News | 9/8/2011 4:15:56 PM | Warren Kosel
When the Buffalo Sabres prospects hit the ice this weekend for the 13th annual NHL Prospects Tournament, for many it will be a preview of what professional hockey is all about as their careers begin to take shape. Entering the event with an average age of 19 and a roster that consists predominantly of on-the-rise junior players, the development of several of Buffalo’s future stars will commence over the next week as players are exposed to a higher level of competition where the standard of play is as equally advanced.
The Sabres, in their first year of participation, will be one of eight NHL teams to compete in the four-day tournament held at Center Ice Arena in Traverse City, Michigan from September 10-14. Hosted by the Detroit Red Wings, the annual event began in 1998 with four teams before it gradually expanded to its current number of eight participants. Joining the Sabres for this year’s event include the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.
Aside from providing the participants with a brief, but exhilarating glimpse into the future, the event also offers developmental coaches a blueprint of what they can expect out of their young players when the puck drops on the 2011-12 American Hockey League season. For new Rochester Americans head coach Ron Rolston, and his support staff of Chadd Cassidy, former Sabre Jay McKee, former Amerk Chris Taylor and goaltending coach Bob Janosz, the tournament presents an opportunity to evaluate the young talent and monitor player development.
“This tournament is really going to allow us take a better look at the depth we have within the Buffalo Sabres organization and see where we stand at the minor league level for the coming season,” said Rolston, who became the 29th head coach in the 55-year history of the Amerks on July 27, 2011.
For the tournament, teams are divided into two divisions for a round-robin portion of the tournament and then ranked by their win-loss records for final placement in seventh, fifth, third and Championship games on the final day. The winning team will be given a plaque to take home and their name put on a trophy to be housed at Centre Ice Arena.
“There is going be a lot of really young and talented players trying to make a name for themselves and earn a spot to play as well as they can early on into the season,” added Rolston, who will direct the Buffalo bench all week long. “Many of these players are playing to gain exposure for not only the team they’re playing for, but for other scouts and teams looking for fresh, young talent as well.”
Having spent the last seven seasons at the helm of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP), Rolston is very familiar in the area of assessing and developing young talent and he has the track record to prove it. The longest-tenured and most decorated head coach in NTDP history, Rolston guided his teams to five medals and multiple tournament championships in international competition. He is the only coach in U.S. history to win three gold medals in the Under-18 World Championship.
The competition also continues the working relationship between Rolston and Cassidy, who shared the bench together the previous five seasons in the same capacity with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. The culmination of their partnership came earlier this year after the duo guided the U.S. Under-18 team to a gold medal at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in Germany. Together, Rolston and Cassidy have captured unprecedented success and are eager to take their partnership to the next level.
“Chadd and I have established a great track record of working together the last five years and I think that helps right away, especially when you’re joining a new organization,” said Rolston on resuming his alliance with Cassidy. “The tournament will also allow us to get some chemistry with the other staff members as well as working with them in a strictly developmental role.”
“Ron and I obviously have the chemistry and a great relationship from working together the last five years, but the most exciting part is being able to work with new guys this season in Chris (Taylor), Jay (McKee) and Bob (Janosz),” echoed Cassidy. “One of the most important aspects to coaching is to getting new ideas and fresh thoughts and we look forward to what they can bring to our staff.”
Despite a minimal amount of preparation with most teams having no more than a day’s worth of practice ice prior to the tournament, Rochester’s coaching staff believes a simple approach with an emphasis on the fundamentals, combined with a high level of intensity, will be the focal point for this weekend’s games.
“It’s important for the guys to go out there and showcase their skills, but it’s just as important for them to perform naturally and really be the kind of player they are,” said Cassidy.
“The fact that there really isn’t a lot of time to prepare allows the players to go out there and instinctively play the game and read and react off each other,” said Rolston. “It’s going to be a really exciting week of hockey with a lot of enthusiasm and energy and hopefully this translates into a successful start to the season.”