For a number of junior hockey players, the dream is getting a scholarship and playing collegiate hockey.
And for 60 of the top junior hockey players in Saskatchewan, including seven Nipawin Hawks and six Melfort Mustangs, that dream is closer to becoming a reality thanks to the SJHL/MJHL Showcase held in Regina Jan. 15-16.
A new event
The showcase was brand-new this season and was a compliment to the one in September, which sees each of the 12 SJHL teams play two games over four days.
SJHL President Bill Chow noted the addition of the showcase was an important move for the league because it gave the scouts an extra opportunity to see the players live.
“It does push the players a little bit harder because now it’s midway through the season, the trade deadline is done. So those things are all out of the way and now they just go out and play.”
The showcase played host to approximately 50 scouts from across collegiate hockey programs in Canada and the United States, including University of Maine assistant coach Alfie Michaud, who noted he was impressed with what he saw over the two days, saying the level of play on the ice was great.
“You’re kind of playing for pride of your league, so it made for real hockey, so to speak. Kids were definitely giving it that 110 per cent, they were running kids, running each other. It was almost close to fights because it’s not like when you’re playing in an all-star game or summer hockey. They understood what was on the line.”
Benefit for players
But just what benefit is the showcase?
Well for former Nipawin Hawk Eli Lichtenwald, having the showcase allows the players to have additional eyeballs on them.
Lichtenwald spent one and a half seasons playing for the black and gold, scoring 45 points in 56 games in 2010-11, and 22 points in 19 games in 2012-13 after rejoining the Hawks from the United States Hockey League’s Omaha Lancers.
After graduating from the Hawks, Lichetnwald moved on to play four season with Union College in the NCAA, and is now a member of the Jacksonville IceMen, the ECHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets.
The recruiting process took a couple of years, noted Lichtenwald, who said a lot of it came down to opportunity for him.
“It’s kind of tough to be recruited out of there but luckily I had some guys that kind of saw me one or two times that I was in touch with after that.”
Lichtenwald sees the showcase as an extra step for most players and said it was particularly important for the players.
“It’s kind of tough to recruit guys out of the SJHL and MJHL and something like this is what all players need. It’s an opportunity for scouts to come up and watch for a weekend. Just that’s how it happens. They see a guy that catches their eye and then you’re kind of able to follow him for the rest of the year and see how it goes.”
A scout’s perspective
From a scout’s perspective, Michaud agrees with Lichtenwald, noting that it made it real easy for him to watch 120 of the best players from Saskatchewan and Manitoba all in one place over two days.
“For us being a Hockey East school I’ve got to fly all the way from Maine. To be able to come into Regina on a Sunday and literally watch Monday, Tuesday and have access to the kids and stuff like that to be able to do all of that at once, that’s the beauty of the showcase.”
Of course, technology has also played a major role in the way kids are recruited, and Michaud notices that in a big way.
“When I get a tip on a kid so to speak I go on video and watch and if it’s something that maybe interests us then it’s a case of booking a flight or getting in a vehicle and driving and seeing what our eyes tell us on video.”
While that has changed the way players are scouted, Michaud said he still likes to see the players live.
“You can really key in on the full kid, essentially the whole game. [You can] see how they are on the bench, what they’re doing, how they’re interacting with teammates and their coaches, and how they react to a good shift and a bad shift, all those kind of things.”
With more technology comes more competition though, said Michaud, who noted he has seen an increase in the level of talent in his league.
The advent of technology also means increased access to social media and other online mediums, which can be a problem, said Michaud.
“The one big thing for us first and foremost is making sure that kids, they are really good teammates too when they come here we want a good person,” he said. “That kind of stuff can be a distraction for the individual, it could be a distraction for the hockey club if you’ve got a kid that is essentially not in control of it.”
For their part, Trevor Blevins, the Mustangs’ head coach, noted he talks to his players about being responsible online.
“You always have to be cognizant that everything you post is positive, no matter what the post will be.”
Good results for local players
The SJHL took full advantage of the showcase winning five of the six contests, but Chow noted the results were not important.
“It’s about giving the players the opportunity for exposure to the scouts,” he said. “It’s about the players going out there and doing what they do best and working their hardest and exposing what they themselves as individuals do but also playing as a team environment.”
The Hawks’ seven players wrapped up the showcase with two points thanks to a goal and one assist from Brett Harasymuk.
The Mustangs, meanwhile, enjoyed a terrific showcase as their six players combined for two goals, three assists, and one win.
With the showcase wrapped up for the first year, Chow said the league has not had a chance to review how things went, but said they will making minor adjustments as they see fit.
“We will be going through that with all of our coaches in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and trying to determine if there’s things that we can improve on – and I’m sure there are – but other than that right now, it’s just a little bit too early.”