Ben Allen is among seven Penticton Vees striving to catch the attention of an NCAA scout every time he hits the ice for a scholarship.
While playing in the Bauer BCHL Showcase, several eyes were on him and other players. There were more than 200 talent evaluators from the NCAA and NHL on hand in Chilliwack. Allen said he only thinks about that until he’s in the game.
“You see them walking around,” said Allen, acquired late in the off-season by the Vees from the Battlefords North Stars. “It’s kind of crazy you know. When you are thinking of it before, you might want to grip your stick harder or something. It’s just a cool experience.”
Allen said the Showcase was a “great learning experience” for the team.
“We got to experience some different speeds, some different skills,” said Allen. “We were able to come out with two big wins.”
The Vees erased a two-goal deficit to defeat the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 3-2. Allen scored twice, including the winner, while Adam Scheel turned aside all 19 shots faced in 40 minutes of action in relief of Nolan Hildebrand. Against the host Chilliwack Chiefs, the Vees picked up a 6-3 win. Hildebrand made 25 saves, while Jared Nash had the winning touch late in the second period. Cassidy Bowes led the team with two assists, while Chris Klack, Ryan O’Connell, Nicky Leivermann, Massimo Rizzo and Lukas Sillinger also scored for the Vees, who sit atop the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Top 20 list.
“I felt like I played pretty well. That first game I got some great scoring opportunities and was able to bury on a few of them,” said Allen. “Definitely felt I made a few strides forward.”
Hildebrand said it’s always a good experience at the Showcase, but said he needed to have a better showing. He was pulled after allowing two goals on seven shots in 20 minutes of action against the Bulldogs. Even though he bounced back in the second game, he said it wasn’t his strongest showing.
“It’s disappointing that the crowd there is obviously scout heavy,” he said. “You want to have your best performances when people are watching. It’s important to just take those as another game. It’s not the be all end all. I’m really happy that we came out with four points.”
Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson said scouts are watching every game, especially with the availability of them online, especially on HockeyTV.com.
“It’s obviously more magnified that weekend, good and bad,” he said. “Unfortunately if a kid doesn’t get talked to, they think it’s the end of the world. It surely isn’t. On the other side, because you are getting talked to doesn’t mean the work is done. There is a lot more work. Even if you have a scholarship, there has been players that have had scholarships that all of a sudden things don’t work out because they don’t progress.”
Among the players catching the attention of NCAA scouts were Jack Barnes, Allen and Lukas Sillinger. However, Harbinson said that every player on his team without a scholarship attracted interest. One player caught the eyeballs of scouts from higher up.
“On the NHL side of it, Jonny Tychonick did a great job of showing who he is and how he has progressed from last year to this year as far as the NHL draft is concerned,” said Harbinson. “Lots of NHL teams asking about him.”
Scouts are impressed by how much stronger the Calgary native is from the work he put in over the summer.
Harbinson said he is physically more strong on his stick, which has led to a better shot. It is also leading to him having the ability to make hanging onto the puck a little longer.
“I thought he had a great weekend.”
“It was a five-day event this year but to get all our teams on centre stage was invaluable for those watching,” said BCHL commissioner John Grisdale in a statement. “The calibre of hockey on display was incredibly high and I’m sure the scouts saw many players they’ll want to keep tabs on.”
Each of the 31 NHL clubs was represented and at least 55 NCAA Div. I programs, several from the Div. III level and the BCIHL. Many teams sent multiple coaches and scouts to watch the action.
“The BCHL is a league that we watch very closely and have to do a good job in,” said Eddie Olczyk Jr., assistant coach at Bemidji State University. “Some of our best players have come from the league, including NHLer Brad Hunt, who was a big part of the success we had getting to the Frozen Four in 2009.”
For scouts from the pro ranks, the chance to view all the league’s players competing in regular-season games is significant as well.
“The opportunity the BCHL provides to see all its players in meaningful games at the Showcase is hugely beneficial for NHL Central Scouting and the 31 NHL clubs,” said NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr in a press release. “Every year there is a great deal of young talent being developed in the BCHL which helps raise the awareness of prospects eligible for the 2018 and 2019 NHL Draft.”
Going into the Showcase, there were already 77 players committed to NCAA programs and four drafted by NHL clubs. Since the event wrapped up on Sunday, two more players have committed to NCAA programs.
Last year, the BCHL had a record 150 players commit to college programs and is on pace to better that in 2017-18.