If you think that Saturday’s CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game has “no hitter” and “double-digit final score” written all over it, then you are sadly mistaken.
When the top 40 American-born draft eligible players take to the ice at First Niagara Center in this inaugural event, this group of elite 18-year-old hockey players will be looking to use this game to climb up another rung in the ladder on their way to achieving the ultimate goal – becoming an NHL player.
That means that not only will the skill level be amped up, so will the intensity. TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie is familiar with the style of play in the Canadian Hockey League’s annual Top Prospects Games, and expects much of the same on Saturday.
“I think you’ll see the physical play. There’s big time hits, and also some fights,” he explains. “These kids are playing for real. A draft-eligible kid now is savvy enough to know that if they’re going into an NHL rink with NHL scouts filling the stands, they need to bring their ‘A’ game."
“If they go out there and treat it like an All-Star Game – fun and games, and let’s see if we can make this 11-10 and do my dangles out there – that’s not going to play very well with the scouts. They want to see kids go in there and treat this thing seriously. It should be a real hockey game. A real hockey game involves real hits, and there should be a fight or two. If you’re a goal scorer, go score goals. If you’re a hitter, go hit. If you’re a fighter, then go fight. You’ve got to do the best you can do to show the NHL scouts what you’ve got.”
More than 100 scouts from 22 different NHL teams have already confirmed their attendance, along with representatives from the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. In addition, there have been 50 requests for media credentials from outlets all over the United States and Canada.
This USA Hockey showcase event is more than three years in the making, and should pay dividends for these 40 players when the 2013 NHL Entry Draft gets underway in New Jersey next June.
“The more times you can bring together elite kids in one spot for the scouts to see them, the better it is. And it’s also about USA Hockey promoting its brand and its program. It makes all the sense in the world. The NHL scouts will thank you for it. Because so often these scouts have to scramble all over the place, and the more showcases they see the better it is.”
I think you’ll see the physical play. There’s big time hits, and also some fights. These kids are playing for real. A draft-eligible kid now is savvy enough to know that if they’re going into an NHL rink with NHL scouts filling the stands, they need to bring their ‘A’ game. - TSN Analyst Bob McKenzie
The 40 players selected to compete in the game were chosen by USA Hockey in conjunction with NHL Central Scouting, and they have been split into two teams: Team Housley, coached by former Sabre Phil Housley; and Team McClanahan, guided by another former Sabre and member of the 1980 USA ‘Miracle on Ice’ squad, Rob McClanahan.
Defenseman Seth Jones, currently the top rated US-born player in next June’s draft, will suit up for Team McClanahan alongside Buffalo’s own Justin Bailey. Team Housley’s roster is highlighted by another Buffalo product in forward Sean Malone, and high-scoring J.T. Compher from the U.S. National Under-18 Team in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Both coaches are well aware of what’s at stake on Saturday for these kids – and it won’t come in the form of a final score.
“I think it’s going to be a very competitive game. It’s important we play as a team,” said Housley. “This will be a very important game for a lot of kids futures.”
“This type of opportunity didn’t exist in any way, shape or form when I played,” explained McClanahan. “These kids have been working hard, they need to trust what they’ve done so far and go with it. They’re not just preparing for this game, they are preparing for the rest of their lives.”