Most of the hockey world is on pins and needles waiting for the lockout to end, but you wouldn’t know it sitting inside Young Arena in Waterloo, Iowa. The team mascot, a large bird named Tommy Hawk with a big Domino's Pizza logo on the back of his jersey, riled up the cowbell-waving fans of the hometown Blackhawks in the stands while others grabbed beer and leafed through the game program, reading about their opponent, the Youngstown Phantoms. Hockey lives on.
It’s typical fare, albeit with absurd twists. I smiled when the guy operating the goal horn sounded it after a fight, but I felt uncomfortable when he loudly blared it after an injured hometown player, who had been lying face down on the ice for minutes after being checked head first into the boards, finally got to his feet. Those enamored with the polish of the NHL product might be taken aback by the differences, but I actually found them refreshing. The NHL takes pains to create a unified, balanced product league-wide, but junior teams are standalone products with their own intricacies to be appreciated.
The man who I had the pleasure of sitting next to, Jean, has had Blackhawks tickets since 1962. Numerous times during the games, Jean’s friends would drop by to say hello, some stopping to converse about the team and the town. No mention of the lockout or the rest of the USHL. The crowd had more Waterloo Blackhawks fans than hockey fans. That’s not a slight. If anything, it insulates them from the frustrations of the current CBA nightmare, which is something to envy.
I stopped in Waterloo to get a look at four 2013-draft-eligible players on their roster: forward Taylor Cammarata, defenseman Ian McCoshen, and one of goaltenders Eamon McAdam and Cal Petersen. I learned just days before the game that the latter three players had all been suspended for breaking team rules, so Cammarata became my focal point.
A Minnesota Golden Gophers recruit for 2013-14, Cammarata was the first overall pick in the 2011 USHL Draft and broke onto the scene in a big way in his first season with the Blackhawks, scoring 27 goals and adding 42 assists for 69 points in 60 games as a 16-year-old en route to winning Rookie of the Year honors. In the playoffs, Cammarata had 16 points in 15 games, helping propel Waterloo to the Clark Cup Finals where they bowed out to Green Bay in five games.
“It was a really fun year last year,” Cammarata said. “We had a good team that helped me mature a lot in the league.”
Despite his early success with the team, the young forward recognizes that there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Clocking in at 5’7", 160 pounds, Cammarata will need to prove himself as more than just a skilled forward if he wants to crack the NHL in the future.
“This year I just want to be a more all-around player,” he said. “Mainly just getting faster and using the body more in the defensive zone.”
Now that there’s a book on him around the league, he was clearly a target for Youngstown, taking a number of heavy hits in addition to being exposed defensively. He was never a total liability but there were a number of shifts where he was uninvolved, particularly later in the game after he had been shaken by contact.
Despite a need for polish, his talent is undeniable. There are aspects of Cammarata’s offensive game that are impossible to teach, and that alone will be enough to get an NHL team excited about drafting and developing him. When asked if he’d thought about that, Cammarata replied humbly.
“[Getting drafted] has always been a goal my whole life,” he said. “But right now I’m just focused on having a good year here.”
Here’s my scouting report on Cammarata’s game. Please keep in mind that although I’ve taken pains to be as detailed as possible, a one-game sample size is rarely enough to perfectly gauge a player’s ability. Take it for what it’s worth:
“Finesse offensive forward, primarily a playmaker off the wing. Set up on the half wall on the power-play, drifting between the corner and the point. Killed penalties sparingly. Biggest asset is his vision. On numerous occasions he threaded perfectly timed passes, on-ice and saucer, through tight seams. Immediate instinct was almost always to pass. In certain situations, such as when he quickly reacted to a turnover and one-touched a perfect snap pass to an open teammate in front, his playmaking ability looked outstanding and very natural. In others, like when he readied for a slap shot off the rush then faked, held the puck, and dished it into a crowded slot, he looked to be trying to force a fancier play.
Showed deceptive hands but without a lot of stops and starts with his feet, limiting his effectiveness in evading checks both in the offensive zone and on the breakout. Stickhandling looked best on the power-play when he had room to work with.
Showed great passing ability in maintaining power-play pressure. Was almost always the first option for his teammates, who tried to get him the puck as often as possible. Flashed the ability to lead an offense. Was the main creative force behind sustained-pressure offensive situations on multiple occasions at even and extra strength, but also had a hard time maintaining poise in the face of physical contact.
Was clearly a target for the opposition and was tightly checked. His strength was a limiting factor. Was pushed off the puck too easily and took too many hits for a finesse player. Did surprise in shaking off contact, but only on a few occasions. On one distinct occasion he tried to wind up for an end-to-end rush and was disoriented by an oncoming forechecker, leading to a costly turnover.
Skating is a little awkward and choppy but mostly effective. Good acceleration from side to side. Showed effective burst getting to loose pucks. Had trouble getting to top speed. Would benefit greatly from more evasiveness to his game and quicker decision making in the face of contact. Liked to take the puck to the slot in stride, not so much to take a shot as to draw a defender and open up a teammate for a pass. Would benefit from shooting the puck more as when he did put the puck on net he was dangerous. For his first goal of the game he forced a turnover, held onto the puck with great patience, stickhandled into the high slot, and fired home a hard, accurate wrister.
His offensive zone instincts were good overall. Followed his teammates’ shots to the net and liked to try to find soft spots in coverage. His second goal came from crashing the net for a rebound. Was inconsistent overall with his effort, particularly in the defensive zone and on the backcheck. Rarely came back into his own zone, except to restart the offense and when Youngstown maintained pressure. Lost his man in the neutral zone on a few occasions. Sometimes had his head on a swivel in the defensive zone and covered his man well, sometimes seemed disinterested in defense altogether. Had a few shifts where his eyes seemed glued to the puck and his feet stopped moving. Did not show a good effort in getting back to the bench for changes. Tried to do too much on numerous occasions. Showed enthusiasm on the penalty kill but had issues with coverage.”
The game ended 9-6 in favor of Youngstown. Cammarata had two goals and one assist on the night.
Other Waterloo players who impressed in the game were sparkplug Brandon Salerno (F, 2013-eligible, committed to Maine), who flashed great wheels as well as good defensive awareness and forechecking ability, and Justin Kloos (F, passed over in 2012, committed to Minnesota) who was trying to make things happen on every shift with his speed and playmaking ability. The Minnesota native was named 2012’s Mr. Hockey after an outstanding season (103 points in 31 games) with Lakeville South High.
Youngstown’s noticeable's were John Piccinich (F, 2014-eligible, committed to BU), a lanky young forward with an awkward stride but great work ethic and hands, and Austin Cangelosi (F, passed over in 2012, committed to BC), who was far and away the most exciting player on the ice, showing off great hands and shooting ability as well as outstanding penalty-killing ability. He posted a hat trick in the game.
In the next installment of Scout's Perch, I’ll be talking about the two games the U.S. NTDP U-18 team played over the past weekend against the University of Notre Dame and the University of Wisconsin.
Scout's Perch will be a regular feature over the course of the 2012-13 season with Josh Deitell providing his observations from the road as he scouts various players for the 2013 NHL Draft.