All-American Prospects Game to showcase Seth Jones
Forty of the USA's top prospects will face-off in Buffalo on Friday Sept. 28
Keep an eye on defenseman Seth Jones, projected as a top 2013 NHL draft pick
The ongoing success of American-born players inspired creation of the game
With the game's top pros on the sidelines or playing overseas until the NHL lockout is resolved, the best junior players in the U.S. will drop the puck for the inaugural All-American Prospects Game on Saturday night at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo (7 p.m. ET; watch via free livestream on FASThockey.com.)
The next Mike Modano, Chris Chelios or Brian Leetch might be trying to beat the next Ryan Miller or Jonathan Quick before your very eye when 40 of the country's top phenoms, as determined by GM Jim Johannson and NHL Central Scouting, actually play some hockey. Of the players on the two rosters, 30 come from the U.S. Hockey League and 21 are from the National Team Development Program. There are 34 who are slated to play for NCAA Division I teams next year.
The coaches of the two squads are familiar names in U.S. hockey lore. Rob McClanahan was a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. Phil Housley ranks among the highest scoring defensemen in NHL history. "Phil had the scoop on the lineup before they were set and he probably picked me off a bit," says McClanahan. "Hopefully he'll take it easy on my team."
As America's hockey landscape has grown to include more non-traditional areas that have generated world-class players -- the NHL playoffs last spring marked the first time that both Stanley Cup finalists were led by U.S.-born captains (and general managers) -- creating this prospects game seemed like a good idea.
"When I played, I went from high school to college," says McClanahan. "If I'd had this opportunity, it would have been great . . . Everybody wants to showcase their talents. You gain your individual recognition through teamwork. This is one step in the entire process."
If you watch the game, keep an eye on Seth Jones, the 17-year-old ace defenseman for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. His father, Popeye Jones, plied his trade in another winter sport, jumping around to seven NBA teams in 11 seasons before becoming an assistant coach with the Nets. One of Popeye's stops was in Denver, where Colorado Avalanche great Joe Sakic noticed Seth's potential and referred him to a power-skating coach.
Seth rose through Pee Wee, moved to Texas where he played for the Dallas Stars Midget Major team, and later entered the U.S. National Development Program. As captain, he led the U.S. to the gold medal, the team's fourth straight, at the World Under-18 Championship in the Czech Republic earlier this year. Already 6'3" and 201 pounds, with strong two-way skills, Jones has positioned himself to become one of the top picks in the NHL Draft next summer.
"I've gotta say I'm jealous because Rob has Seth Jones," says Housley. "He's made for today's game. He's big, fast, can skate and move the puck in all three zones."
Also worth watching:
Ryan Hartman, a forward from the Chicago suburbs, was the leading scorer in the national under-17 program last season in Ann Arbor, Mich. This season, he'll join the U-18 program headed by former NHLer Danton Cole. He's also overloading his classes in order to graduate from high school a year early in order to be eligible to accept a scholarship at the University of Miami (Ohio) next year.
Forward Justin Bailey took the Long Island Royals to the Tier-I national title for 16s on a team coached by Hall-of-Famer Pat LaFontaine, also a product of USA Hockey, who played in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. Bailey will skate for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL this season.
As a 22-year-old forward in the Philadelphia Flyers' system back in 1989, Nick Kypreos needed some reassurance that the injury he'd suffered to his right knee would not derail his career. As he waited for surgery to repair his ruptured Achilles and meniscus, he asked his doctor if he'd be able to play at full speed again. "Play?" his doctor answered. "That knee will be so strong, you can run the New York City Marathon some day."
Fully reassured, the enforcer went on to play eight seasons, including the seventh game of the Rangers' Stanley Cup triumph in 1994 against Vancouver. Of course, there was no need to worry about that marathon.
"I didn't really like to run," Kypreos recalls. "I'd do two miles and that was enough. I'd always considered it hard labor."
But this fall, some of his co-workers at Sportsnet Cable Systems were teasing the popular TV analyst about running that marathon, especially with no hockey games to analyze. "My first thought was why?" Kypreos said. "Why would I do that? As time passed, it became, why not?"
So the non-runner is now in full training mode for this year's race on its traditional day: the first Sunday in November. He has called upon a personal trainer, Alan Chud, and a strength and conditioning coach, Jaclyn Kissel, to whip him into shape. And there are other motivations.
Kypreos' career ended prematurely in 1997 at age 31, when he returned to Madison Square Garden as a Toronto Maple Leaf and was knocked out in a fight with Ryan VandenBussche of the Rangers. Kypreos battled post-concussion effects afterward, but still had the itch to compete.
"The marathon has given me a physical goal without the risk of contact," he says. It will also give him a chance to let his kids -- Zach, 13; Theo, 12; and Annie, 8, all born after his career ended -- watch him in action. And it would make him the fourth member of that Cup-winning Rangers team to run the race. In 2007, goalie Mike Richter crossed in 3:54:34, a team best. Forward Adam Graves came across in 4:27:32 in 2006. Captain Mark Messier finished in 4:14:27 last year.
Kypreos didn't choose his target time because of hockey. "I saw that Oprah ran a marathon in 4:30," he says. "C'mon, I can't be slower than Oprah."
Call it hair karma, but NHL players are sparing nary a follicle to make their cases during the lockout. As the work stoppage loomed, Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin posted a photo on Twitter of his shaved head, saying, "I'm ready to fight for NHLPA!!!! Hahaha!!" But Islanders winger Michael Grabner is trying the opposite approach, tweeting that he and Flyers forward Scott Hartnell are growing anti-lockout beards. Grabner added that he would be glad to cut it off soon, if the CBA impasse ends, of course.