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Massachusetts gearing up for Minnesota NIT run

By Loren Nelson, Editor, 06/07/10, 3:01PM CDT


Postseason all-star tournament could expand to six or more teams

Already a scouting smorgasbord, there’s a strong likelihood the second Minnesota National Invitational Tournament will add a distinctive New England flavor.

At least that’s the hope of both Minnesota NIT organizers and some Massachusetts high school hockey coaches, who are working together on an expansion plan for the five-team event created to give high school seniors who haven’t committed to Division I or junior programs the opportunity to showcase their skills in front of pro, college and junior scouts.

“A couple more teams would make it a little better tournament,” said Minnesota Hockey’s John Petersen, the Minnesota NIT’s tournament director, about the inaugural event held on April 23-25 in Plymouth as a Midwest replacement for the old Chicago Showcase.

Petersen said Massachusetts, which squared off against Minnesota in some epic all-star confrontations in the 1980s, is the No. 1 target in terms of tournament expansion.

“They would make a big addition to the tournament,” Petersen said. “One of the things we’re trying to do is make this an elite event. We don’t want to make it 20 teams.”

Even with a limited tournament field this spring, the Plymouth Ice Center was teeming with NHL, WCHA and junior league coaches on as top players from Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota and eventual champion Wisconsin competed in the tournament held in conjunction with the Minnesota Hockey Advanced 16 and 17 Festival.

“I saw (coaches) from every WCHA team there,” said Mike MacMillan, Minnesota Hockey’s High Performance Program Director. “I saw scouts from most of the NHL teams. There were lots of eastern college coaches there as well.”

MacMillan said about 100 scout books – documents offering detailed information about each player – were sold during the tournament.

Blaine’s Eric Scheid (Alaska-Anchorage) and Sauk Rapids’ Ethan Prow (St. Cloud State) each made Division I commitments after the event.

“We are more than interested,” said Bob Lavin, head coach at Acton-Boxborough, about putting together a postseason all-star team next spring to compete in the Minnesota NIT. “Last year we would have done it, but we are all high school coaches, we don’t run hockey teams (that travel) like that.

“We couldn’t organize it, get the flights,” Lavin said. “There was so much clutter in our first attempt. Now we’re pretty confident we can pull it off.”

Lavin said more than 185 of Massachusetts’ top high school players showed up Sunday, June 6, for tryouts for spots in a fall league similar to Minnesota’s Upper Midwest High School Elite League. The large turnout gives Lavin optimism Massachusetts will have enough interested players to field a quality all-star team of seniors next spring.

Both Lavin and MacMillan said there has been discussion about a New England team of senior all-stars -- drawing players from Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut -- attending the event next season as well.

More teams most likely would equate to larger crowds, a contingency Petersen has experience handling.

This year ticket sales were so unexpectedly robust that, at one point midway through the event, he had to leave to get more printed.