Marlboro, Mass. -- The 2015 Tier I Labor Day Face-Off lacked a legitimate prospect that would have NHL scouts buzzing for next June's NHL Draft, but it didn't disappoint in terms of excitement on Monday.
It took 21 rounds of a shootout, but the New England Fall Prep Hockey League (NEFPHL) Selects captured the 18U Division crown with a victory over the vaunted Neponset Valley River Rats.
University of Connecticut commit Mike Young, a '98 defenseman from Rivers School, scored the winning goal in the shootout. Middlesex goaltender Derek Goguen was terrific in the breakaway contest, stopping some of the elite scoring talents in the tournament.
It wasn't the only game on Sunday that had coaches, scouts and fans on the edge of their seats. The NEFPHL Selects upset the star-studded MidFairfield team, 4-1, to reach the championship game. Across the hall, the River Rats needed overtime after blowing a 3-0 lead to squeak past the Boston Jr. Bulldogs.
Most Valuable Player
He isn't the household name of some of the other '97s and '98s in the tournament, but there was no better player over the course of the weekend than Proctor senior and University of Maine commit Jake Pappalardo.
The '97 plays hard every shift and is extremely hard to play against. He's a strong skater who is hard to knock off the puck and wins just about every battle. No player was as dominant and had as consistent of an impact on the game than he did.
There were countless times where he stole a puck away from an opposing player in all three zones. He's an adequate skater and he has a quick, heavy release. He's going to be a big time player for the Black Bears. Getting him early was a huge get for Ben Guite.
The Goguen Wall
Derek Goguen, the '97 senior goaltender for Middlesex School, was terrific the whole weekend for Dan Ronan's NEFPHL Selects. He held the Cape Cod Whalers to just a goal in the final game of pool play and then stood tall to the barrage of shots he was peppered with in the final against the River Rats.
While his teammates seemed to be wearing down to the constant pressure of the Rats, Goguen was holding down the fort between the pipes. He let in one soft goal, but other than that he did a nice job and made some key saves down the stretch. He helped fend off two River Rat power plays in the overtime session.
He's small and a little unorthodox in the crease, but he gets the job done. He's quick and acrobatic. For a smaller goaltender who has to rely on his quickness to cover the net, he stays fairly quiet in the crease. The native of Memramcook, New Brunswick often gets overlooked playing for the Zebras.
A couple of Hockey East schools are reportedly interested in the backstop. For those who haven't seen him play yet, he reminds this observer of a slightly bigger Elijah Harris, the Kimball Union senior who is committed to Brown.
No duo was as dangerous and as consistent of a threat over the weekend than BU commit Patrick Harper and Northeastern recruit Jamie Armstrong. The pair of '98s, who are linemates during the prep season at Avon Old Farms.
Harper's elite speed and puck skills allow him to be a threat every time he touches the puck. He's the type of player that always seems to do something special with the puck on his stick. Armstrong does a nice job complimenting Harper with his power game and willingness to go to the net. He scored a goal on Monday where he drove the net and tucked one past Goguen.
The third member of the line for much of the weekend was Tabor senior Ben Taylor, a '97 who recently committed to Brown. The North Falmouth, Mass. native has a big frame and gets on pucks and bodies quickly. He's a good skater for his size who does a good job of crashing in on the forecheck, cycling and distributing the puck down low. He's a player you have to watch closely to truly appreciate his value.
Other Player Notes
A lot of the players at the Labor Day Tier 1 Face-Off have been written about extensively here from previous viewings. Here's a look at some uncommitted players who stood out, but it isn't an end-all list of all good players from the tournament.
The NEFPHL Selects didn't have the marquee names that some of the other teams in the tournament had ouside of Pappalardo and '00 BU commit Jake Wise, who didn't look out of place despite playing up an age grouping.
'97 LW Ben Solin of Phillips Exeter had an active stick in pursuit, was quick to jump on pucks and had a deceptiveness to his game offensively. He made a couple of nice toe drags to evade opposing defensemen. He likely doesn't have the elite skill or size for D1, but he could be a nice pickup for a NESCAC school.
'99 RW Santeri Hartikainen jumped right off the plane from Finland and onto the ice in Marlboro. He has the physical tools that have some programs excited. He made a few unofficial visits to Beanpot schools earlier in the Summer. He'll be a first year player in prep hockey at Groton this winter. He struggled this weekend, but there's raw potential. He made a nice move in the shootout before pinging his shot off the post.
'98 LW Colin McCaughey (St. Paul's) showed his speed, beating out a defenseman for an icing and was good crashing in on the forecheck. '98 RW Josh Chapman (North Yarmouth) also has some good speed, had a nice one-timer goal and had some other good chances. He just needs to keep his game simple and avoid the fancy, risky plays.
All of the top River Rats were previously committed, such as the above mentioned trio, forwards Vito Bavaro and Austin Magera (Sacred Heart) and defensemen Ben Mirageas (Providence) and Adam Karashik (UConn), but a few uncommitted players had good weekends.
'97 LC Michael Brown, a senior at Groton, had some good shifts here. He isn't the best of skaters, but he's active, gets chances and has a good shot. '97 Nobles forward Danny Jacobs had a couple of real nice goals, including a snipe in the championship game.
'98 LW Travis Schneider, a senior at Canterbury from Highland Park, Ill., had a nice weekend for Yale National. He had really good speed which allowed him to create space and separation from opposing defensemen.
Incoming Tabor RD Brendan Casey is someone to keep an eye on during the prep season. The '98 played last season with the Connecticut Wolf Pack 16U team. He has good size, a decent first pivot and is smooth.
The Cape Cod Whalers, coached by former BC Eagle Andrew Orpik, fell short of the semifinals, but several uncommitted players shined.
'98 Tabor RW Max Sauve has gained some size and strength over the summer while maintaining his elite speed. He isn't afraid to go into the corners and grind. He's received interest from several Hockey East schools already.
Belmont Hill LW Christian O'Neil skates well and had some real good shifts here. He was around the puck and is the type of player who plays through the puck. He's received some interest from an Ivy League school, but is keeping his options open for now.
'98 Thayer RD Colin McCabe is a prospect who this observer has gone back and forth on just how good he is. He was very good this weekend. He skates well, helps out in transition and has a good stick. He sometimes has a tendency to hold onto the puck a little too long, but he's D1 material.
Late '97 LW Chris Theodore, playing here for the CT Wolfpack National, is coming down to Hotchkiss from the Lac-St. Louis Lions in Quebec for this season. He's undersized, but he was slippery. He's quick, crafty and deceptive.
Also on the CT Wolfpack National was '98 LD Billy Overby of Choate. He's small, but he has a good first pivot, has good gap control and plays a smart and simple game.
Mid Fairfield was loaded with D1 commits such as Taggart Corriveau (St. Lawrence), Johnny McDermott (BU) and Matt Koopman (Northeastern). There were a few uncommitted players that had nice performances for John Mori's team.
'97 RD Kevin O'Leary out of Westminster has good size, an active stick and won a lot of one-on-one battles in transition. '97 forward Jordan Kaplan who will be a senior at Salisbury was around the puck a lot, made some nice looks and showed good hockey IQ.
'97 RC David Jankowski, the brother of Providence senior and Calgary Flames first round pick Mark, is transferring down from Stanstead College to do a PG year at Salisbury. He's similar in frame and style of play to his older brother. He's a little awkward of a skater, but he got shots off and had a quick and accurate release, including one laser he clanged the post with late in the third period of the team's game against the NEFPHL Selects.
'97 LD Greg Krisberg, a senior at Kent, is a smooth skater who does a nice job stepping into the offense and is solid defensively. He projects as a borderline D1 player or a very good NESCAC player. However, he's better than a slew of kids who've already committed to a D1 school, in this observer's opinion.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.