The 11th annual NAHL Showcase began today at the National Sports Center with the main league taking center stage. The U18/U16 tournaments don't begin until tomorrow, so all the focus was on the main league today. As usual, quite an impressive array of scouts from all across the hockey world were in attendance.
I was sort of in-and-out all day, missing the morning session completely, and even when I was there, with three games going on simultaneously, it's impossible to see everything. So this is far from comprehensive, but he's a quick listing of a few thoughts/observations I had from the first day of the tournament.
-A couple people, myself included, thought Brookings looked like a pretty good team coming into this thing, which makes Michigan's 3-1 win over them today look pretty impressive. Not a lot of flashy, high-skill players on Michigan's team, but some very solid hockey players. Michigan goalie Trevor Gorsuch was also the best goalie I saw today, making 38 stops, and only allowing one goal on a shot from the point that was tipped right in front of him.
-Amarillo cruised to a pretty easy 6-3 win over Johnstown. It's really amazing the way that they seem to reload every year.
-Janesville gave up two goals in the first ten minutes to Aberdeen, and it looked like they could be headed for a repeat of their 12-1 debacle against the NTDP U17s. They didn't give up any goals after that, but also only scored one goal. It could be a long season for Janesville.
-One of the players I was most interested to see today was Austin '96 forward and UMass-Lowell commit Guillaume Leclerc. Leclerc is from France, and was a scoring phenom in France's U22 league last year. Overall, he made a pretty good North American debut. He netted a power play goal in the first period, and played on what was Austin's best line alongside big forwards Jay Dickman and Lucas Kohls, seeing extra shifts late in a tight game.
Leclerc is a smaller forward, and not a particularly blazing fast skater, but seems to have pretty good strength in both his upper and lower body. The thing that stood out the most to me is his unbelievable ability to control the puck while it's in his skates. Between his feet and his quick hands, he has the rare ability to turn a bad pass from a teammate into a good pass.
-I missed the game, but '97-born forward Jake Durflinger had three assists for Corpus Christi today. He's one of only three '97s currently in the league.
-This was my second time seeing the Minnesota Magicians this year, and I've been very impressed with '96 forward Will Johnson, who is already playing on what is the Magicians' most effective scoring line. He's a small quick, but has great quickness and always finds a way to be involved in the play. It seems like he's making a much quicker transition to the speed of NAHL play than his California Titan U16 teammates from last year in Ethan Somoza and Brendan Harris, who both outscored Johnson last year, and have both already made college commitments.
The other '96 on the Magicians is defenseman Logan Von Rueden. He's playing on the third pairing and still trying to adjust to the faster pace of play, but shows flashes of incredible foot work for a 6'2" player. Lots of upside there.
-After looking promising in the preseason game I saw, Minnesota Wilderness (late) '96 forward Zach Jordan scored a goal and an assist in his first career NAHL game, and registered a game-high seven shots on goal. Jordan is a 6'3" 200 lbs. power forward with a lot of offensive ability that virtually came out of nowhere, having played AA hockey in the St. Louis area last year. It will certainly be worth watching if he can keep up that scoring pace.
- Ex-Bemidji HS forward Michael Sauer signed with the Tri-City Americans late last month, and tonight was playing(pretty sparingly) on the fourth line for the Blizzard, which makes his decision to give up his spot in the Elite League and leave high school hockey all the more baffling.
-Northern Michigan recruit Brett Heikkila scored a nice goal for the Minnesota Wilderness, showing off his electric speed. He's a talented kid that really struggled to get on track in the NAHL last year in Texas. Perhaps he could be in for a big year if he finds himself in the right situation.