By Mike G. Morreale – NHL.com Staff Writer
Pittsburgh Penguins president David Morehouse admitted it was another great day for hockey Tuesday after the announcement that the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game would be coming to Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Sept. 26.
“We’re fortunate Pittsburgh has become one of the great hockey cities in America,” Morehouse told reporters at a press conference announcing the second annual event.
“Those in Pittsburgh may remember the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic,” he said. “I used to go to a lot of them growing up … it allowed us to see the greatest basketball players in the country before they became NBA players. This game is very similar in that fans will get an opportunity to see the best hockey players in America before they get drafted.”
The inaugural Dapper Dan Roundball Classic was played at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh in 1965.
“The All-American Prospects Game is the celebration of the American player,” USA Hockey assistant executive director Jim Johansson said. “What we will bring to Pittsburgh are our best players. I think for players aspiring to get to the NHL and to come into a building like this, just adds to the notoriety of the event. It adds to the awareness for the players to know the world is watching and gives the hope that one day they could play in a building like this while rising up the ranks.”
The game will feature 40 of the top American-born players eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, and will be drawn from the United States Hockey League, the U.S. National Team Development Program, the Canadian Hockey League and from U.S. high schools, prep schools and NCAA programs.
The Consol Energy Center has become more than just the home of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey games. The building was site of the 2012 NHL Draft last June and the inaugural Three Rivers Classic in December, and will be the site of the NCAA Frozen Four, on April 11 and 13.
The 2014 NHL Draft will be held at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
“I think this is all part of a cascading strategy that the Penguins and David Morehouse have and it really is setting the example and raising the bar we hope more cities in the United States are going to emulate in terms of their support and engagement with the amateur hockey communities,” USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said. “We’ve had a lot of cities wanting to host this event and we’ll take it a step at a time. There are some markets that make more sense than others for a variety of reasons.”
The rosters for the game, according to Johansson, should be announced in August. Coaches for the game likely will be announced sometime prior to the 2013 NHL Draft, which will be held at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
The inaugural All-American Prospects Game, held at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., this past September, featured defenseman Seth Jones of Plano, Texas. Jones, who plays for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting’s midterm ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft.
“We’re very proud that Seth Jones is ranked No. 1 among North Americans, and for hockey fans, that’s the caliber of player that you’re going to see at this event,” Johansson said. “In Pittsburgh, we have a lot of young kids aspiring in this game thanks to the influence of Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby.”
Johansson said USA Hockey will work closely with NHL Central Scouting, as it did prior to the 2012 game, in order to pinpoint the top players for the event.
Of the 40 players picked to compete in the inaugural All-American Prospects Game, all but 10 were from the United States Hockey League, including 21 from the USNTDP, based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Center Ryan Fitzgerald, the son of Penguins assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald, had three assists to lead his team to a 5-2 victory and earn the game’s MVP award. Fitzgerald, of North Reading, Mass., stars for the Valley Junior Warriors of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, and is No. 46 on Central Scouting’s midterm rankings.
Pittsburgh’s hockey success isn’t limited to the Penguins. Four graduates of the region’s minor hockey system were instrumental in helping the United States win the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship — forwards Vincent Trocheck (Upper St. Clair), J.T. Miller (Coraopolis) and Riley Barber (Washington), as well goaltender and tournament MVP John Gibson (Whitehall).
“I want to congratulate USA Hockey for bringing home gold [at the WJC],” Morehouse said. “Pittsburgh coach [Dan] Bylsma reminded some of our Canadian players earlier that the management of the championship team was in the house. Hopefully, we can keep feeding you [Pittsburgh] players and you can keep bringing home gold medals.”