They’re two of the biggest events on the Junior A calendar; the premier opportunities for scouts to check out the very best Junior A hockey has to offer in best-on-best competition.
And next season, for the first time, the World Junior A Challenge and CJHL Prospects Game will be under one roof – a one-stop shop of sorts for pro and college/university scouts, and for fans of the game.
Historically, the World Junior A Challenge is held in early November, with the CJHL Prospects Game following a month later. But in 2011, a pair of prospects games will be part of the World Junior A Challenge festivities, adding another element to what is an already high-profile week for Junior A hockey.
The move is the latest initiative in the partnership between Hockey Canada, the Canadian Junior Hockey League and the National Hockey League, designed to advance the Junior A game to the highest level.
“We have always considered the CJHL Prospects Game on par with the World Junior A Challenge,” says Kirk Lamb, chairman of the Canadian Junior Hockey League. “We stepped back and asked whether these events would be better delivered and received together. Together, these events are more attractive to the NHL, Hockey Canada and scouts. We also felt that both events would benefit if the host community, CJHL, Hockey Canada and the NHL could focus all of their resources in one location and at one time.”
“As a scout it’s a huge benefit,” says Dennis MacInnis, director of scouting for International Scouting Services, of hosting the two events in one location. “It makes it easier for scouts to identify Junior A talent without tremendous travel. It allows for double coverage and more viewings, since scouts will be able to concentrate on scouting Junior A players. Anything that makes viewing easier and simplifies the travel and logistics will help players be seen and hopefully identified as college and university recruits and pro prospects.”
For the first time, Canada West and Canada East will each form an identification committee, which will include one representative from each of the team’s five respective CJHL leagues. The committee will identify 60 players for evaluation camps in September 2011, then ultimately assist Hockey Canada high performance staff and the team’s coaching staff in selecting 32-36 players that will be invited to the selection camps held immediately prior to the World Junior A Challenge.
“With the addition of Hockey Canada high performance staff, and with the changes made to the format of the selection camps, we have enhanced the development opportunity these events provide our players,” said Lamb. “In addition, these events are extremely well-attended by the scouting community from the NHL, CHL, NCAA and others, so our players continue to get the high degree of exposure that will result in more athletic and academic opportunities.”
The new player identification and evaluation process has proven successful for Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence and is aimed to increase performance and heighten Canada’s representation at the World Junior A Challenge, which was created in 2006 to highlight the talent in Canada's ten Junior A leagues. The host community and schedule for 2011 have yet to be announced.
Since the puck was dropped at the first CJHL Prospects Game in Yorkton, Sask., in 2005, the game has showcased some of Junior A hockey’s biggest names – Kyle Turris, Joe Colborne, Dylan Olsen, Riley Nash and Beau Bennett all played in the game just months before their names were called in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
All five of those players also wore the red and white of Team Canada at the World Junior A Challenge, meaning they got twice the exposure.
And that’s one of the biggest advantages to combining the two events – even more draft-eligible 17-year-olds will have the spotlight shone on them. Players taking part in the World Junior A Challenge won’t skate in the prospects game, opening up roster spots for players who previously may not have had the chance.
In addition, those players will have the opportunity to experience the World Junior A Challenge a year before many of them could represent Canada and play in the tournament.
“It comes back to development, exposure and opportunity, and the World Junior A Challenge and CJHL Prospects Game provide each of these,” Lamb says. “Our players are exposed to scouts from the NHL, NCAA, CIS, Canadian Hockey League and other leagues because these events provide the scouting community with the convenience of seeing our best players and top prospects in one location. The result of development and exposure is more athletic and academic opportunities for our players.”
An added perk to the growth of the events has been the increased caliber of Junior A hockey, not only in the national and international events, but in all 10 of the CJHL’s leagues across the country. More players are realizing the opportunities that Junior A hockey offers, whether those opportunities be on the ice or in the classroom.
“We’re seeing a higher level of play,” Dennis MacInnis, director of scouting for International Scouting Services, says. “Players are fitter, faster and more skilled. Programs in Canada have become more professionalized. Gone are the days of mom and pop-operated Junior A clubs. The leagues in general have raised their standards and the teams have followed suit. Looking at the number of quality college and pro players whose roots are in Junior A hockey, it is easy to see that Hockey Canada, the CJHL, its leagues and teams are continuing to develop high-level talent.”
That talent has been key to the Junior A game, which has grown exponentially in the few years since the World Junior A Challenge and CJHL Prospects Game came into existence. If that growth is to continue, the showcase events must develop, much the same way the players do.
And for everyone involved – from Hockey Canada to the CJHL and scouts at every level – bringing the game’s biggest events together in one location is a definite step in the right direction.