Top 80 Showcase offers opportunities for high school players

Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey

Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey

 

By @MichaelCaples –

FARMINGTON HILLS – From Sept. 4-6, some of the top high school hockey players in the state gathered at Farmington Hills Ice Arena for a prestigious event.

Hosted by Total Package Hockey’s ‘Michigan Hockey Advancement’ program, the select group of players and goaltenders competed in games spanning three days during the second annual Top 80 Showcase. They also heard from guest speakers representing the likes of the USHL and Bauer Hockey.

“This weekend is designed to do two different things,” said TPH director Brandon Naurato, who played high school hockey for Detroit Catholic Central. “One, provide exposure for the top high school players in the state, with the goal to move these guys on to the next level. But more importantly, to also educate these kids on the path, on what it takes to get to the next level – the sacrifices that go into it, the adversity that you’re going to deal with. It’s easy to be a hockey player when everything’s going well for you. When the cards are down, or your back’s against the wall, having the passion for the game and the love for the game to fight through that and then to have success is a feeling that we’re trying to get these kids to go through.”

The Michigan Hockey Advancement program offered a rare opportunity for various scouts to see the top high school hockey players in the state before their seasons begin. Representatives from NCAA, USHL, NAHL and OHL programs were all in attendance at one point or another over the weekend slate of showcase games (players were split into four different squads and competed against one another).

“TPH and Brandon Naurato do a great job of getting the best high school players possible,” said OHL scout Kevin Hess. “It’s great for the scouts having 80 of the best high school players under one roof, and hopefully this helps build high school hockey in Michigan.”

Players from across the state took part in the MHA Top 80 Showcase, which means a potential player like former Mr. Hockey winner Ben Johnson (Calumet) might pop up on a scout’s radar sooner.

Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey

Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey

“For example, with Calumet, I didn’t have a chance to see Johnson, who’s now a NHL signee with the New Jersey Devils,” Hess said. “I didn’t have a chance to see him until he came down to Compuware, and thank God he did, because he’s a special player. That’s when the Windsor Spitfires found him I believe, they saw him at Compuware and said ‘wow, this kid can play.’ It’s great to have them under one roof so we can have our travel schedules planned out.”

The three-day showcase also offered the opportunity to educate the high school players. They heard from guest speakers from the USHL and NAHL, and during the final day, went through seminars with Naurato and fellow TPH instructor Sean Perkins – two players well versed in the various paths through hockey.

USHL scout Paul Dionne, who also coaches Victory Honda bantam minor, said he has been very impressed with what the Michigan Hockey Advancement program – and the rest of the Total Package Hockey offerings – does for hockey development in Michigan.

“What Brandon Naurato has been doing here in the lower part of Michigan is absolutely phenomenal, both inside and outside of high school hockey here in Michigan,” Dionne said. “I can’t say enough about his work ethic, but more than that, he’s so passionate, Sean Perkins and the guys, whether it’s MHA or Center of Excellence, they just really take the bull by the horns.”

Dionne’s message to the players was a simple one.

“Options,” Dionne said. “At every level that a player plays at, whether it be high school or AAA, it’s important to understand, both player and family, that they are aware and understand the full impact of all the decisions they make, on top of what a family advisor might be telling them.”

For Naurato, who went from playing high school hockey at Detroit Catholic Central to playing at the NCAA level for the University of Michigan, the MHA is just the latest step in helping grow the game at the high school level.

“There’s been a great track record of kids playing Division 1, Division 3 college hockey and even playing in the NHL from Michigan high school hockey, and we want to keep that going and even grow it. This is just the start of what we’re trying to do here.”