The annual North American 3 Hockey League (3HL) draft, like any draft, tends to be a roll of the dice with many intangibles and questions heading into the process.
What players are available? What needs does each team have? Will selected players come to the 3HL? Do teams value character or skill? And who are the best players available? What players will be returning from last year?
This season’s draft will take place next Thursday, June 2, at 6 p.m. CST and all 16 teams, including the four new teams - Granite City Lumberjacks, Minnesota Flying Aces, North Iowa Bulls and Twin City Steel - are gearing up to stock their rosters with prospective players for the 2011-12 season.
For most teams, the draft is what most hope is the result of a long year of recruiting and selling players and parents on the 3HL.
“We discuss the benefits of our program and organization, what we have to offer on and off the ice for the student-athlete and how we can help develop and advance them as a player and person,” new Pittsburgh Jr. Penguins coach Brian Cersosimo said. “We're looking for the best players available to build a consistent, competitive team. We look to fill holes with the players that we have recruited, researched, know fit into our team philosophy and will grow as a student-athlete in that environment.”
The Metro Jets also have the philosophy of drafting players that are ready to play and compete starting next fall.
“I think we’ll start out with the best available and are there holes to fill? Definitely,” said Jets coach Jason Cirone. “As much as I love our goaltenders from last season (Eric Trunick and Matt Braun), I think we need to upgrade there. That said, if that means them coming in and playing better, great, but we’re not going to be a team that stands pat and gives up eight, nine, 10, 13 goals a night. That’s pretty frustrating not only for me, but for the guys in front of the goalie, too.”
”I think we look for the best player available and then we go from there and start filling holes. We have two first-round picks and in the first four rounds, we have four or five picks, so we’ll fill holes with those picks with the best players available.”
“The Jr. Generals will be looking for goalies and more depth,” added Flint coach Jeff Worlton. “We feel we can get a lot of kids this year because of the number of draft picks we have. We will take the best players available in the top half of the draft and then work on filling the holes in the later rounds. (Flint scout) Doug Bailey and myself feel that the bottom end of the draft is where you build the team.”
Worlton also thinks that coming to the Jr. Generals will be a positive experience for all kids that choose the 3HL route.
“We sell the program from the on-ice training to the off-ice gym, video review, things like that,” Worlton said. “I know (owners) Kelly and Gale Cronk take a lot of pride on what they do for the kids.”
The Michigan Mountain Cats, entering their second year in the 3HL, are taking a simple approach to what types of players they draft.
“The holes we would like to fill are on defense and just trying to get guys that are very competitive every game,” Mountain Cats coach Chad Grills said. “We will take the best player available at the time when we pick. There is a lot of junior hockey out there, but we are always trying to make sure the kids know that we are looking out for them as a person and player.”
“Every year you try to improve every position,” said Peoria Mustangs coach Jean-Guy Trudel. “No veterans are safe. If you can find better players, they make the team. We usually draft players that want to come to Peoria and take three or four long shots.”
Trudel also discussed the image of the NA3HL.
“It’s very important at this day and age and at our level to convince kids (to play in the 3HL),” he said. “We played hockey because we loved the game whereas now, you have to convince parents and kids that it will give you something in return.”
Chicago, the defending Hurster Cup champions, staged a pre-draft camp two weeks ago and had more than 140 players come out to gain the looks from the 3HL and North American Hockey League (NAHL) Hitmen squads.
“It was a real tough camp with a lot of talent,” said John Mejia, who spent time with the NAHL’s Wenatchee Wild last season before joining the 3HL’s Hitmen. “It’s one of the best camps I’ve been to, from the way it was run to the play on the ice.”
The camp gave both Brent Agrusa, the new NAHL Hitmen coach, and 3HL coach Brent Dolan a chance to start shaping their rosters.
“The camp was a tremendous success,” said Hitmen owner Mark Hammersmith. “We’ve identified several players who will make an instant impact on next year’s teams.”
St. Louis, the reigning regular season champions in the 3HL, has many unanswered questions going into not only the draft, but the rest of the summer.
“With players still trying to make teams at the next level, it's hard to narrow down what holes we have to fill,” explained Jr. Blues coach J.P. Beilsten. “We’ll take the best young players available that have shown interest and are capable at playing in our program. We’ll also explain what our program has to offer and give each player the information they need to make an educated decision on which direction they want to take to best improve themselves as junior hockey players.”
When asked how he will convince players to come show their stuff for the Mountain Cats, Grills echoed the sentiments of most likely every coach in the 3HL.
“Kids that are still in high school, (playing in the 3HL) helps them with structure,” Grills said. “Practice and games gets them together on the road and helps them grow into men. As for some older kids, it helps them to be leaders not only at the rink, but also in the community.
“So really, you try to convince the kids that it’s a growing up experience for them and that our league is a stepping stone to move on to the next level.”
Results of the 3HL draft will be posted on NA3HL.com at the conclusion of the draft.
FORMER DUBUQUE COACH WINS USHL TITLE
Former Dubuque Thunderbirds head coach Joe Coombs won a Clark Cup title Sunday as the first-year Dubuque Fighting Saints downed the defending champion Green Bay Gamblers to win the USHL championship series in four games.
Coombs is an assistant coach with the Saints.
The Thunderbirds played in the 3HL (then Central States Hockey League) from 2001-10 and won the Hurster Cup in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
HE SAID IT
“I was a little surprised when coach (Tom McDermott) called me to let me know that I won the award. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my teammates and the coaching staff that I had. It’s nice to be rewarded for the year I had and all of the off-season work and the past couple of years have paid off.” - Quad City captain Jerry Rank, on being named the 3HL’s Defenseman of the Year