Day 1 of the Showcase was a little less hectic with just the NAHL playing, but it's still a lot of hockey. The league has come a long way from the days when they had an at-large team made up of healthy scratches from around the league playing in this tourney. I made it to four games to start things off. Here's a couple notes on them.
Amarillo vs. Austin
This was pretty much your typical Amarillo team--if you can say that about a team just starting their third year. A lot of older players, not many well-known names or high-end skill, but they were tough, and strong in the third period, which enabled them to pull out a 5-2 win. Looking at the success head coach Dennis Williams has had in Amarillo, I can't help but wonder if Bowling Green let him go too soon. That's not to knock Chris Bergeron, who is still building there, and could turn that program around. But Williams and his staff seem to have found the recipe for picking players that other teams aren't necessarily fighting for, but fit the role they want their players to play, and having a ton of success with it. That's a little tougher to do in the CCHA than the NAHL's South Division, but that does seem like the most viable route to success at a place like Bowling Green.
Individually, Princeton recruit Joe Grabowski('94) is a big, physical defenseman that plays a nice game. D James LaDouce('95) is a solidly built kid that logged a good amount of ice time, including on the power play. Quick, smaller forward Mike Davis was the team's biggest offensive threat.
Austin has a lot of veteran players this year, which should result in a pretty successful year. They've got a nice offensive combination in Army recruit AJ Reid and Brandon Wahlin as well. Both are small, overage players with a ton of skill.
Topeka vs. Kenai River
This was a pretty ugly game. It was the first game of the night session, so it started pretty packed with scouts, and dwindled pretty quickly. Topeka does get some props for bringing the best hometown fans so far, including two guys banging on plastic buckets when they scored.
Most interesting prospect in this game was Kenai defenseman Carson Vance('96). He's not a huge kid, but solidly built and moves well. He played a pretty safe, quiet game, which is understandable being his first junior game, but he's got some nice skill. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him moving on to the USHL next season, if not sooner.
Fairbanks vs. Odessa
Fairbanks looked really good here, which was all the more impressive when I started adding up all quality players they lost off of last year's team(JT Osborn, Gave Levin, Alec Hajdukovich, Justin Woods). The Ice Dogs had one of the more organized power plays I saw on the first day of the tourney.
Fairbanks had one of the other '96s playing in this tourney in St. Cloud recruit Patrick Newell. He's a really fast kid, but has to be the lightest player in the league, and looks out of place physically. The experience of playing at a higher-level should help him, but right now, the biggest thing for his development is just to mature a little bit physically.
I'm slow to say too much about goalies after one game, but Odessa's Blake Wojtala('94) made a lot of nice saves in this game. He's tall, lanky and pretty young so there's a nice frame to work with.
Kalamazoo vs. Coulee Region
Call it the Stolarz Effect but there was a lot of buzz in the arena about "another 6'4" goalie". This time it was Kalamazoo's Nicholas Stuart. Again, I'm not good enough with the fundamentals of goaltending to make much of an assessment on one game, but I can confirm he is indeed 6'4". He's a butterfly style goalie that gets down pretty quickly. I didn't see him take enough shots to tell how his glove was.
I'm still impressed with K-zoo's Brett Beauvais. I thought he'd be playing in the USHL this year, but it looks like he'll be a leader in Kalamazoo this year and log a lot of ice time. Northern Michigan recruit Jesse Junttila is a small, offensive defenseman with that is crazy quick when he decides to rush the puck up the ice. Once he becomes more comfortable at this level and can do that more often, he should be a dangerous player. Leading the way offensively are Robbie Payne and Kyle Gattelaro, who were second and third in team scoring respectively last year. Payne isn't particularly big or fast, but he scored a beauty of a goal with a heavy snap shot that he got off very quickly from the slot. I did not see many other players capable of scoring that type of goal yesterday. Gatterlaro is a veteran player, with some serious wheels.
Once again, the majority of Coulee's lineup last night was made up of players from within the Twin Cities metro area. It seems like it wouldn't be hard to have a Twin Cities-area NAHL team that just focused on taking local post-HS players.
Michigan Tech recruit Jake Kauppila('95) was in the lineup for Coulee. He had a pretty quiet night. He's got some skill, but he's still young and there's probably going to be a bit of an adjustment period for him.