The second annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game brought the finest group of 2014 draft-eligible American prospects to Pittsburgh, with Team Johnson defeating Team Mullen 5-2 at CONSOL Energy Center.
All 5,059 fans in attendance were treated to an exciting back-and-forth bout between 40 of the best American hockey prospects that are eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft. Penguins fans came out to show their support for USA Hockey and the strides the Penguins organization has made to bring these national events to CONSOL Energy Center.
“I am a fan. I enjoy following hockey at all different levels and to see an event like this is Pittsburgh, with all American prospects, it is great,” said local hockey fan Ken Lucas, who was sporting a Team USA jersey at the game.
“With the [NHL] Draft, and the Frozen Four after that and now this, it is cool to see the national hockey spotlight on Pittsburgh.”
Penguins General Manager Ray Shero – who is the associate general manager for the US Men’s Olympic Team and is a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team advisory board – was thrilled when the franchise was asked to host the event and talked about the benefit for not only the American-born prospects playing and getting a lot of exposure, but also for the NHL teams scouting them. Approximately 125 NHL scouts were credentialed for the game, which has become a must-see event for all 30 clubs.
“I think it is a great opportunity for the NHL teams to see all these kids in one place that are basically all over North America,” Shero said, who brought 7-8 members of his staff to the first CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects last year in Buffalo. “You got some kids in the [US National Team] development program, some in prep school, some in junior hockey and to see all these kids in one spot, it has been fantastic for everybody.”
Seven of the players participating in Thursday night’s game were rated as Class A skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service – meaning they are projected to be picked in the first two rounds of the 2014 NHL Draft.
One of those Class A skaters was the first goal scorer in the game for Team Johnson, University of Michigan commit Dylan Larkin. Larkin, who scored on a bouncing puck in front of the cage in the second period, was one of 24 players in the game representing the U.S. National Team Development Program.
Team Mullen scored the equalizer on the power play in third period, courtesy of a snap shot from defenseman Jack Dougherty. The blueliner received a beautiful pass on the half wall from Philadelphia native Tony DeAngelo before snapping one to the top corner.
But just minutes later, Team Johnson responded with a goal off a loose puck in front of the net from Keegan Iverson, who earned his second point of the night with the tally. And left wing Sonny Milano ended any chance of a Team Mullen comeback when he capitalized off a Team Mullen turnover and slipped one through the five-hole of goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
Joe Wegwerth scored Team Mullen’s second goal, which proved to be their last. Center Chase De Leo scored the goal that put Team Johnson ahead 4-2 and ended any hope of a Team Mullen comeback. Forward Shane Eiserman capped off the scoring with an empty netter for Team Johnson.
The two-point effort from Iverson, a teammate of Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot (the 8th-overall pick in the 2012 draft) for the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, earned him Player of the Game honors.
“It is a great experience,” Iverson said. “Coming in I didn’t really know what to expect, I was a little nervous. But to get player of the game was really just a great experience.”
Iverson’s head coach, 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ Olympic hero Mark Johnson, talked after the game about how far USA Hockey has come to be able to host an event like this every year.
“I think it [USA Hockey] is in a great position,” Johnson said. “Just excited to have [this game] in Pittsburgh. I mean the growth and the excitement for ice hockey right now in western Pennsylvania is at an all-time high. So, a lot of credit goes to USA Hockey for the different programs and grassroots level people that are continually working. You are reaping the benefits right now where all of the sudden this is the second year we have a game that we have our top 40 players in. Probably eight or nine years ago you couldn’t have done that. A lot more kids playing and a lot more athletes playing in the game tonight. It won’t be too long until they have NHL jerseys on and are getting paid to play.”