Minnesota held their Great 8 Festival tournament for outgoing high school seniors this past weekend. It's one last scouting opportunity for the juniors/college/NHL teams to get a look at some of the best high school players in the state. From this tournament, an all-star team is selected that will go on to a tournament against some high schoolers from other states. I was there on Saturday to take in the action.
I've been coming to this tournament since, dear God, 2006, and it was a little bit jarring to see just how far it has fallen in terms of prestige. Most, if not all NHL teams used to attend this event. This year, there were a handful of local NHL scouts, and they didn't exactly spend a lot of time with their notebooks out.
College coaches I saw on Saturday included head coaches from Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, and Michigan Tech(and conspicuously not Minnesota State, despite Jutting's oldest son playing in the Advanced 18 tourney), and assistants from Minnesota, St. Cloud, and UNO. There may have been a few others I didn't recognize, and there were likely more on other days. It also didn't help that it coincides with USA Hockey's national tournaments, which are a pretty big deal.
After the jump, I'll pick the players I would take for the national tournament team, and give a few other notes from the weekend.
Here are the 18 skaters I would take for the national team. There used to be a rule about not taking players that already had college commitments, but I don't believe that's the case anymore. I'll abstain from picking goalies. Nobody really stood out in that regard.
F-Joe Anderson, Hibbing
F-Erik Baskin, Minnetonka
F-Luke Dietsch, Cretin-Derham Hall
F-Zach Doerring, Blake
F-Andy Faust, Hill-Murray
F-Christian Horn, Benilde
F-Jake Larson, St. Michael-Albertville
F-Mitch McLain, Brainerd
F-Jake O'Borsky, Benilde
F-Matt Pohlkamp, Brainerd
F-Jared Thomas, Hermantown
F-Dom Toninato, Duluth East
D-Phil Boje, Mounds View
D-Ian Janco, Bloomington Jefferson
D-Jared Kolquist, Hermantown
D-Brian Leblanc, Hermantown
D-Jordan Stejskal, Grand Rapids
D-Tate Sykes, Hastings
A few other notes...
-The nice thing about this tournament is that it gives some players that play weak schedules during the season the opportunity to show off their skills against better against competition. I almost had Little Falls' Joey Hanowski on the national tourney team because I thought he was great on Saturday. New Ulm's Brody Peterson didn't necessarily stand out, but registered a point per game. But perhaps there was no greater example than Moose Lake's Josh Cisar. Cisar led the state in scoring, outpacing Mr. Hockey Justin Kloos by 8 points, though Moose Lake played a pretty horrid schedule. Opinions ranged from him being a future NHLer to him not being able to play varsity for a Twin Cities school. As usual, the truth seems to lie in the middle. Cisar benefitted from playing on a line with Jared Thomas, who was probably the tournament's best player, but he put up 5 points in the first two games of the tournament. He was a very intriguing player. He's rail thin, but competed hard. A number of times, moves that might have worked during the high school season were easily broken up at this level, but he's got some skill, and certainly made no mistake with the goal he buried on Saturday.
-Also going on this weekend at Wakota Arena was the recently created "Advanced 18s" which is for players that will be seniors next year, but are too old to tryout for USA Hockey's Select Festivals(for this year, that would juniors with 1994 birthdates). A team from that group will also be selected to participate in the upcoming national tournament. I'm not sure why we need this. The level of play in those games was not good. The team they select will likely be Jake Guentzel and nobody else, figuratively, if not literally.
-The uncommitted players that I thought helped themselves the most here would be Brainerd's Mitch McLain and Benilde's Jake O'Borsky. McLain in particular was fantastic, and really looked like a legitimate D-1 prospect.
-The results of this tournament always seem to go against the general perception of the sections. Section 3 won the tournament, despite Section 3A being by far the weakest Class A section, and Section 3AA being the second weakest section. The Section 1s never get much respect, but usually acquit themselves quite well in this tournament. Meanwhile, Section 2AA and 6AA are considered among the strongest in the state, but they ending up facing off for last place on Sunday.
-As an example of how watered down this tournament has become, out of my listing of the top 20 senior hockey players, 13 did not participate.
-I'll post my final listing of high school players by class