CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Each year, the top Tier I junior hockey players in the country participate in the USHL Fall Classic.
This year’s event took place from Sep. 20-25 at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township.
The eighth annual event also showcased some of the talented youth hockey players in the country as an elite invitational youth tournament took place at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex and other local rinks.
“A lot of these [youth] players don’t get to see a regular USHL game,” said Glenn Hefferan, president and commissioner of the USHL. “To be able to bring them here so they can experience it and see first-hand what it takes to play in this league, that’s really valuable.”
The USHL Fall Classic drew more than 400 scouts from the NHL, college and junior teams to the event. That allowed not just USHL talent, but also youth hockey players to perform in a significant spotlight.
“It’s a really prestigious event,” said Frank Butler, the USHL player development coordinator. “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. A lot of them don’t get the opportunity to see USHL games live, so I think that’s an added bonus for them.”
The youth tournament included 80 elite youth teams and more than 1,600 players broken out across four divisions.
The Boston Junior Eagles edged out the Philadelphia Junior Flyers 3-2 in the 18U championship thanks to two goals from Kyle O’Leary.
Little Caesars secured a five-goal win against Compuware for the 16U title.Cooper Bordeaux, Nicholas Kosiba and Gavin Lock all had a goal and an assist in the winning effort.
The New Jersey-based Rockets Hockey Club won the 15U championship with a 4-1 victory against Little Caesars. Rockets goalie Ilja Nikitins stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced.
Mount Saint Charles, located in Rhode Island, beat Mid-Fairfield by a pair of goals for the 14U title. Braiden Scuderi’s goal and two assists provided a needed boost for Mount Saint Charles in the title game.
“We pride ourselves in having the best youth teams come to this event,” Butler said. “Obviously you’re playing for a championship, but to be able to say you won the Fall Classic in your division … teams hang the banners up in their rinks and we give them hats and stuff, so it’s cool and one of the most exciting parts of my job.”
Butler said that many current USHL players previously participated in this youth tournament. He added that the youth tournament is a way for the younger players to see how much improvement is needed or how close they are to being able to play in the USHL.
“[Youth players] can see and aspire to be some of these [USHL] players and look at them as role models in the USHL clubs,” Butler said. “That’s super important. You don’t know the level of competition until you get out there, see it live and see what it takes. This is definitely a great event for those guys to see that.”
Hefferan said that the USHL serves as a significant pipeline into high-level hockey, including the NHL, so to partner the league with a prestigious, nationally renowned youth tournament is a natural move.
“A lot of kids want to play in this league,” Hefferan said. “They don’t really want to play in any other league … mostly, they want to play in the USHL. It’s a really great service for the kids to see this level of play that they normally don’t get to see.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.