Team Pittsburgh ready to 'showcase' players
Team Pittsburgh is going to the Chicago Hockey Showcase today through Sunday with some of the best high school juniors and seniors in western Pennsylvania.
But not all of them.
Team Pittsburgh normally takes a large group of players from the Midget Major Pittsburgh Hornets, but none of those players are on the team this time around.
Unlike past seasons, there are no players on this team with Junior A tenders in hand, nobody with a settled future in the game.
In other words, at a tournament designed for players to showcase their skills for Juniors and college coaches and with an extremely difficult schedule, the stakes are higher for this group than in the past.
"It might be first opportunity for some of these kids (to get this exposure)," said Central Catholic head coach Kevin Zielmanski, an assistant with Team Pittsburgh.
There are a number of issues that kept the players from playing for both the Hornets and Team Pittsburgh, most notably the fact that the Hornets had to go to Colorado Springs, Colo., this past weekend for nationals, much farther than they had travelled in recent years. That meant more time away and higher travel costs, making another trip more difficult.
"Your first reaction is to wish some other athletes were involved, but they have to play on their high school teams, and they have to play in 75 percent of that team's games," Team Pittsburgh general manager Dave Klasnick said. "A lot of players on travel teams shied away from that.
"Other players are getting opportunities that maybe they wouldn't have gotten. Pittsburgh isn't 20 players deep. It's over 100 deep. Give someone an opportunity, and they may surprise people."
The opportunity is particularly good for this group because it is in Pool A, which is loaded. They opened Wednesday with four-time defending champion Minnesota. Massachusetts and Northern New England are also in their bracket. This team faces top competition and most of the games are at prime viewing times.
"It's a pretty elite group to say the least," said forward Anthony Scolieri, a senior at Central Catholic. "We've got all the major hockey areas covered. It's not going to be easy
"It's definitely an opportunity you have to seize. It's my last year, my last chance to show scouts and the hockey community what I have. I think everyone feels the same way."
Klasnick pointed out that Team Pittsburgh has taken over 150 players to the Chicago Showcase over the years that went on to play at a higher level of hockey.
"When you look back over the number of years, for players in Junior A hockey and into college, part of the process of being recognized is at the showcase," Klasnick said. "The Chicago Showcase has been great for a lot of athletes."
One thing that could help Team Pittsburgh compete is the players' familiarity with coach Jim McVay's system, or at least one like it. Four members of Team Pittsburgh played for McVay at Bethel Park this past season — defensemen Dan Mackin and Tom Sharkey, and forwards Justin Glock and Lee Volensky.
Goaltender Andrew Torchia, a junior at Shady Side Academy, played at Bethel Park as a sophomore and a few other players, most notably Mt. Lebanon senior forward Mike Colligan and Shady Side Academy junior forward Joe Ulerich, played for McVay on the AAA South Hills Panthers, who lost to the Hornets in the regional finals.
Scolieri and defensemen Zach Roberts and Jeff Race played in a similar, defensive-minded system under Zielmanski at Central Catholic.
"We said already that we might go up not being the best team individual for individual," Scolieri said. "We will play as team. If we do, we can win. I believe it."
"The main concern is being competitive as a team," Torchia said. "Everybody wants to do well for themselves, but the main part is how we play as a team. It's a great opportunity to play teams of that caliber of skills. It's how you play with kids from other states, how you compare."
Even without the Hornets, this team still has some top talent. Torchia and Ulerich helped Shady Side become competitive in the very tough Midwest Prep Hockey League.
"It's a very good opportunity," Torchia said, "There will be a lot of scouts out there. It is a way for players in this area to get seen on a larger scale."
Defenseman Matt Kopaczynski, a junior at Gateway, tried out for the Pittsburgh Forge last year and plans to try again this year. He plays for the Johnstown Junior B Chiefs
"Hopefully, I can play Junior A hockey," Kopaczynski said. "I've got a couple letters from (Junior A teams), a team in Alaska and a team from Boston."
Kopaczynski is also looking forward to the top-level competition this week.
"There are 24 teams from all over the country," Kopaczynski said. "When you play regular high school games, not as high-level play. This is the top players from all over. It will be fast. It will be really good hockey. Our first game is against Team Minnesota. They won the last four years. That's going to be a pretty good game."
Scolieri is in a different situation and admits he doesn't expect to play hockey past high school.
"Personally, I am going up there as a great opportunity," Scolieri said. "I want to have fun, and I want to play this great competition. I want to win. If, in the process, I get spotted for doing something in particular, great.
"I know that I going anywhere for hockey myself is not too likely. I'm almost positive I'm going to Carnegie Mellon. I'm going to college for academics, but a lot of the other guys do have shots to do something hockey-wise."