While talking to John Vanbiesbrouck about the upcoming BioSteel All-American Game, he dropped a one-liner that sums it all up rather perfectly.
“… You’re getting a backstage pass to the future,” Vanbiesbrouck said about the showcase event, coming to USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan, on Jan. 20.
Fans in attendance and fans watching on NHL Network will see USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-18 Team take on a United States Hockey League all-star team full of NHL Draft-eligible prospects when the puck drops on the contest, all to celebrate and showcase the top talent USA Hockey has to offer.
An estimated 250 scouts are expected to be in attendance for the game.
“I’m really excited about the game,” said Vanbiesbrouck, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations. “To have the full Under-18 Team along with a great bunch of players from the USHL at this time of year is extremely exciting. It’s going to be a real good game. Prospect games from time to time have taken on some elements of summer hockey and shinny games — I think this one is going to be very well-competed, and it will have guys playing in the middle of the season so they’ll be at the top of their game. The scouting world will be able to see a good hockey game, as well, so it just seems to fit.”
The new event is a merger of the All-American Prospects Game, traditionally played in September, and the USHL Top Prospects Game — traditionally played in January. Vanbiesbrouck said combining the events into one showcase game is an improvement for all parties involved.
“It was just an all-around good fit,” said Vanbiesbrouck. “This time of year being able to celebrate good athletes, good partnerships, and ultimately celebrating the players, it appeared to me that it would be a good fit, especially after speaking with Dan Marr at NHL Central Scouting.
“USA Hockey thinks it’s a good fit, and so does the USHL. We’re partners with everyone, and we wanted to make sure we brought forth a good plan. Obviously, there are details where you have to go through it, that’s really the excitement of it is going through it for the first time and seeing where you can increase, get better, make some changes, adjustments, but excited to see.”
The organizers of the BioSteel All-American Game work hand-in-hand with the NHL to make sure that the right players are on the ice for the big game in Plymouth, as more than 250 scouts are expected to be in attendance.
“They’re a great coordinator,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “Nobody does work as well as the NHL for coordinating the draft, the draft-eligible players, and you know, helping coordinate the position of the game and where it would best fit. Working with Dan is simple, and I appreciate his leadership and the design of the game and how it can be presented to the NHL world. The big thing on that is not only how it’s presented live, but also that the NHL Network is involved and the great support that we’ve been able to gain from them.”
The game truly is a look into USA Hockey’s future; the All-American Prospects Game rosters from years past show 188 players who would go on to be drafted by NHL teams. Vanbiesbrouck said for as much fun as it is to see a player like Jack Hughes partake (he skated in the 2018 game), it’s great to see more players provided the spotlight they need to advance their hockey careers.
“I say this a little tongue in cheek, because, you know, last year it was fairly obvious that we had the No. 1 overall pick. It got contested down the pike because of the other great stars in the world, but our country has great star players that nobody knows about, which is even more intriguing. You’re getting a backstage pass to the future. The USHL has some great stars who offer a lot to all of our programs, and some of those players, whether they’re a leading scorer, a player like Gunnarwolfe Fontaine for Chicago, or whether you play for the NTDP and you’re a star player like Matt Beniers, you’re all part of one group and it’s USA Hockey and the potential of a guy being an Olympian, the potential of being on our next World Junior team, this game is going to showcase all of our top athletes and it’s going to do a good job of launching them into a good career.”
The USHL has embraced the changes of the showcase structure, as well.
“The USHL is a great partner,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “They have the best league in the United States, and it’s growing each and every year. The league is well-run, it has great owners, and it stands for what’s right in the United States, because, I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 96 percent of the players in the USHL get D1 scholarships and we’re a college-bound country. The USHL is helping USA Hockey hit on all cylinders.”
BioSteel made a financial commitment to serve as the title sponsor for the new-look event and Vanbiesbrouck is appreciative of the sports nutrition provider’s assistance.
“We’re very proud of our partners, and we’re very respectful of them stepping forward to be a presenting sponsor. We need that partnership in order to grow our sport and I think for them to step forward and be a big partner in all of our endeavors; I think a vision for how they want to grow their game, as well as us grow ours. I think it’s one in the same. The heart is in the growth of the game.”
Vanbiesbrouck won’t have to travel far to watch the first edition of the BioSteel All-American Game, as his office is located right inside USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth. It was convenient for the scouting world, not for him, that led to the decision to house the game in USA Hockey’s Metro Detroit home, however.
“We talk about a good fit, it’s a good venue, one of the big things in the partnership is being able to have a central focus, having it at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, what we want to do is showcase the arena as well, and the fact that it’s not just the center for the NTDP, but for hockey in the United States. Showcasing our talent at an arena, that’s our home for USA Hockey, I think everybody shares in that, it’s not unique just to our teams, it’s unique to the country. I think, again, it’s part of the good fit for the scouting world in a centralized location and I’m hearing good things about the location for convenience and strategy.”
With the details for the game all finalized, Vanbiesbrouck’s last push is to fill the seats at USA Hockey Arena, as he continues to try to remind the hockey community of the unique event and the opportunity to see future NHL players in action.
“We need support. That’s our biggest thing is to support our athletes, celebrate our athletes, enjoy this special time. A draft year comes and goes pretty quickly, and it’s more than just a draft, it’s about encouraging our young athletes, to stay with this and have a career in a sport they love, and to give back, too. Our heartbeat is built on the heart of our volunteers, and that’s a big factor of USA Hockey is our volunteer group.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.