After spending much of the fall making unfunny snark comments about this year's installment of the Elite League like "They're still doing that?" and "Ballsy choice not changing the name" and not making the effort to get out of bed on the weekend to go watch, I decided I probably should at least make it for the end of the season playoffs since it's one of the only opportunities to see most of these players against semi-decent competition.
The event was certainly light on high-level talent. With Mario Lucia filling in at the NTDP, there were no 'A' rated NHL Draft prospects for this year, which is the first time in my memory that has happened in the Elite League, though a couple may earn that distinction in future years. I also only counted five players that already have college commitments, though again, certainly more will make them in the future. I was a little surprised at how few college coaches were there, especially on Sunday. St. Cloud's Steve Johnson was there, though his son was actually playing. Ohio State's Mark Osiecki was there too, though his kids, Team Wisconsin, were also playing. There were probably a few more that I missed or didn't recognize, but still pretty sparse. I suppose if teams are going to make the trip out, they may as well wait until next weekend.
Still, the quality of hockey was pretty good, and there were some fun games to watch, which I suppose is a testament to Minnesota's depth after the way high school hockey got ravaged over the off-season by junior hockey.
North ended up finishing with the league's best record, while Great Plains won the playoff title. I maybe shouldn't say this without any hard evidence to back it up, but at least in my memory, those are generally two of the weaker teams in the league, so it's nice to see them have some success.
It's a stereotype, but one often proven true, that the northern teams tend to move the puck and play as a team better, while the players from the Cities tend to play as individuals a little too much. That's why the out-state team tends to have a little more success in the NIT where talent is essentially equal. The Twin Cities area teams tend to do a little better in the Elite League and definitely in the high school season where they've got such an advantage in depth that they can overcome some of that, but this year in the Elite League, when teams didn't have as much depth, the northern teams were able to find some success.
I suppose one of the upsides to lots of players leaving for juniors is that it opens up a lot of opportunities for new players to step up, and there were definitely a lot of players that I got a better look at this weekend. Thoughts on some individual players after the jump.
These are in no particular order...
Justin Kloos-F-Lakeville South-Just looking at his stats last year, I was a little skeptical of him, but he was great here. Definitely looks like a legit prospect.
Luke Johnson-F-GF Central-One of the youngest players in the league, but perhaps the most dynamic. In a years-too-early 2013 NHL Draft discussion, I'd put him ahead of Hudson Fasching right now.
Ryan Bullock-D-Blake(Dartmouth commit)-Reliable defender. Not very big, but played with a ton of strength for his size.
Cliff Watson-D-Team Wisco(Ohio State commit)-It's easy to see what OSU saw in him. Big kid that makes a solid first pass out of the zone. Skating and puck-handling seems a little suspect, but Osiecki will get a nice base to work with, and he could be excellent if he rounded out his game a little bit.
Bob Kinne-F-Cretin-Derham Hall-Similar to his older brother Ben. Not a very flashy player, but he was constantly making smart, solid plays all over the ice.
Tyler Heinonen-F-Delano-Great hands. His skating has improved though there is still some work to do. He could use his size a little better, but created a lot of offense.
Nick Stoskopf-F-Warroad-Big power forward that plays with a nice edge.
Tony Cameranesi-F-Wayzata(UMD commit)-He's playing with a lot of confidence and looked about a step faster than everyone this weekend.
AJ Michaelson-F-Apple Valley-Always a great skater, and shows flashes of being a dominating playmaker, but isn't quite consistent enough to dominate.
Ryan Jaremko-D-Elk River-Still one of the most solid D in the state, and one of the most underrated players.
Ben Bahe-F-Hill-Murray-Continues to develop and impress.
Michael Dockry-F-Burnsville-I thought he played really well. Good skater, solid defensively, and got rewarded with a goal on Friday night.
Brett Skibba-F-Team Wisconsin-This kid can fly down the ice. Created a lot of offense with his speed.
Brad Navin-F-Team Wisconsin-Getting looked at by NHL because he's huge and somewhat mobile. Decent skills and could be a big time player if he continues to develop.
Joseph LaBate-F-Holy Angels-Also getting looked at by NHL because he's huge and somewhat mobile. He relies on his skating and puckhandling skills a little too much for how big he is.
DJ Jones-D-Wayzata-Overshadowed by some of his Wayzata teammates, but is a very solid defender.
Josh Erickson-F-Roseau-Really flying around the ice this weekend, and created all sorts of offense.
Josh Archibald-F-Brainerd-Looked pretty legit and not just a product of Brainerd's schedule.
Garrett Hendrickson-F-Virginia(St. Cloud commit)-Skating is still a little suspect, but he's got great hands and works pretty hard.