CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The USHL’s Fall Classic, which featured the top Tier I junior hockey players in the country, recently took place for the eighth consecutive season at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township.
“This is the first shot out of the gate,” said Glenn Hefferan, president and commissioner of the USHL. “They had their couple of exhibition games, now it’s go-time and these points matter.”
All 16 USHL teams played two games apiece during the five-day event. The Youngstown Phantoms, which won the 2023 Clark Cup and is located an hour from Cranberry Township, helped kick off the showcase with a game on the first night. The Fargo Force, the 2023 Clark Cup runners-up, left the showcase with a pair of wins along with the Madison Capitols, the Green BayGamblers, the Tri-City Storm and USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
The event drew more than 400 scouts from NHL, college and junior teams to the region.
“The fact that all 16 teams can be here is huge,” Hefferan said. “All of Division I college hockey is here, all the NHL teams are here, central scouting is here … to me, it’s all under one roof and that’s probably the biggest benefit for the scouts and the players.”
Hefferan took over his new role as league president and commissioner in July, but he’s certainly familiar with the talent in the USHL.
“This league just keeps getting better and better,” Hefferan said. “It’s exciting to see everything unfold. I’ve dipped in and out of USHL games since 1994. I know what this league was in 1994 and it’s not the league it is today.”
The USHL is the top junior hockey league sanctioned by USA Hockey, and it’s a league that draws the attention of the best youth hockey players in the country.
Some youth hockey players had a chance to watch the showcase games up close, as an elite invitational youth tournament was held simultaneously at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex and other local Pittsburgh area ice rinks.
“A lot of these players don’t get to see a regular USHL game,” Hefferan said. “To be able to bring them here so they can experience it and see first-hand what it takes to play in this league, I think that’s really valuable.”
Frank Butler, the USHL player development coordinator, said that the tournament included 80 elite youth teams and more than 1,600 players broken out across four divisions. The Boston Junior Eagles won the 18U division, while Little Caesars captured 16U, the New Jersey Rockets won the15U and Mount Saint Charles Academy, located in Rhode Island, claimed the 14U championship.
“It’s a really prestigious event,” Butler said. “It’s good for the younger players, some of the best in the country, to play in front of a lot of scouts, both college and the USHL.”
Hefferan said that 98 percent of USHL players eventually play Division I hockey and the 16-team league fuels a little more than 40 percent of Division I hockey.
“The college ranks are loaded with our guys and we’re only 16 teams,” Hefferan said. “If you quantify by dollar amount the amount of scholarship dollars, to NHL dollars, to drafts, we’re the No. 1 junior league in the world.”
Events like the USHL Fall Classic certainly help, as the league not only annually showcases its best players, but also the top junior hockey players from around the country.
“I’ve always been a big supporter of the USHL going back to 1994 and this is always a great event,” Hefferan said. “I always knew that this is a place where we wanted our players to aspire to play and we felt we could best develop our kids.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.