CRANBERRY TWP, Pa. — There aren’t many places in the hockey world where you can go and find 300 or so scouts, ranging from college recruiters to professional NHL scouts and more in one building. However, Wednesday night, that was exactly what was happening at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
The 2017 USHL Fall Classic is being held through Sunday, with all 17 of the league’s teams in one place for the only time this season. The chance to showcase the talent in such a way was huge, not only for the players themselves, but for all of the teams and the league as well.
“It’s good to have everybody in one place, get a chance to see what the other teams are doing, get a chance to meet some of the other executors, and then just try to collectively get together as a league,” Troy Loney, part owner of the Youngstown Phantoms and retired NHL player, said Wednesday night.
“You know, I don’t think people recognize … the USHL has had more draft picks in the last three years than any league in the world,” Loney said. “It’s a very, very good league, and I don’t think people recognize that that talent is that close.”
A very, very good league, indeed. In the 2017 NHL Draft held in Chicago, Illinois, 48 players with USHL ties were selected, which made that the fifth year in a row that 30 or more players from the USHL were selected in the draft.
“It’s a big deal,” Loney said. “Some of these guys have college teams that have committed them here watching them, [and] they’re all playing for the NHL scouts.”
The chance to show off the talent in the USHL over the course of the five days is the main focus of the event, but it’s more than just a preseason scouting showcase for the players. The Fall Classic helps put the spotlight on the league itself. The fact that the USHL was able to partner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, yet again, was huge as well.
It wasn’t the first year an event like this took place at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. Last year the event was split between the east and the west. The USHL Fall Classic West took place in Omaha, Nebraska, while the USHL Fall Classic East was held at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. The Fall Classic returned to Cranberry in 2016 because of the 2015 success. The combination of the two events into one huge, five-day showcase held in Cranberry once again was the logical choice.
“Number one, you have the best facility at the best practice rink in the NHL for anybody, and the facility is top class,” Loney said. “The Penguins love having us here and we love being here.”
While the facility itself is a huge selling point, not only for the players playing there but for anyone in attendance, the chance to have an event of this magnitude in a fierce hockey community is huge as well. When asked about this, Loney said, “To be able to have our league, which I would say is the premiere junior league in the world right now, playing at the premiere hockey city in the country is very important.”
The USHL is an important stepping stone for a lot of players, but they won’t gain exposure to other fans and younger players just by word of mouth. It takes events such as this, hosted by cities such as Pittsburgh, to get the word out among people who may not even realize the league exists. Hockey may be huge all around the Pittsburgh area and Western Pennsylvania, but how many kids even know the USHL exists?
“Hockey’s growing everywhere in the nation. It’s getting really big in some states you wouldn’t even think of,” Loney said. “To be able to showcase the top junior league in Pittsburgh, for those kids to see where it is, and know that it’s 45 minutes down the road, is really important.”
An event that not only showcases its best players along with the league as a whole, hosted by a Stanley Cup winning NHL team’s state of the art practice facility, in a hockey obsessed city? There isn’t much better.