Just as storefonts are crammed with holiday bargain-hunters, the Tier 1 Central Hockey League is providing a “one-stop shopping” experience for scouts and recruiters.
The fifth annual CHL Holiday Showcase kicks off at the Bell Sensplex Friday with all 12 teams playing a pair of games under the watchful gaze of scouting and recruiting staff from the NCAA, NHL and major junior hockey.
“It’s an important part of our schedule. It allows our teams to play all under one roof and the benefits that brings with the added exposure and the schools and pro teams that can send scouts,” said league commissioner Kevin Abrams. “It’s important for us to make their job easier and it gives the players some more exposure.
“It’s a beneficial event for many of our older players, because a lot of (NCAA) recruiters will come to this as really a one-stop shopping venture, and also, a lot of schools that maybe thought they had a player locked up are now back out in the field to replace the player they thought they had.”
This is the first year the winter showcase moves into the city, after previous events were held at Kemptville’s North Grenville Municipal Complex.
Besides the relative ease of access the new venue provides with the Bell Sensplex, the league is also partnering with Senators Sports & Entertainment, which is running its seventh annual Ottawa Senators Novice Tournament, the region’s largest of its kind, alongside the showcase.
Presented by the Kanata and West Carleton minor hockey associations, the event features 60 teams of seven- and eight-year-olds from Ontario and Quebec. They will compete on neighbouring rinks, and each player will receive tickets to the Jr. A games.
“In addition to the annual novice tournament, we’re excited to be able to help bring the CHL into the spotlight for a few days to begin the holiday season,” Ottawa Senators president Cyril Leeder said in a release.
“The CHL has graduated several current and former Senators, including general manager Bryan Murray, Matt Carkner, Jesse Winchester, Todd White and Jason York. For young players at the novice tournament and hockey fans alike, we are very fortunate to have this calibre of hockey right here in Hockey Country.”
Carkner and Winchester will perform the ceremonial puck drop before the 7:45 p.m. Saturday game between the Nepean Raiders and Smiths Falls Bears.
Abrams said the Fall Showcase, held in September when recruiting is in full swing, usually attracts scouts representing about 100 teams.
“We may not get the same volume (of scouts) or the number of schools, but we have more head coaches (at the Holiday Showcase) than we might typically have,” said Abrams. “The NCAA programs have all broken for Christmas, so some of the head coaches that don’t normally get out to games get a chance to take advantage of this.”
Abrams said there’s an added advantage for NCAA scouts who are restricted to a limited number of looks at potential recruits.
“The advantage for the NCAA is this counts as one look,” said Abrams. “A lot of people don’t realize (NCAA) teams are restricted in the amount of times they can come and see you play. Unlike major junior, who can send their scouts to every game, they can’t overexpose an athlete to the recruiting process, so with this format they can see (all 12 teams) play twice and it only counts as one.”
But, Abrams warns, while a good performance in front of NCAA scouts might turn some heads, it’s still no guarantee that players will punch their tickets on talent alone.
“Clearly the players that prove themselves academically are always going to have more options than those who haven’t,” said Abrams. “We’re educating players as we go on as to the importance of an education and it’s about showcasing that double set of skills, and not just the talent on the ice.”
The showcase runs from Friday through Sunday, with each of the games counting in the league standings.
The full game schedule, kicking off at 4:05 Friday is available online, and daily and weekend passes can be purchased by visiting bellsensplex.ca or at the gate.