USA Hockey ready for Saturday’s prospect showcase

By Ken McKenna

All-American Prospects Game Press Conference

Photo: USA Hockey head coach Phil Housley, Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black, and USA Hockey's Assistant Executive Director of Hockey Operations Jim Johannson talk to the media on the eve of the 2012 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game (courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

 What has been an idea in the making for some time will now become reality tomorrow night as USA Hockey presents their first of what is expected to be an annual event, the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.

The 2012, and first, edition of this event will take place at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY, home of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.  The game will feature 38 of the top American players available for the 2013 NHL Draft, including several from USA Hockey's National Team Development Program (NTDP).

Canada has featured their own CHL Top Prospects Game since 1996.  As the number of players being chosen from the NTDP, NCAA, and USHL at the NHL Draft has increased in the past few years, a game of this type based in the U.S. seemed inevitable.

For USA Hockey's Assistant Executive Director of Hockey Operations Jim Johannson, this first CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game represents a major step forward for that organization.

“From USA Hockey's perspective, it's an exciting day”, stated Johannson.  “You sit in a room at your office and talk about events like this. But to finally have it come to fruition, this first prospects game, and with the great partnership we have, not only with the Buffalo Sabres but with the National Hockey League, to be able to run an event in an NHL building with the staff and everybody involved from the Sabres' side is really exciting for USA Hockey.”

While it is true that the primary purpose of this event is to showcase the skills of the top American talent available for the NHL Draft, Johannson also views this as an opportunity to spotlight the growth of the game in the United States. 

“This game has literally been in the works for quite a few years”, emphasized Johannson. “From fundamentally looking at it and saying that it's right for USA Hockey to celebrate our prospects, but also to celebrate our game across the country and the great job that the grassroots programs do in helping these players. And I think that part of this game tomorrow night is a celebration of the grassroots programs in USA Hockey that make it so strong.”

Among the players taking part in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game will be Seth Jones, a defenseman playing in the WHL who is considered an early contender to have his name called first at the 2013 NHL Draft. Jones, who spent time with the NTDP program prior to this season, will be joined by a pair of forwards from that program who are considered potential top-10 selections in the coming draft, J.T. Compher and Hudson Fasching.

USA Hockey's Senior Director of Communications Dave Fischer made note of the fact that the players taking part in this game will be playing in front of a crowd that sports more than just curious fans that purchased a ticket to attend the game.

“There is in the neighborhood of 150 scouts from the NHL and other entities that will be here tomorrow night to watch this game, which is probably a few more than we anticipated”, noted Fischer.  “There'll be many GM's from (NHL) teams here, as well as the scouts.”

As Johannson points out, in the end it will be the players and their talent that make the event more than just an exhibition game.  

“From the players' perspective, the players sell the game”, said Johannson.  “We have elite level players coming in from all across the country.  One of the unique things for USA Hockey, you'll see not only the wide variety of programs that their playing in right now, but also the breadth of talent from across the country and the hometowns that they're representing.”

AAPG notes: The breakdown of the organizations represented by the players competing in this game include 16 NTDP players, eight USHL players, six NCAA players, three OHL players, two WHL players, two EJHL players, and one NAHL player..Two players that were slated to take part in this event, Justin Bailey (OHL) and Dawson Cook (NTDP), will not do so due to injury. Bailey would have brought some local flavor to the event as he is from a suburb of Buffalo…Two local players will be taking part in the event, however, with Sean Malone (NTDP) of West Seneca, NY and Matt Lane (BU) of Rochester, NY suiting up for Saturday's game…Former Buffalo Sabres defenseman Phil Housley, who will handle the head coaching duties for the U.S. at the 2013 WJC, will coach one squad at the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game while another Sabres' alumnus and member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, Rob McClanahan, will coach the other team…For those living in the Western New York or Southern Ontario areas, there is still tickets available for tomorrow's game…The Twitter hashtag for the game is #AAPG.