With the changing of the leaves brings cooler temperatures and another hockey season. For the second consecutive September, USA Hockey hosted the All-American Prospects Game, attracting the top players in the States in their draft year. This year’s edition was held at the Console Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Although early in the season the event draws many NHL Scouts to the rink to get an initial glimpse of elite American talent pool for June’s entry draft. Ironically, this year’s draft will also be held in Pennsylvania, eastbound down Interstate-76 in Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center.
The American talent pool continues to grow as twelve states were represented on Thursday night with the hockey hotbed of Minnesota leading the way with eight players, followed by New York with six players, and Michigan and Illinois showcasing five players each.
USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) who plays USHL and NCAA team schedule had 19 players on the ice in Pittsburgh which was the most from any league. The United States Hockey League itself supplied seven players, trailed by the Ontario Hockey League (OHL)-6, Western Hockey League (WHL) and New England Prep Schools having two players apiece, and sole representation from the British Columbia Hockey League, NCAA, and Minnesota High School.
The game like last year started out somewhat stagnant with the players trying to get a feel of their new teammates, environment, and coaches. The teams were guided by former American greats Mark Johnson (Team White) and Joe Mullen (Team Blue).
From the get-go and through two-thirds of the game, North Dakota commit, Shane Gersich (NTDP-18), displayed his elite offensive talents by continuously generating scoring opportunities, yet would never found his name on the score sheet. He has been a player that has been regarded as one of the best in the ’96 American class. I witnessed his flair two summers ago for a week at the Select 16s Player Development Camp in Rochester, NY and it was evident then he would be a name for scouts to closely monitor.
His line flagged with wingers of Anders Bjork and Dylan Pavelek, also out of the NTDP, found chemistry.
Another capable sniper out of the NTDP, Dylan Larkin, was the first player to find the back of the net in the second period. The Michigan Wolverine commit is another player that I watched in the past show off his high-end scoring abilities. He is deceptively quick on his skates and very effectively finds himself in the right place at the right times. His elusive nature makes for frequent goal scoring. His goal on Thursday night was no different. Off a broken play he found himself all alone down low off the side of the net, then he quickly released a low, far-side shot past goaltender Ed Minney (NTDP) after receiving a Keegan Iverson (Portland WinterHawks) pass from the top of the circle.
Those two players again would hook-up in the third period as Larkin intercepted a clearing attempt by Team Mullen at the blue line and quickly feed a shot on net that goalie, Alex Nedljkovic (Plymouth Whalers), failed to handle to his liking and Iverson cleaned up the rebound. Iverson, a St. Louis Park, MN native was honored with the MVP Award after collecting a goal and an assist while dishing out some physical play.
One of the uncommitted players on spectacle out of the NTDP, Jack Dougherty, wired a beauty shot top shelf on the power-play in the second period for Team Mullen on his off-side after receiving a nifty behind the back pass from the top of the point from OHLer, Anthony DeAngelo (Sarnia Sting). Both defensemen are drawing attention from NHL scouts.
DeAngelo is a slick offensive-defenseman who not only moves the puck well, but also showcases with great puck presence and rushes. The Sewell, NJ local seemed to improve as the game moved along as he displayed his playmaking skills as he set-up his teammates a few times for golden scoring chances.
One of the more underrated players, Shane Eiserman (Dubuque), again was presenting his strong two-way game all night. He isn’t flashy but gives an honest effort every shift and shows his hockey smarts often. He is a good penalty-killer and will constantly make sound decisions with the puck. Although his goal on the night was in empty-net fashion, it was his hockey IQ that led to the tally. With Team Mullen pulling the goalie for the extra attacker, Eiserman pressured the D-man at the point causing the turnover by having his stick in proper positioning. After that the West Newbury, MA native simply outraced his opponent down the ice with the puck to seal the game for Team Johnson.
Notre Dame destined, Sonny Milano (NTDP), who is one of the more highly regarded players and a potential first round selection come June, demonstrated his high-end stick skills as his received a high-low pass from Boston College commit and fellow NTDPer, Alex Tuch (Baldwinsville, NY) off a costly Team Mullen turnover. Milano was left all alone with Nedljkovic coming across the zone at the hash marks and simply made a couple quick moves to open up the goaltender’s pads and he gracefully slipped it in 5-hole style.
The goalies overall demonstrated a solid effort with Ed Minney (Michigan St. bound) leading the way with the .941 save percentage in a losing effort, while his NTDP teammate Blake Weyrick made timely save stopping 19 of 21 shots he faced on the winning side. The only NCAAer in the contest, Thatcher Demko (Boston College) was tested little but managed to stop all 6 shots on the night. Highly regard OHLer, Nedljkovic, stopped 13 shots only to get beat by the scoring punch of Milano, Iverson, and Chase De Leo (Portland WinterHawks).
With the mid-week schedule this year, the players were able to avoid missing any league play for their respective team and were already back in action on Friday night. For the players although a challenge with travel and timing, is a great experience to showcase their skill sets while it gives NHL scouts a centralized event to get an early peak at America’s top hockey talent for the upcoming entry draft.