, Ill., native worked on his shot prior to the season, and the improvement showed, as he led the Green Bay Gamblers with 73 points (26G, 47A) in 53 games. He then paced his team and his league with 14 points (8G, 6A) in nine playoff appearances, including the USHL’s first-ever shorthanded hat trick.
I like to see myself going in as an underdog. There are a lot of skilled guys there, a lot of guys who played in the national team, so I’ve just got to prove myself and play my game.” - Alex Broadhurst
Still, word of an evaluation camp invite came as a surprise to the 19-year-old, who will leave the reigning USHL champion this fall to join the reigning Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights.
“I was actually at a camp with my agency, and someone told me,” Broadhurst said. “I didn’t even know. I was pretty speechless. I didn’t think I would get invited, but sure enough, I did. It was pretty cool.”
As a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, Broadhurst is accustomed to being considered a long-shot.
“I like to see myself going in as an underdog,” he says. “There are a lot of skilled guys there, a lot of guys who played in the national team [development program], so I’ve just got to prove myself and play my game.”
Still, first things first. Right now, Paliotta and Broadhurst are focused on the camp at hand—Blackhawks Prospect Camp, that is. As returning attendees, the familiar routine has added some measure of comfort for both players.
“The nerves are not there as much as last year,” Broadhurst said. “You’re just more prepared; you know what’s going to come, you know what shape you’ve got to be in, and you’re more confident.”
“Last year, when I came to camp, I was still in shock from being part of the Blackhawks organization,” Paliotta says. “It was such a thrill for me and my family. Coming into camp now, I just feel a lot more comfortable showing what strides I’ve made throughout the year.”