What started as an idea to bring all AJHL clubs together for a “display” of talent for a handful of scouts has morphed into something much bigger.
Starting Sept. 29 and running through Oct. 1, the fifth annual Crescent Point Energy and Legacy Oil & Gas AJHL Showcase will be staged again at the TransAlta Tri-Leisure Centre in Spruce Grove.
While the event has migrated to various AJHL centres, Spruce Grove has become its “unofficial” home.
The community has a perfect facility to host all 16 AJ clubs – each playing two games over the three-day event and the central location makes it easily accessible for scouts from across North America. This has been key says League marketing VP Ryan Bartoshyk.
“The Showcase has developed into the premier event of the AJHL regular season because of the co-operation and commitment from our board of governors, member clubs, student athletes and the scouting community,” says Bartoshyk.
“Now in our fifth year of the event, we have recognized what works and what doesn’t and have made the appropriate changes.”
What works is scouts from all levels of hockey, including the pros, now mark the date on the calendar. It’s one-stop shopping.
And the numbers show the Showcase model success. AJHL players are being chosen in the NHL draft more than ever before and the number of NCAA scholarships and Canadian collegiate commitments continue to grow.
“It is gratifying to see the excitement that the event generates for our players, as well the response from the scouting community. Whether it be NHL, NCAA, CIS, ACAC or CHL representatives, they have all made the commitment to our league and our student athletes over these three days,” he said.
For the two-time defending Enerflex Cup champs the host Spruce Grove Saints, the event is always big.
Head Coach/GM Jason McKee says Showcase transcends his club and even the League – it’s huge for the community.
“It’s obviously nice to have the convenience of location, the facility that can host an event like this, but the fantastic community support has really been a huge part of it,” says McKee who is in his second year behind the bench.
Obviously, with the hype, two “regular season” games might not seem so regular. Keeping things in perspective is key not only for his Saints but for all players and teams.
“We definitely don’t sweep it under the carpet and pretend there aren’t a lot of scouts out there watching,” says McKee with a chuckle.
“But it’s important for the team and individuals to play to their strengths… be who you are, don’t try and change who you are, what kind of player you are… or your team’s game plan. I think that’s important.”
McKee has demonstrated his ability to keep things in perspective. His graduating class from a year ago was the deepest in the League.
Nevertheless, the Saints have been able to pick things up where they left off, unbeaten at press time. McKee says that focus on detail has been key.
“This is a 16-20 year old League, and it doesn’t matter what age you are, you are going to play and expected to execute and contribute, and we’ve had that,” he says. A core group of six or seven returnees has shouldered the load and demonstrated leadership on and off the ice.
The best example – a player with his own NCAA commitment to the Penn State Nittany Lions starting next year – is captain David Glen.
Glen agrees with his coach’s assessment of early season success.
“We have a great group of young guys here, not just great players but great people,” says Glen.
“We (vets) have had to work hard in a support role, but that’s all part of it – sure we lost a great deal of talent from last year’s team, but as long as we remain leaders and instil the way to play Saints hockey, we’ll be fine.”
So with a scholarship under his belt, what advice does Glen offer to his teammates and other AJHL players heading into Showcase?
“It’s a very exciting time, no doubt. It’s a great chance for a lot of guys, not just the young players, to show their talents – everyone’s excited about it, we just have to keep our perspective and play our game plan… not be distracted,” he says.
As the Showcase continues to grow its appeal in the hockey world, Bartoshyk says this is another example of the AJHL’s brand success: High expectations.
“As a League, it our intention that expectations of the AJHL brand are exceeded upon the completion of the event,” he says.
Puck drops Thursday at 3:30 p.m. with Sherwood Park taking on Olds, and wraps up Saturday night, at 8:30 p.m. with a rematch of last year’s Enerflex Cup final when the hosts take on the Camrose Kodiaks.