Cedar Rapids left wing Ross Colton, who is committed to the University of Vermont, scored a hat trick to lead Team East to a 6-2 victory against Team West in the 2016 United States Hockey League/NHL Top Prospects Game at Ralston Arena in Omaha, Neb., on Tuesday.
Colton, a native of Robbinsville, N.J., set a record for most goals and points (five) in the four-year history of the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Named the most valuable player for Team East, he certainly made the most of his opportunity in front of numerous NCAA coaches and NHL scouts in attendance.
Colton (5-foot-11, 190 pounds), who had four goals and five points in five games for the U.S. Select Team at the 2015 World Junior A Challenge, has 18 goals and 33 points in 27 games for the RoughRiders in 2015-16. He already has equaled the 18 goals and 33 points scored in 58 games in 2014-15.
"The players received an opportunity to showcase themselves in front of NCAA coaches and in front of the NHL staff," said Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting. "Almost 100 percent of these players have NCAA scholarships so that's their development path. They've already achieved a level of success in hockey. The path to the NHL isn't always through the draft, but it's events like the USHL top prospects game that get those players more exposure to NHL personnel."
Bob Fallen, USHL president and commissioner, was glad to see so many top young players in the league have an opportunity to showcase their talents.
"Our league for years has battled for notoriety and respect as the top Tier 1 league in the United States," Fallen said. "Over time, the USHL has evolved into something that's on par with any junior league in the world. We're producing a lot of great players in this league and looking forward to continuing that."
Here are five things we learned from the fourth annual USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game:
Top line magic: Dubuque teammates Michael O'Leary and William Knierim, a B-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list, and Colton formed the top offensive unit in the game.
The line combined for four goals, seven assists, a plus-14 rating and eight shots on goal.
"I played with [Knierim] in the past and I think we work well and [Colton] is a tremendous player," O'Leary told USHL.com. "[Colton] has all the tools. We were talking out there and communicating well. Being on the ice with two great players made it easy."
Knierim (6-2, 207), who finished with two assists and a plus-4 rating, was also involved in the first fight at a USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Knierim and Sioux City defenseman Michael Boyle (6-2, 208), also a B-rated skater on Central Scouting's November list, engaged in lengthy scrap with 4:28 remaining in the third.
High scoring All-Stars: The leading scorers in the USHL at the All-Star break, forwards Tanner Laczynski of the Chicago Steel and Rem Pitlick of the Muskegon Lumberjacks, were teammates for Team East.
Laczynski (6-0, 197), who has 10 goals and 35 points in 27 games for Chicago, is a C-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list. He's projected to be drafted in either the fourth, fifth, or sixth round. He is the only player participating to have played in the 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Dubuque, Ia., and he scored three assists.
Laczynski, named to the 2014-15 USHL All-Rookie Second Team after scoring 18 goals and 46 points in 57 games, is committed to Ohio State University in 2016-17.
Pitlick (5-9, 196), who has 19 goals and 35 points in 24 games, had three shots on goal and was continually around the Team West cage looking for opportunities.
Top stopper: Waterloo goaltender Cale Morris (6-1, 190), committed to the University of Notre Dame in 2016-17, stopped all 12 shots he faced for Team East in 31:12 of action. Morris is 8-4-2 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 15 games for the Black Hawks, winning four of his past five starts.
He became the fifth goaltender in the four-year history of the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game to post a shutout.
His best stop came 1:30 into the second period when he denied Sioux City left wing CJ Dodero (6-3, 195), a B-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list, off a quick shot from in the slot.
Morris, a left-handed catching goalie, started 34 straight games from the end of 2014-15 to the start of this season. He was named to the 2014-15 All-USHL Third Team.
Unsung stars: Youngstown left wing Cam Morrison, 17, the youngest player in the Top Prospects Game, finished with one goal and two shots for Team East. Morrison (6-2, 225), a C-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list, will attend the University of Notre Dame in 2016-17. Morrison has 17 goals, 34 points and a plus-18 rating in 30 games as a rookie for the Phantoms.
Tri-City left wing Wade Allison (6-2, 205) was named the most valuable player for Team West after scoring one goal and an assist. Allison, committed to Western Michigan University, has 13 goals and 17 points in 32 games for Tri-City this season.
Hall of Fame puck: O'Leary, who scored the first goal of the game 2:19 into the first period for Team East, will have his equipment and the puck he shot past Lincoln goaltender Peyton Jones enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
This year the first goal scored at the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game will be memorialized in the Hockey Hall of Fame. O'Leary's jersey, gloves, stick and puck will be packaged and delivered to the Hall of Fame.
"Ross [Colton] made a great play over to me, and I was 1-on-1 with the goalie, who was kind of to one side so made a move and found the net (off the backhand)," O'Leary told USHL.com.
O'Leary (6-1, 196) has five goals, 13 points and 53 shots on goal in 30 games for the Fighting Saints as a rookie in 2015-16. He spent two seasons with Salisbury Prep in Connecticut.