The Eastern Hockey League has had two all-star games this season in which it sent 25 of its top players against a college team, and it has had showcase events where all the leagues’ teams have come to one site.
While those events represent a return to the normal way of trying to expose its players to as many potential recruiters as possible, the EHL has also taken a step to try to provide the best of both worlds — its most talented players and a large group of prospects for coaches.
A group of 68 players were selected for the inaugural EHL All-Star Classic, a series of eight games played, tournament-style, Nov. 21-22 at the Ice Den Arena in Hooksett, New Hampshire.
“This was an idea that Neil Ravin came up with a couple years ago and we wanted to do it last year,” EHL commissioner Joe Bertagna said of a plan devised by Ravin, the associate commissioner, that could not be implemented while COVID precautions were seriously curtailing large, league-wide gatherings. “The overall philosophy is that we’re trying to showcase our players to the college coaches.”
That was done with the all-star games against UMass-Boston and Curry College. A third game, with Fitchburg State, was called off due to safety precautions.
The entire league has already been together for multiple showcases this season.
“That’s a little more democratic,” Bertagna said. “Everybody gets to play. Everybody gets a chance to be seen. This idea, I think, was a great idea that Neil came up with.”
The All-Star Classic offered a larger group for recruiters to observe, while still emphasizing the upper level of the league’s talent base.
“The games against the colleges, it’s one all-star team, it’s our best guys, but it’s limited to 25 players,” Bertagna said. “This way, having four all-star teams, they have a little fun with it. The coaches drafted from names submitted by each team. It gives a larger group to play in front of the colleges.
“It’s still kind of the best and brightest. And, it’s a higher percentage of the EHL 20-year-olds where it’s their last chance to play, be seen and make a commitment.”
Each of the EHL’s 17 teams was represented by four players, creating a group of 36 forwards, 24 defensemen and eight goaltenders to be drafted into the four teams.
Eight coaches were selected to work with the all-stars.
Ryan McGrath from the Valley Jr. Warriors is one of those coaches.
“The advice to the players was just to be what they are,” McGrath said. “If you’re a goal scorer, score goals. If you’re a good defensive player, then play defense.
“Don’t try to be something that you’re not, that you’re not comfortable with. We want every player to have success, but in order to do that, they’ve got to do what they’re good at.
“From a league perspective, we’re excited because it’s a great deal for college coaches and we’re really excited to showcase the league.”
When speaking with McGrath during the leadup to the game, he said he’d take some obvious steps to put players in their best situations to succeed. He’d put teammates together on forward lines and defensive pairings, where possible.
When not, he’d do his best to combine complementary skills like forming a forward line from a checker, a passer and a scorer. Just as important, however, is being flexible and ready to adjust if players don’t fit well together.
“The important thing is during the games themselves,” said McGrath, who has experience both in coaching junior all-star groups and observing them in his nine years recruiting as a college coach. “If we see something that we might be able to adjust, such as a kid who’s playing to a particular style that might be better with two other linemates, we’ve got to make those moves early and stick to them.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo from Dan Hickling, Hickling Images