Tuesday, December 02, 2008

North Showcase lives up to its billing

By Brian McDonough, NAHL.com

It’s only been around a couple of years, but the NAHL’s North Division Showcase is quickly becoming another highly-regarded scouting spectacle for the league to hang its hat on and it proved that again over Thanksgiving weekend.

With the exception of the U.S. National Team, every club from the NAHL’s North Division, along with the South Division’s St. Louis Bandits, converged on the Youngstown, Ohio, area for three games and, as expected, the event hit on all cylinders.

“The tournament was a tremendous success from a scouting standpoint,” said Traverse City North Stars head coach Anthony Palumbo, whose team finished 1-1-1 at the Showcase. “There were many Division I and III scouts there to provide great exposure for our players. It was a really great opportunity for our players to showcase their skills.”

No less than 40 Division I and III schools were represented at the three-day event, including Bowling Green State University, Brown University, Ohio State University and Merrimack College to name a few.

“As players, I don’t think our guys could’ve asked for a better place to showcase themselves in front of all the college recruiters in attendance throughout the weekend,” added Alpena IceDiggers assistant coach Justin Bracci, whose team posted a 2-1 mark at the Showcase.

“It's what we're all about at this level - getting our players prepared and moved onto the next level,” said Mahoning Valley Phantoms head coach Bob Mainhardt, whose team went 2-1. “Getting scouts and coaches into the building is a huge part of the Showcase and we're thrilled to have had so many in attendance this year.”

And speaking of attendance, the fan support didn’t disappoint either.

Well over 5,000 people made their way to the Chevrolet Centre and the Ice Zone, which played host to the nine games over the weekend, much to the delight of the Phantoms staff.

“Obviously, the scout exposure is the key to this event, but we’re very excited to have such a large fan turnout over a holiday weekend,” said Mainhardt.

One of the highlights of the Showcase was Mahoning Valley’s spirited 3-2 shootout win over Traverse City on Friday, as over 3,900 came through the Chevy Centre turnstiles to see the hometown Phantoms kick off the event with a win.

“It was an experience our boys will talk about long after their hockey careers are over,” said Palumbo. “The atmosphere was incredible and the fans couldn’t have been treated to a more entertaining game.”

And for Phantoms forward Jordy Trottier, who tallied a goal in regulation and one in the shootout, the game held extra meaning.

“I was pumped up because my uncle Bryan (Trottier) was in the crowd," said Jordy. “It always gets the juices flowing to know there's an NHL Hall of Famer in the house watching me play.”

Staged in January last year, the Showcase was moved to November this season to offer more exposure for the division’s players just two months after the NAHL Showcase Tournament, which is held annually in Minnesota.

“The timing couldn't be better,” said Mainhardt.

Neither could the competitiveness.

No team at this year’s event left with a perfect record and all but two games were decided by two goals or less.

“I think that’s just an indication of the parity in our league and that you need to be ready to play every night,” said Palumbo.

“We've been saying all year that we play in the toughest division in the league and I think the tournament results are a testament to that,” added Mainhardt, whose team sits atop the North Division heading into December. “The North Division showed that its teams can beat anyone, which is going to make for an exciting race the rest of the way.”

St. Louis forward Andrew Hamburg led the tournament's charge offensively with a goal and eight assists, with teammate Justin Kirchhevel right behind him with four goals and three assists. Marquette Rangers forward Chad Pietila tallied a goal and five assists. The Bandits’ Keith Kincaid and the Phantoms’ Jordan Tibbett each picked up two victories between the pipes.

St. Louis finished with a 2-1 record, Motor City at 1-1-1 and Marquette at 1-2.

“Having a great facility like the Chevy Center to stage this event, and the support from the city of Youngstown, was a tribute to how far the NAHL has come in the development of so many young hockey players,” said Bracci.

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