Michigan Hockey Advancement’s (MHA) Top 80 Showcase took place over the weekend at Farmington Hills Ice Arena. Two 18U teams and two 16U teams squared off in respective three-game series, vying for spots on the program’s tournament team for the upcoming fall season.
Some stood out from the crowd this weekend, making an immediate impact while others continue to knock off the rust from the summer months, shaping up for the quickly approaching winter season.
A couple players jumped out to me, having great showings at the showcase and making their names known as we inch closer to puck drop in November. We will certainly take a closer look at many of them as the fall progresses but I wanted to share some thoughts on a few guys that stood out to me in particular, following the Top 80.
Starting with the 16s, I really liked Max Marquette (U-D Jesuit, 2021). The junior forward looked like he was in mid-season form and it’s only August. He was the fastest guy on the ice Friday night and at times, he downright dominated play, controlling the flow of the game with every shift. He’s fast, he’s flashy, has great hockey smarts and a really high motor.
Bret Beale (Detroit Catholic Central, 2021) was a nice surprise and another forward that impacted play on several occasions in a short period of time. Whether it was on the fly during an odd-man rush or stationary in-zone, Beale’s ability to distribute the puck and find open teammates was on full display as he facilitated multiple scoring opportunities. At the end of the game on Friday, he buried a long put-back on a rebound to seal the victory for Team White, showing he can finish plays as well as he can set them up.
Too many times, the puck carrier enters the offensive zone, hugs the half-wall and skates themselves below the goal line and into trouble, ultimately turning the puck over and losing possession. But Houck on multiple occasions showed a knack for creating opportunities for himself, cutting across the top of the slot and putting himself in a position to generate a quality shot or scoring opportunity for his team.
Tyler Lawrence (Flint Powers, 2021) is fun to watch. He didn’t overwhelm with his speed and looked a little light for being listed at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, but anything he may lack in size or strength he more than makes up for with an aggressiveness on loose pucks. Constantly in the mix on scrums along the boards, he came away with a ton of 50-50 pucks and absolutely snapped off some high-level passes during 2-on-1 chances for Team Red on multiple occasions.
I’m not a goalie guy, so I can’t get too technical breaking down the position. But when I see a guy deny what I perceived as slam-dunk, no-doubt scoring opportunities three, four and five times in one period, it’s safe to say a guy like Blake Nowak (U-D Jesuit, 2022) is the real deal.
He’s just a sophomore, but the 5-foot-10 netminder played like a seasoned veteran in the 16U series. After stealing not one, but two scoring opportunities away from Team Red, Nowak cemented his performance on Friday with a beautiful right-leg pad save moving from left to right — as the puck moved from below the goal line left of the net across the crease to the right post — eliminating an almost empty-net look from the back door on a would-be goal scorer, and suffocating any chance at a rebound.
If forwards like Marquette, Beale, Houck and Lawrence were the bright spot among the 16s, defensemen were the ones who definitely stole the show in the 18U series.
At 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, it was very easy to notice Jacob Thomas (Detroit Country Day, 2020). Aside from his size, though, he’s got the skills to go along with it and can definitely be one of the top D in the state this season. He’s cool and calm under pressure, quick on retrievals, showed some nice deceptiveness and escapability, and moved pucks effortlessly. For as big as he is, he gets up and down the ice really well and can engage in an offensive rush, turn around and recover in time to defend an oncoming attack.
Dakota Kott (Hartland, 2020) is quite possibly the polar opposite of Thomas, listed at nearly a full foot shorter than his fellow D-man. Kott is 5-foot-5, but has a huge impact on the game despite his smaller stature. He’s got some fantastic footwork and jumps north in the offensive attack quicker than a hiccup. I really appreciate his understanding of shooting lanes, first in the offensive zone as a shooter, putting pucks into the funnel and finding ways to get it to the net. Defensively, he’s just as good obstructing lanes and forcing opponents to alter their shot selections.
A good defenseman is like a quarterback, seeing plays as they develop and thinking it out two or three steps ahead of the action. The way Enzo Tarducci (Detroit Catholic Central, 2020) plays, you can almost see his thought process through his actions on the ice. A left-hand shot from the blue line, Tarducci always anticipates the puck coming his way and knows exactly what he’s going to do with it before it comes to him. He was aggressive holding the blue line, making timely and effective decisions with the puck as soon as he corralled it, distributing to an open man or throwing it to the net for a quick scoring opportunity.
Nick Marone (Brother Rice, 2020) must be a big HGTV fan, because he is a big-time DIYer. There is definitely an art in being able to create scoring opportunities on your own, whether it be beating a defender 1-on-1 or out-muscling opponents to get to the net in-zone. He is a slippery player with some fancy dekes, toe-draggin’ between-the-legs and going top cheddar, and I can definitely appreciate the ability to generate on your own. I do believe he should simplify a bit at times, utilize his linemates some more and create opportunities without the puck — which can be corrected — but his next-level skillset is hard to teach and certainly sets him apart from others.
I’ve got a soft spot for players like Brendan Finn (Lake Orion, 2021). He’s not the prettiest player, no fancy moves or eye-catching size but he’s got an absolute motor that does not stop.
Calling him a bull in a china shop may be an understatement and I mean that as a sincere compliment. From the moment he comes over the boards, his feet don’t stop moving until he returns to the bench. Finn came streaming into the offensive zone as F-1 on a forecheck like a heat-seeking missile. He came down the slot, flushed out the opposing defenseman from behind the net so fast that he overskated the puck carrier, kept going, caught back up to the puck carrier and picked his pocket clean before the tops of the circles, changed direction 180 degrees and came 1-on-1 in tight with the goalie. He may not have capitalized on that particular opportunity but a guy with that much energy can play on my team any day.
These are just a couple players that jumped out to me this weekend. Certainly, other names including Alex Blankenship, Dylan McMullen, Logan Gotinsky and Brady Rappuhn among others, were some of the standouts to watch as well. As the fall season progresses and we see more leading up to the winter, I’ll be sure to point them out as well.
Got any returning players ripe for a breakout season or new names that are sure to have an impact? Gimme a heads up on Twitter and discuss some ones to watch with November right around the corner!
The 2019 Junior Club World Cup is underway this week in Sochi, Russia, featuring eight of the top amateur junior leagues in the world, including the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL). Representatives from Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Austria round out the eight-team tournament.
Last Friday, the NAHL announced its three captains for the All-Star Team assembled with players representing the top Tier-II junior league in the United States. The 24-man roster consists of players from nine different states, but the three chosen to lead the team had one very interesting characteristic in common: Jake Beaune (Livonia Stevenson, 2018), Austin McCarthy (Manistee, 2017) and Nick Trela (Trenton, 2017) are all alumni of Michigan high school hockey.
Amidst all the vast differences, unique skill sets and diverse personalities of an all-star team compiled of players representing all 24 NAHL organizations from the previous season; the one constant in all the chaos is an amazing coincidence. A significant badge of honor for the players, but also for the world of MI-HS hockey that they continue to represent.
Beaune was a three-year lettermen at Stevenson, recording 35 goals and 71 points from the blue line, and a captain for the Spartans as a senior. The 6-foot-3 defenseman finished his rookie season of juniors with the 2019 Robertson Cup champion Aberdeen Wings.
Entering his second NAHL season, McCarthy is slated to be the Topeka Pilots’ captain in 19-20 as well. The Ludington native was a captain for Manistee during his junior season, where he scored 64 goals and 137 points in three seasons.
A 99-born forward, Trela played his sophomore and junior seasons for Trenton, and scored 10 goals and 20 points in his first season of juniors for the Amarillo Bulls.
What an unbelievable opportunity for the players to travel to Russia for an international tournament and an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Having three former players move on in their careers and earn that opportunity is impressive enough. The story could end right there and it would be a great headline. I don’t know what the odds of having all three of them be named captains is, but I think it’s safe to say they’re pretty slim. What an awesome moment for the players and for high school hockey.
That’s the best thing I’ve seen this week.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen in high school hockey? Continue the conversation with me on Twitter, would love to hear your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback!
Tryouts for two of high school hockey’s premier fall programs took place this month, with Michigan Hockey Advancement’s (MHA) Top 80 and the Michigan Developmental Hockey League (MDHL). I was fortunate enough to sit in on portions of both evaluation processes, thanks to Rick Gadwa with TPH and Bill Burns of the MDHL, and was blown away by the growth that high school hockey collectively continues to show year in and year out.
With just a 25-game regular season and strict limitations on player-coach contact under MHSAA rules, it is important for high school hockey to thoroughly explore, promote and encourage participation from all players at events like these. From the MDHL and MHA, to Copper Country and Elite Brigade, these entities continue to reach as many schools and players from across the state as possible. These “out-of-season” offerings are huge opportunities for growth and exposure that will help better the game and improve the overall product November through March.
Whatever your reason was [for trying out], remember it. Getting cut doesn’t mean you were wrong but how you respond to it could be.
Nearly 200 players from 48 different schools lobbied for spots in the hotly contested Top 80 Showcase coming up on August 23rd and more than 300 players representing 81 schools across the state looked to earn a place in the MDHL regular season, that kicked off this past weekend. There’s some crossover of players trying out for both outlets, but coupling those numbers with the ones that Elite Brigade and Copper Country will draw as well, I think it’s safe to assume in excess of 500 Michigan High School Hockey players are looking to further their skills and take their game to the next level outside of the regular season.
That is awesome.
It should be considered a tremendous accomplishment and huge opportunity to develop for the 80 players selected to be in MHA’s Showcase and programming as well as the 130ish players chosen to compete in an über-competitive MDHL.
But I’ve got an important message for the players that don’t make it and the coaches whose kids don’t make the cut… Remember why you tried out in the first place.
Did you think you were one of the best players in the state? Did you wanna see how you stacked up against top talent? Do you want to get noticed by scouts or think these programs will help promote you to college hockey and beyond? Did you want your players to experience high-level hockey and get them out of their comfort zones? Did you think you’ve got a lot of talent and ‘this is the year’ your team makes a run?
Whatever your reason was, remember it. Getting cut doesn’t mean you were wrong but how you respond to it could be.
After being cut from a team, the easy response is to play the politics card and say things like, “they only take kids from certain areas of the state” or getting caught up in the comparison game with “they took that kid over me?”
The truth is, a lot of good can actually come from getting cut.
*GASP* “But this was my only chance and I’m gonna miss out on X, Y, Z, and I play for a small school and I’ll never get exposure now, I’m never wasting my time and money to come to this tryout ever again!”
Look, getting cut from anything is a tough pill to swallow but playing the blame game, making excuses and getting bitter about the process doesn’t do anyone any good. If you’re a player who wants to compete at a higher level like junior, you’re gonna have to endure A LOT more evaluations than this one. If you’re a coach trying to build a program and develop young players, you could have a dozen kids get cut before one finally cracks through.
No singular tryout defines you as a player. If you’re serious about climbing the hockey ladder and playing junior/college or a school in general looking to grow and move up the ranks, it’s all about building your hockey resume. Yes, a good regular season is important but being in the mix at major events like Team Michigan tryouts and fall programming like these past weeks, it all goes towards your resume.
You might’ve gotten cut from Team Michigan in March. You might’ve gotten cut again from the Top 80 last week. You might even get cut again before you graduate high school. But the little things will start to add up. First, you’ll get more comfortable with being evaluated, playing in a fast-paced environment with unfamiliar teammates and learning how you can stand out as an individual. Then, there’s little victories along the way like being invited to the All-Star Game on Sunday or qualifying as one of the 16-20 goalies invited to weekend tryouts.
Evaluators will recognize your name, your school, your playing style. You might not have been right the right fit at your first tryout but scouts will remember you at the next tryout because of the first one.
Let me provide some real-life examples to explain.
Big Rapids had four guys at the MDHL tryouts last weekend. Multiple players showed out and grabbed my attention, including Blake Neibarger, who’s a good-sized defenseman that moves well, held good positioning and was a physical presence. Neibarger, along with his three teammates, did not get an initial invite to play in the 2019 MDHL season.
(I’ll preface the next paragraph as strictly hypothetical. I do not know the coach or players personally and these are in no way a direct reflection on them in any way. Only generalized questions that many draw from such evaluations.)
So is there a bias against Big Rapids? No. Are they incapable of playing against the best players the state? No. Should coach Tim Blashill stop sending his kids to the MDHL tryouts because his top players didn’t make the cut? NO!!
The Cardinals are gonna be a good team this season. They’ll have some really talented players that are going to help them win a lot of games, including Neibarger, Thomas Crandall, Lewis MacDonald and Cameron Massy. The school has been well-represented in past MDHL seasons by the likes of Fletcher Bolda and Drew Wotta, and I believe contributions like that have aided significantly in the progress that the program has made over the last few seasons under Coach Blashill.
Just because Big Rapids isn’t represented in this year’s MDHL, doesn’t mean the four players (and program as a whole) haven’t benefited from the exposure that the tryout has to offer. Want more? I could point to examples of players I saw the past two weeks from Clarkston and Novi among other schools, Jackson Lumen Christi has a goalie I’m really excited about, but the point I want to drive home to everyone is simple:
Players… You want to get scouted? These types of evaluation skates are invaluable for that type of exposure, whether you make the cut or not. I’ve been a part of several evaluation processes over the years; if guys like Neibarger stood out to me, odds are they stood out to others as well. Scouting is subjective. What I like in a player, others may not and what others appreciate, I may not. They are no more right than I am wrong. No one tryout defines you, but the way you respond could.
Coaches… You want to see how your players stack up against others in the state? Come watch. Come support your guys and see how they compete. As coaches, we’ve all evaluated, assembled rosters and assessed players’ strengths and weaknesses. Whether you’ve got one player trying out or ten players, watch your kids in action and see how deep the talent pool is at tryouts. Nobody knows your players better than you do. Would you have picked them?
It’s easy to say you got screwed. It’s easy to throw your arms up in disgust and curse the evaluators. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. Instead, why not seek feedback? Both good and bad critiques. Find out what you’re doing right and where you need to improve on. Ask how you can stand out, what it will take to make the team next time around and ask yourself if you’re willing to go the extra mile.
Whether it be the MDHL, Elite Brigade, MHA or anything else, there’s a heavy influence from high school coaches that are more than willing to offer constructive criticism and advice on how to stand out amongst the crowd. Take advantage of that and connect with them, get help from people who want to help.
When the dust settles from these tryouts, use that motivation, stay hungry and come back to the next tryout more prepared than the last.
Remember your ‘why’ because you can still achieve it without making the cut.
Continue the conversation with me on Twitter, would love to hear your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback!