Although the playoffs are in full swing to determine to this season's champion, the USHL is already looking ahead to the future of the League as it hosts the first of three USHL Prospect Combines this weekend at the Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park, Illinois.
The event is the launch of the first-of-a-kind concept by USHL Player Development for identifying and evaluating the top hockey players in North America.
"We start this new concept with the '95 birth year players, who will be the future of the USHL in the next few years," said USHL Manager of Player Development Bob Thornton. "This event will be the starting point for USHL Player Development to rate these players for the 1995 USHL Futures Draft which will be in May 2011. These are all bantam-aged players and next year is an important year for them as far as to how much they grow and develop."
Players were invited to the Combine based on season-long scouting and evaluation efforts by USHL Player Development. In addition to each player competing in four on-ice scrimmages over two days, the USHL has taken it a step further to include extensive off-ice testing (strength, agility, and core). Leading the testing process is Mick Ferras, who has more than 15 years of experience training players at all levels of hockey including the NHL, and Kevin Ziegler, strength and conditioning coach for the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede and the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. Following two days of games and testing, the top-rated players will be selected to participate in Sunday's all-star game.
"For the first time, many of these players are getting a glimpse what it is like to play at the next level," said Thornton. "Not only facing top competition on the ice in their age group, but experiencing a level of off-ice training and testing they have never seen before. There are a lot of young talented players here this weekend, and we are putting them through this process to help develop them into potential future stars in the USHL."
Both scouts and staff from USHL Player Development are managing the event while representatives from each USHL Member Club are in attendance to further their evaluation process of players who are the future of the League. Next weekend, a combine for 1992/1993 birth years will be held followed by a 1994 birth year combine in May.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)