The NAHL held their annual showcase event in Blaine, Minnesota this past weekend and it was an absolutely fantastic weekend of hockey. Even better, the NAHL let me in for free, for which me and my wallet are eternally grateful. I believe the final count was 82 different teams playing in over 180 games. Obviously I didn't see them all, but I certainly saw a lot, so there's a lot to go over.
On the NAHL side of things, Wenatchee came away as the winner of the weekend, with a perfect record and the best goal differential. The Wild are a pretty nice story. When it was announced they were getting an expansion team two summers ago, there was some skepticism about the viability of a team in the middle of the mountains in Washington. But they were very successful last season, finishing in second place in the league, and moving a lot of players on to Division I college hockey, the USHL, and even having a player get drafted in the NHL Draft, which is fairly rare for an NAHL team. Their attendance figures have been pretty good as well, causing some people in the WHL to take notice of their junior hockey competition.
I haven't seen any official attendance figures from the event, but the crowds at games seemed much bigger than in years past. The rinks at the Super Rink don't hold a ton of people, but most games pretty much filled the stands, with a row or two deep of people standing.
The level of play in the league really seems to have stepped up as well. There seem to be a lot more skill players than there was in years past, which made the games more fun to watch. I'm pretty sure just about every NCAA team had at least one coach there, and it seemed like a lot of NHL teams sent scouts as well.
This weekend was also the start of the North American Prospects Hockey League, which was pretty cool. A lot of people might look at the teams in the league and brush it off since there aren't a lot of the familiar powerhouses, but that seems to be precisely the point of the league. It gives a lot of kids coming from non-traditional hockey areas the opportunity to get scouted by a variety of different leagues. I know there were a lot of kids I had never heard of before that I was pretty impressed with, and hopefully some NAHL, USHL, and NCAA scouts came away thinking the same thing.
To cap off the tournament, there was a game featuring an All-Star team made up of one player from each NAPHL team that played the US Women's National Team. The game drew a pretty big crowd, and was particularly special because Milwaukee Jr. Admirals female goalie Alex Rigsby got to start against her future team. I left after the second period with the US women leading 2-1, in a pretty entertaining game.
Finally, the Future Prospects tournament gave some of the top Minnesota and Wisconsin AAA teams a chance to face off against some good teams from around the country.
So a lot of really good hockey was played. I've got a lot of notes about individual players that I'll try to share throughout the week. Like last year, I'm going to seperate things out by birth year, going from the '89s all the way down to a couple '95s that played in the U14s. It's by no means an exhaustive list. With 82 teams, there were definitely a bunch I missed, and some I only bits and pieces of. And with so much going on, it's tough to sit in one place for a long time and really pick up on some intricacies, but I figure sharing what I saw is a lot better than nothing.