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USHL Fall Classic gives amateur players chance to impress scouts

Each of league's 16 teams will play two regular-season games at Penguins training facility

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

In a partnership between the NHL and United States Hockey League, the best amateur hockey players in the United States will compete at the Pittsburgh Penguins' practice facility during the DICK'S Sporting Goods USHL Fall Classic from Sept. 26-29. 

Each of the USHL's 16 teams will play two regular-season games in front of more than 400 scouts, including some from the NHL. The Fall Classic will take place at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township, Pa., for a fourth consecutive year.

In addition to the NHL, the USHL has partnered with USA Hockey to put on the event.

"Working with the NHL and USA Hockey, and the Penguins in particular, it's just been really, really exciting," USHL commissioner Tom Garrity said to NHL.com. "I think we expect more scouts from all over the place. From college and pro. All over the world, all over the U.S., to be there. It's just an amazing event."

The Fall Classic will coincide with the last few days of Penguins training camp, allowing the amateur athletes to watch NHL practices before competing on that same rink.

"To have the players able to walk out and watch [Sidney] Crosby and [Jake] Guentzel, and all these guys practicing, it just adds to it," Garrity said. "It's just a wonderful cherry on top of the sundae, so to speak. It's really fun."

Garrity thinks having that window into a potential future could be valuable for USHL players, 70 percent of whom he said are committed to Division I hockey programs. That speaks to the depth of the league, and the quality of talent it possesses, Garrity said.

Even without a marquee name like New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes or Montreal Canadiens forward prospect Cole Caufield, who each played USA Hockey National Team Development Program (USNTDP) last season before being selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, Garrity said this upcoming class of USHL prospects remains impressive.

"The [USNTDP] is what it is. It's fantastic," Garrity said. "It has a tremendous amount of great players. But we also have 15 other teams that are equally as deep and I think there's going to be a lot of talent there that's going to go on to college and then be drafted in the NHL."

Dan Marr, director of NHL central scouting, said the Fall Classic would provide scouts valuable insight into these players. He said none have stood out as an A-class prospect in the preseason, but that could change during the event.

"Right now, at this early stage, the [USNTDP], they have six or seven players that are going to be like A- or B-type candidates," Marr said. "[The USHL], they do have a number of B-talent players that are expected to improve as the season moves along. There's some C-players that we know by reputation more so than viewing. The showcase tournament really helps everyone in the identification process because there's some history, some limited history, with these players from last year and even some previous years."

Alongside the Fall Classic there will be elite invitational youth tournaments featuring 16 teams in four age groups (14-and-under, 15-and-under, 16-and-under and 18-and-under). Those teams will compete at four other rinks across the Pittsburgh region.

The tournaments will include more than 2,000 youth players. Garrity said he views those players as the future of the USHL, and in turn, the NHL.

That, combined with the USHL talent on display in Cranberry, will make for a weekend of hockey Garrity said local fans shouldn't miss.

"With our games," Garrity said, "and these games counting and having a plethora of scouts from all over the country and world there, I just think that if you're a hockey fan and you're anywhere near the area, you should definitely check it out and come watch. It's just fantastic through and through."

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