WSHL hosts another successful Shootout in Vegas
The 15th annual Western States Hockey League (WSHL) Shootout is in the books, and you can count league president and commissioner Ron White as one who’s happy with both the event and the state of the 29-team league.
Held from Dec. 15-19 in Las Vegas, the Shootout gives college and university scouts the opportunity to see what the Tier II junior-aged WSHL has to offer while allowing teams to square off against similarly-ranked squads from other divisions who they otherwise may not play in the league’s unbalanced regular-season schedule.
“It was the best showcase we’ve ever had,” said White. “The level of competition in this league is significantly better than it was even a few years ago, and we’ve gotten to the point where there aren’t just four or five teams that are really good.
“We have 29 teams, and we’ve probably got over 20 that are playing hockey at the level we’re trying to reach.”
Even more encouraging for White was the response from scouts and coaches representing the 77 schools who were in attendance – a number that White says covers the whole spectrum of college hockey in the United States.
“We had more scouts than we’ve ever had,” said White. “Of all the schools in attendance, we had scouts ranging from NCAA Division I universities all the way to (American Collegiate Hockey Association) schools.
“But as a league, we’re always proud to put kids in college no matter what the level is. There are a lot of people that would say that we don’t get a lot of kids going NCAA Division I, which may be true today, but won’t be true in five years.
“For us, it’s about getting these kids to any level of college hockey, and if we do that, we’re damn proud of it.”
A critical portion of the showcase tournament is the off-ice seminars put on by the WSHL that feature head coaches from across the country discussing with players, coaches and parents the complexities of pursuing hockey at a post-secondary level.
This year, WSHL players heard from Air Force Academy head coach Frank Serratore, Bill Moore of St. Mary’s University and Mark Ostapina, head coach at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
“These seminars are hard to put on because with 66 games going on it’s difficult to find the right time for all interested players, coaches and parents to attend,” said White. “So this year, we did three seminars over two different days, and our attendance increased from past years.
“Our speakers did a great job explaining how our kids can get into and stay in college hockey, and it’s something we hope will help our players.”
One interesting twist to the Shootout is that the schedule for the mid-December event isn’t set until the Monday after Thanksgiving. That way, matchups are arranged by record so each team is playing comparable teams from other divisions and better reflecting where each club is at, competitively.
“We’ve got four divisions, so if you’re the top team in your division you’re going to play the other three division leaders plus a second-place team,” said White. “As a result, the games are extremely competitive, and the college coaches obviously like that because it gives every kid on the ice the opportunity to expose his real talent. That doesn’t always happen if you have a scenario where a team is winning by eight goals.”
Developing and preparing players for the opportunity to play hockey collegiately is a core belief for the WSHL, but White says, with the influx of European players into the league, the development and promotion of players has become more of a two-pronged approach.
“I think the majority of coaches and owners want these kids to move to college, graduate, and become remarkable citizens and parents,” said White. “Not only that, but because of our strong European influence, it’s also becoming about developing those players enough so they can go back and play some level of pro in their own country.
“We have dozens of alumni playing pro in different leagues around Europe right now, and with our goal being to develop players for one or the other – either education or pro – I think we’re doing a good job of it.”
– John B. Spigott
Photo: Niklas Ellbrant and the Ontario Avalanche were one of four teams to go undefeated at this year’s heavily-scouted Western States Hockey League Shootout, which was showcased last month in Las Vegas. Photo/Mark Mauno