The holiday season is the time of year when friends and family come together and celebrate as end of the calender year approaches.
In terms of prep and high school hockey in the United States, the holiday season shares a similar function: many tournaments, some very high profile, bring together players, teams, and scouts in one place although we are just approaching the midway point of the hockey season.
Out in the Northeast there was the legendary Flood-Marr, a gathering of eight teams now in its 48th year of existence (Kimball Union won it this year by the way), and there were a handful of draft eligibles who had made their mark earlier in the year at the United States Select Festival.
Phillips Academy Andover’s Eddie Ellis had a strong Summer camp, but hasn’t quite excelled as one had hoped. Although he’s struggling with consistency, Ellis still has strong skating ability and soft hands that make scouts think that these bumps in the road aren’t indicative of his potential.
Hotchkiss Prep has two massive players of interest, both of whom stand at a towering six-foot-six in defenseman Wiley Sherman and winger Tyler Hill. While both are still pretty raw, there are definitely tools which catches one’s attention.
Sherman’s ability to skate along with his immense reach make him a very tough defender to beat. The Harvard commit has a good mind for the game. He thinks the game well and displays a calming presence with the puck. Sherman keeps the game simple, which is sometimes all you need on the back end.
Hill has good hands and is skilled for a big man. He uses his natural size effectively, whether he is protecting the puck or fighting for position, and will step up and bury opponents into the boards. He had been playing for The Chicago Steel in the USHL, but it looks as if he has left Hotchkiss and will play junior hockey full time. As a “big fish in a small pond” at the prep level, it was hard for NHL teams to get a read on Hill but now with a full time commitment to the top junior league in the United States, scouting staffs will have a better idea of where he is and who he could be than ever before.
Elsewhere in New England, Brian Pinho of St. John’s Prep had a very strong December, one worthy of recognition. A hard working and intelligent player, the responsible pivot committed to Providence in September.
Back in Minnesota, perennial powerhouse Edina hosts a small soiree between them and three other teams; Eden Prairie, Elk River, and out-of-state state rival Grand Rapids all convene in the legendary Braemar Arena for a couple nights of head to head action.
Scouts based locally came in droves to see how the game of Avery Peterson has progressed since Fall Elite League season. Since Grand Rapids is a five hour drive from the Twin Cities, the big centre’s arrival in Suburban Minneapolis was a welcome treat in the harsh Minnesota Winter. Still a tad clumsy, Peterson’s a big bodied player with very good vision and playmaking sensibilities. Arguably the go-to forward on the Thunderhawks roster, he’s begun to take the puck to the net and use his size to bull to the net, which is something that scouts yearned for him to do in the Fall.
Eden Prairie has a history of churning out very good players- Danny Kristo, Nick Leddy, and Kyle Rau for example, but scouts have begun to take in more games to get a better look at Mason Bergh, who has emerged as one of the better sleeper in this region’s cache of draft eligibles.
Now, the knock on Bergh is his lack of overall strength, but what makes him so intriguing is his combination of relentless drive, fierce competitive nature, and deceptive skill level. He’s drawn comparisons to Rau for his unrelenting desire to win every battle and the sheer want in his game. It’s not that he’s winning battles, its that he’s doing it despite not being the physically strongest player on the ice. Bergh has very strong hockey sense and good hands; he can thread passes through traffic and score the “goal scorer’s” goals too. He really raised some eyebrows with what was seen as an eye-opening stint with The Waterloo Blackhawks on a break between League play in November.
The calender year of 2012 has given way to 2013, but its only the halfway point for the hockey season. Get ready for the stretch run.