Bobcats getting valuable exposure at NAHL’s Future Prospects events
It may be early in the 2017-18 season, but players from the Arizona Bobcats have already found themselves playing in some big games with plenty of influential eyes on them.
That’s because the Bobcats sent their 18U, 16U and 15U squads to Blaine, Minn., from Sept. 21-24 to play regular-season and showcase games in the North American Hockey League’s (NAHL) Future Prospects Tournament at the massive Schwan Super Rink – providing an early opportunity for Bobcats players to be seen by top college and junior coaches from all over North America.
“The NAHL is one of the two best junior leagues in the United States, and the league manages and owns the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL),” said Bobcats hockey director Ron Filion, explaining why he aligned his program with the prestigious organization. “The NAPHL is a really great feeder for the NAHL, which produces a large number of players each year who move on to play Division I college hockey.”
Because the Bobcats are members of the NAPHL and play a regular schedule of games against its 50 teams spread across three levels, they are invited to participate in showcase events like the Future Prospects Tournament, considered one of the top Tier I tournaments held anywhere in the country each season.
Jason Oliver, the head coach of the Bobcats’ 16U squad, said the level of talent displayed at the September event was incredible. The High Performance Hockey League sent most of its teams, as did the NAPHL, and the USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s Under-17 Team was there. The Junior A-level NAHL also sent all its teams.
In addition to that, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of scouts from college programs, the Western Hockey League, the United States Hockey League, the NAHL and the NHL.
“It’s a huge opportunity for these kids to get some really important exposure,” Oliver said.
Brent Gough’s 18U team attended the showcase, as did Pat Conacher’s 15U squad. And while it may have been more useful for the older players who are closer to committing to playing at the next levels, the younger players got a chance to feel what it’s like to compete with the pressure of knowing you’re being watched by some of the top talent evaluators around.
“At these ages, you don’t want to put too much pressure on them,” Oliver said of preparing Bobcats players to perform their best.. “At their age, I don’t think the NHL scouts are really looking at our kids, but the NAHL teams, the USHL scouts and the universities are all watching our guys.
“I spoke personally with a handful of USHL scouts and coaches about some of our guys, and I spoke to other scouts from the other leagues and some colleges. They’re getting seen. The exposure is huge, and the competition is very good so guys can really shine in big situations.”
Oliver emphasized that the level of play in the NAPHL from week to week is outstanding and only helps players improve as they strive to be competitive with other top kids from around the country. The Future Prospects Tournament offers a rare opportunity, however, to get all the top players under the same roof at the same time.
“It’s a great way for the boys to see what level they’re at and what they need to do to become more competitive with other players,” Oliver said. “That’s something that’s really important to us as coaches, to help in their development.
“The whole philosophy of the Bobcats program is to develop kids for the higher levels. You can go one of two ways – you can build a program that focuses on winning teams, or you can focus on promoting and pushing kids to move on to the next level. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to work with the Bobcats – we want to win, but we’re not winning at the expense of development.”
— Greg Ball
(Nov. 1, 2017)