By Stefan Kubus -
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The best that the United States has to offer was on display Thursday night in Pittsburgh at CONSOL Energy Center for the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
Pittsburgh served as the event’s second host, with the event originating in Buffalo last year. Team Mullen (coached by NHL Hall of Famer Joe Mullen) fell to Team Johnson (coached by Mark Johnson of “Miracle on Ice” fame), 5-2.
Michigan had seven representatives in attendance, with forward Dylan Larkin (Waterford; University of Michigan commit) and defensemen Aaron Haydon (Plymouth) and Ryan Mantha (Clarkston) suiting up in white for Team Johnson. On the other side of things, forward Dylan Pavelek (Marysville), defenseman Josh Jacobs (Macomb) and goaltenders Ed Minney (Michigan State commit) and Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth Whalers) donning blue sweaters for Team Mullen.
“It’s been a great honor to represent USA in the All-American Prospects Game,” Jacobs said after the game. “It’s been a great ride. There’s a lot of good guys out there, a lot of good, respectable guys, and it was a tough game out there, so it was a good experience for me, and I just have to learn from it and keep going on from here.”
Mullen said he was undoubtedly impressed with the talented crop on display.
“From my point of view, it was a success,” Mullen said. “It’s a showcase for them and they showed what kind of talent they have out there. It’s a hard-hitting game and they’re all fighting to be drafted, go to college and all that other stuff that comes along with it. I thought they did an excellent job.”
Johnson said that, while he certainly had his coaching duties, it was a great chance to watch the top American kids do battle on a big stage.
“I thought it went well,” Johnson said. “It was fun to watch the kids compete. Got a little heated in the third period; it was fun to watch and hopefully the fans enjoyed it.
“This is the second year we’ve had a game that we all watched tonight where we have our top 40 players and eight or nine years ago, you probably couldn’t have done that. More athletes are getting involved in hockey and as you watched tonight, you see a lot of talented kids playing. Anytime we put on an event like this, especially in NHL cities, it’s just going to help these kids grow.”
Mullen added that this was a terrific opportunity for the players to discover their weaknesses as well as their strengths so they can feel good going into their respective seasons.
“You always hope that they gain some confidence when they play in a game like this and the experience of it so when they get into tournaments and stuff like that, they’ll have that confidence that they can come and play in front of a lot of scouts and people and feel comfortable out there and play their own game.”
Larkin, a Waterford native who has plenty of experience playing on a big stage with the National Team Development Program, certainly rose to the occasion, potting a goal and an assist in the 5-2 win for his Team Johnson.
“It feels pretty good,” Larkin said. “You can’t get too into [worrying about the scouts in attendance], you have to keep playing hard, I just tried to keep my game simple and skate and play hard. I’m happy.”
Larkin opened the game’s scoring, lighting the lamp just 37 seconds into the second stanza to make it 1-0 for Team Johnson after a scoreless first.
Team Mullen defender Jack Dougherty tied things up at one five minutes into the third period, firing a shot over the glove of Team Johnson netminder Blake Weyrick, his teammate on the U.S. National Under-18 Team.
Larkin returned the favor to Keegan Iverson who assisted on his goal, setting him up all alone in front of the net to make it a 2-1 lead for Team Johnson.
Sonny Milano (U.S. NTDP), Chase De Leo and Shane Eiserman went on to add goals for Team Johnson, while Joe Wegwerth (U.S. NTDP) added one for Team Mullen for the 5-2 final.