From New England to Chicago to Florida, and many locations in between, the United States Premier Hockey League Showcase Series brings high-level, high-intensity hockey to scouts, coaches and fans alike.
By Joshua Boyd
The Series features events almost every weekend of the season, from September clear through to February.
These showcases are jewels in the crown of the USPHL schedule. All Junior and Midget Divisions are represented in the Series.
Showcases have proven to be a great success for the league, allowing its teams to play less familiar talent from other parts of the U.S. The USPHL has had a successful few months and is looking forward to a few last showcases to round out 2017. From there, the league heads into a busy 2018 with even more great events.
The Showcase Series began on Labor Day Weekend and is bookended with a big showcase to be held over Presidents’ Day Weekend in Foxboro, Mass.
One to look out for is the USPHL Winter Showcase in January. That truly kicks off the new year, starting Jan. 5 in Massachusetts.
Some of the highlights of the early Showcase Series schedule included multi-tier showcases hosted by National Collegiate Development Conference member organizations like the Boston Junior Bruins, the New Jersey Hitmen and the Northern Cyclones.
“I’ve only been to the Junior Bruins Shootout this year and will try to hit up one more [USPHL Showcase] before February,” said Chris Schultz, head coach of the State University of New York at Geneseo’s hockey team, one of the top-ranked Division 3 teams this season. “Like any showcase it allows us to take a look at all of the teams in a short amount of time. It also helps us to watch some kids develop all the way from 18U to the NCDC.”
South teams enjoy Midwest trip
The USPHL Chicago Showcase, held Oct. 13-15, at both the Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee, Ill., and Canlan Ice Rink, in Romeoville, Ill., featured an interesting twist.
USPHL Southern Division teams made their first trip to the Midwest in this showdown of USPHL Premier and Elite teams.
“At our summer meetings, the Southern teams said to the league, ‘we’d like to go to the Midwest for the first time ever,” said Schwarz. “I was honored and humbled by the USPHL allowing us the support in running such a great event. The Southern teams are pioneers to come to us as they did, and I can’t thank them enough.”
Schwarz said he is also grateful for Northeastern U.S. teams, the Islanders Hockey Club and Jersey Shore Hitmen, and the Eugene Generals of Oregon, for joining the showcase.
All of the Midwestern teams from the USPHL’s Premier and Elite Divisions played at the October showcase, as well.
“We wanted the extra exposure with the Midwest colleges, rather than constantly pounding at the Northeast schools,” said Frank Scarpaci, general manager of the Florida Eels. “We needed a greater breadth of opportunities. I can tell you that 11 of my players from the Eels were talked to by NCAA Division 3 schools, [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics] coaches, as well as [American College Hockey Association] coaches.”
“There were probably about 40-50 scouts that left cards that showed up to take a look at all the teams,” said Schwarz.
By having USPHL teams travel to other parts of the country, it truly allows scouts a view at teams and players that they may not have the opportunity to see due to their busy schedules.
“We had a few colleges at our game [in Chicago] and comments were made about how young and strong our Elite team was,” said Ryan Cruthers, of the Charlotte Rush.
“This was a win-win for all. Showcase director John Schwarz did an incredible job with 42 teams,” added Scarpaci.
Hitting Division 1 ice
There will be two Islanders Hockey Club Showcases during the month of November, the first for five USPHL divisions and the second for the 16U Futures Division.
The first Islanders Hockey Club Showcase will hit the ice between Nov. 9-12 at many different locations – Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass. (using both Gallant and Lawler Arenas), the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass., and the Skate 3 facility in Tyngsboro, Mass.
The opportunity to play on NCAA Division 1 ice is certainly special to not only the players, but it’s also a great opportunity for scouts to get to familiar territory and see possibly unfamiliar players.
Hitting the USPHL showcase circuit, SUNY-Geneseo’s Schultz said the networking opportunities are great for coaches like himself.
“It provides the environment to build relationships with the prospects,” he said. “The longer the relationship, the better chance you have at landing that recruit.”
The USPHL Midwest will have representation at the Northeastern U.S.-heavy Islanders Hockey Club Showcase. The Midwest East Division teams will make the trip there, while the Midwest West Division teams will make the trip to the USPHL Winter Showcase in January.
The USPHL Premier and Elite Southeast Division teams will also make the trip, as well as the Eugene Generals of the USPHL Elite.
After all, a major purpose to the USPHL Showcase Series is to bring teams from very different geographical areas under one roof, for scouting purposes and to also give teams a chance to see the level of talent of teams outside of their division.
If the USPHL is going to ask college coaches to come south, they want to make it at the right time, one that’s comfortable for them to enjoy the Florida weather.
The USPHL Florida Showcase will hit Estero, Fla.’s Germain Arena between Dec. 14-17, with USPHL Premier and Elite teams from the Southern and Florida Divisions hitting the ice.
“Overall, it was a great event last year. We’re looking forward to it again this year,” said the host Florida Jr. Blades general manager Tad O’Had. “It’s been a first-class showcase. The feedback from college coaches has been outstanding. It continues to show the talent in the South and in the USPHL. I can’t be any more pleased to have the Showcase here in Estero.”
“Last year, we had a lot of scouts in attendance, and the year before that, it was in Palm Beach,” added Atlanta Jr. Knights Premier head coach Kevin St. Jacques. “It’s great for our league, where we can cater to the scouts a little bit. There’s good hockey being played down here in the South.”
Don Babineau is excited for his first USPHL Florida Showcase, as he joined the Palm Beach Hawks this year.
“I think all showcases are good to have, no matter where they’re located,” said Babineau. “It’s nice for the teams to experience showcases in different locations. This is my first season in the USPHL and I like what I seeing. As far as the scouting response, there are a lot of good programs that work extremely hard when recruiting and it most definitely shows. I couldn’t be more proud of the USPHL.”
“I think the competitiveness in the Southern Divisions is very solid. The parity among teams is pretty solid overall,” Babineau added. “The Florida Division is obviously great as far as parity goes. All the teams are doing a very good job of getting quality players which helps the league and division as a whole.”
The coaches from the northern reaches of the country have certainly been sold on the Southern Divisions as key spots for recruiting. Off of their 2016-17 teams, according to USPHL.com, both the Hampton Roads Whalers and Richmond Generals registered 13 NCAA Division 3 commitments – some for 2017-18 and some for 2018-19. The Charlotte Rush saw 11 more D-3 commitments and the Eels had eight of their own.
“Because of how the league is strengthening as a whole, the opportunity for player advancement has increased,” added Charlotte’s Cruthers.
From Chicago to Foxboro
Roughly a week after the USPHL’s Southern teams get together in Florida, the USPHL Midwest teams will reconvene in the same Chicagoland rink, Leafs Ice Centre, where they faced off in October.
The USPHL Midwest Showcase will close out 2017 for the USPHL Showcase Series. It takes place between Dec. 20-23, featuring all of the Midwest East and Midwest West teams.
“Going to Chicago means the Minnesota teams won’t have to go to Detroit. Where the Chicago Showcase in October featured 42 teams, this showcase is just for the 14 teams in the Midwest,” said Schwarz.
The word is getting out that the USPHL Midwest is a strong feeder not just for Midwestern NCAA Division 3 schools, but also can now be a springboard to the USPHL’s National Collegiate Development Conference.
Prior to this season, the Midwest teams did not have a direct affiliation a tuition-free league, as their main competitor had. Schwarz said that now with the NCDC and Midwestern teams all falling under the USPHL banner, he expects many of the Midwestern teams’ top young talents will get a better chance to skate in a tuition-free league and woo Division 1 coaches down the road.
Every USPHL Division will be represented at the USPHL Winter Showcase, to be held Jan. 5-7, 2018.
The busy and fun USPHL Showcase Series closes with the South Shore Kings Presidents Day Showcase. This takes place Feb. 17-19, 2018, at the Foxboro Sports Center.
As the USPHL grows and evolves, there will be more opportunities for teams to host showcases in different parts of the United States, as they expand for next season and seasons to come.
When it is all said and done, through all the miles traveled, hundreds of players from ages 15 to 20 will have been scouted by more than 200 colleges and junior teams, while getting a glimpse of the competition across the coast-to-coast USPHL footprint.
For a complete schedule of the USPHL Showcase Series, go online to usphl.com/showcaseseries
Top photo caption: Separated by 325 miles of I-90, the Syracuse Jr. Stars and Boston Bandits are able to face one another regularly in the USPHL Showcase Series, helping to save on travel and keep the players focused on hockey. Photo by Joshua Boyd
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