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Girls National Championship provides big-time exposure to 16U players

By Ryan Williamson, 04/08/17, 3:45PM MDT


Colleges flocked to Michigan to check out the up and coming girls hockey players

ROCHESTER, Mich. — At times, the crowd at a 2017 Tier I Girls National Championship Game can look a lot like a women’s college hockey coaches’ convention.

Aside from the parents and fans cheering on the teams in the bleachers, college coaches are scattered throughout the crowd, sporting sweatshirts and hats that feature the logo of the team they work for. These coaches watch players closely, jotting down notes into a notebook or typing information into an iPad.

As girls and women’s hockey continues to grow across the nation, the skill level continues to get better amongst the teams competing at the Girls National Championships.

Because of this improvement, college programs continue to attend this annual event, looking for the best and brightest girls’ hockey players in the U.S. These players oftentimes can be found at the 16U level. While the focus for those competing may be on a championship, there is also the chance for players to receive an opportunity at the next level.

Looking at various college hockey rosters, it’s not difficult to find players with national championship experience. At Vermont, the roster is filled with players from traditional youth powers such as Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Assabet Valley, New Jersey Colonials and Chicago Mission.

Move up to the national level, and you will see U.S. Women’s National Team players like Megan Keller and Kendall Coyne. With this tournament producing so many high-end players, coaches from all levels of college hockey have made this tournament an annual recruiting stop.

Grant Kimball is a 14-time attendee of the event. He’s worked as an assistant at three different Div. I women’s programs — Wayne State, North Dakota and Vermont. Now, he’s taken on the task of starting a Div. III program at Aurora University in Aurora, Ill.

With plenty of roster spots to fill, Kimball is looking to build his list of recruits. Kimball said, this tournament is a one-stop shop for himself and other coaches to scout the best talent.

“We get to see these girls play in an environment where every single game matters,” Kimball said. “At this age level, we can see how they play their position and look to see what things they are consistently good at.”

Detroit Belle Tire 16U head coach Mike Vigilante says it’s huge to have these girls get into this tournament and receive this kind of exposure. His team is in this year’s field after years of struggling to make it to Nationals while going up against the likes of Detroit Little Caesars and HoneyBaked.

“A lot of our girls want to play college hockey,” said Vigilante, who played collegiately at Lake Superior State. “Getting them a chance to be seen by college coaches is just one of the exciting parts of being in this tournament.”

After battling through tough competition at the state and district level, Belle Tire made its way to the semifinals, prevailing over another tough opponent — the Boston Jr Eagles, who were the No. 1 overall seed in 16U heading into the tournament.

Now, the team will moves into Sunday’s semifinals, which will likely feature plenty of college coaches in the audience. Despite this fact, Vigilante knows where his team’s focus is at.

“Subconsciously, they know these coaches are out there,” Vigilante said. “But when the time comes, they will be able to not think about that in focus on making it to Monday. This is a unique group that loves playing for each other.”

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2017 USA Hockey National Championship Sites

Division Location Host Dates
Youth Tier I (14U) Scottsdale, Arizona Arizona Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier I (15-year-olds only) Scottsdale, Arizona Arizona Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier I (16U, 18U) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Penguins Elite April 6-10, 2017
Girls Tier I Rochester/Macomb, Michigan HoneyBaked Hockey Club April 6-10, 2017
Women's A, B, C Rochester/Macomb, Michigan HoneyBaked Hockey Club April 6-9, 2017
High School Cleveland, Ohio Cleveland Suburban Hockey March 22-26, 2017
Girls Tier II Troy, Michigan Troy Youth Hockey Association April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (14U) Coral Springs, Florida Florida Panthers Ice Den April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (16U) Frisco, Texas Texas Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (18U) Lansing, Michigan Lansing Hockey Club April 6-10, 2017
Sled San Jose, California Sharks Ice April 6-9, 2017
Adult Rec Men's Wesley Chapel, Florida Florida Hospital Center Ice April 20-23, 2017
Adult Rec Women's Ellenton, Florida Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex April 27-30, 2017