When it comes to coaching all-star games, Kevin Higo's been there, done that.
Now when talk turns to the Brooks Bandits bench boss guiding the AJHL South Division squad for the upcoming Top Prospects game, Higo gets a little more excited.
Naturally, it's a lot more interesting coaching kids who have something to play for given there'll be plenty of university and the odd NHL scout in the stands.
"I've never done the Prospects game before and traditionally, over the last four or five years, it's been a little more intense," said Higo, whose Bandits hosted the Lloydminster Bobcats last night.
"Just for the fact there's a little more on the line for these guys. The all-star game is more of a recognition thing, whereas the Prospects is more of an opportunity.
"So I think there's going to be a little more structure and a little more grit and energy to the game."
Coaching the Prospects isn't about just getting players on the ice and giving them free rein to wheel and deal.
Higo has a big say in terms of who gets the important powerplay and penalty kill time as well when the game is played Jan. 27 in Canmore.
"There'll be some situations where you can get guys out there in key situations where they can showcase themselves a little bit more," said Higo, who was busy at the AJHL trade deadline earlier this week.
The Bandits acquired four players, including 20-year-old defenceman Chris de Bruyn, who was the captain of the SJHL's Melville Millionaires.
Among those on the South Division Prospects roster are three Bandits who were selected by the division's coaches and GM: Defenceman Thane Wood and forwards Jade Portwood and Jarret Granberg.
Wood, who is from Lethbridge, has 27 points this season and loves to get involved offensively.
"He's not a big guy but he's quick and loves to jump into the play, so I think it'll be a good game for him. If it does turn into a little bit of pond hockey, he'll feel right at home," said Higo of his 5-ft. 10-in., 173-lb. blueliner.
Conversely, if the game is a close-checking affair, look for 6-ft. 2-in, 187-lb. Portwood, a 16-point man this season, to be in his element.
"He's a big, gritty kid who plays very well along the boards and he's kind of come into his own this year being a good two-way guy," Higo said.
While Portwood, who hails from Medicine Hat, brings the brawn, the smaller Granberg, who is listed at 5 ft. 7 in., brings the skill and playmaking savvy. His 32 points prior to last night rank him second on the club.
"He's got very good puck skills, he's a good passer who sees the ice very well but for a small guy, he's pretty gritty and likes to battle along the boards," said Higo of the Foremost product.
All of Higo's charges can grind it out in the corners because of the tiny rink in Brooks.
Also on the South Division squad are defencemen Trevor Watt from the Canucks, Brady Lamb from the Royals and Justin Daigle of the Okotoks Oilers.
Forwards Jack Maclellan (Canucks), Francois Auger (Royals), Spencer McElhinney and Derrick Burnett (Oilers) are also on the roster.
CUP RACE HEATS UP:
It's a close race for the Source for Sports Cup after December. Dustin Sather (102 points) of Grande Prairie Storm leads Canucks sniper Bennett Royer by just a single point after picking up 41 points last month.