Invitational showcases top hockey talent
If you want to get a glimpse of the future of U.S. men’s hockey, you need to travel no farther than the Park City Ice Arena this week.
While most of the country swelters in the dog days of summer, 65 of the nation’s best young (ages 16-18) prospects are on ice in Park City, practicing, competing and performing for a gaggle of coaches and/or scouts from around the United States and Canada.
Bob Mantha, the hockey director for the Park City Invitational, said the players at the week-long hockey camp are chosen from a group nominated by scouts and coaches from around the United States and Canada. The players must have birthdates between 1995 and 1998 and be unrestricted free agents.
"What we, in turn, do is we bring 12 junior and college coaches out into the area, plus various other scouts. And they come in and they work with the boys and run them through practices all week long. And then on Friday and Saturday we do doubleheader games where the coaches — they’ll be coaching them but they’ll also be able to watch the other games that are taking place and see if there’s an interest in some of the boys that are at camp."
Mantha said that even if a coach decides he doesn’t have a place for a particular player, he can refer him to another coach who may have a need.
Although the camp is only in its third year, it already has a track record in helping boys advance their hockey careers, Mantha said, pointing to the group of 40 players that were here in 2012.
"Out of that group, a total of 11 players, this year and next year, will go in the National Hockey League draft — out of those 40 kids — and probably another three quarters of them are going to play junior hockey and college hockey," he said.
"So it’s definitely a well-rounded group of kids, highly talented, and they’re being recognized. And the program is succeeding in what it’s trying to accomplish, and that is trying to help these young men move forward in their hockey careers and live a balanced life between pursuing an education and also playing hockey."
Among those on the coaching staff is Mark Ciaccio, skating and skills coach for the New York Rangers, he said.
"We’ve got coaches that have played somewhere, somehow in professional hockey in North America or Europe. We have coaches that have coached at major hockey colleges. So there’s a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge that we make available to these young men."
Also helping put the teens through their paces are a number of professionals with National Hockey League (NHL) experience including Torey Krug (Boston Bruins), David Booth (Vancouver Canucks), Brian Lee (Tampa Bay Lightning), Derek Morris (Phoenix Coyotes), Jack Skille (New York Islanders), Brett Harkins (Columbus Blue Jackets), Marty Murray (Los Angeles Kings), and 18-year NHL veteran Bobby Holik, who played on two Stanley Cup championship teams for the New Jersey Devils (1995 and 2000).
Mantha said the teens will be practicing on Wednesday morning, Thursday morning and Thursday afternoon, then playing four games on Friday and four on Saturday. (Games begin at 9 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. each day. In addition, the professionals are scheduled to hold exhibitions on Friday and Saturday at 12:30 p.m.) He said the public is welcome at any of these events at no charge.
"The young boys and girls that are involved in youth hockey here in the Park City area — there’s nothing more that we’d enjoy than to have the place filled up, them coming out Friday and Saturday, coming out to watch the games," he said
"It’s hockey entertainment at its best in kind of an air-conditioned environment."
Park City Mountain Resort is scheduled to start limited summer operations on Saturday, including the operation of PayDay lift for hikers and bikers.