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Day one provides 'great opportunity' at 2023 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament

UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex plays host to two games, 88 players and numerous coaches and scouts at NAHL Top Prospects Tournament

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Team Central celebrates Patrick Johnson's goal during the second period of Monday's NAHL Top Prospects Tournament game. Team Central defeated Team East, 3-1.
Jordan McAlpine / The Rink Live

CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — In front of a slew of college coaches and a handful of pro scouts, 88 North American Hockey League players took the ice Monday afternoon, Feb. 6, at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

In the first of four games in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, Team South downed Team Midwest, 7-3, while Team Central put a bow on day one with a 3-1 victory over Team East.

“It’s a lot of fun being at this event and there’s pride involved for these kids,” said Team Central and Austin Bruins head coach Steve Howard. “You want to represent yourself, your team, your division, and there’s people here watching.

"So it’s nice these kids are getting the opportunity to compete and get that exposure. It’s a great event every year and this year is no different.”

Howard was joined by six of his Austin players on Team Central, multiple of which found the scoresheet in that 3-1 win.


However, the purpose of the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament goes well beyond what’ll show up in Monday’s box scores. All four rosters are made up of players that are either uncommitted or were listed on NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings.

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Austin Bruins center Austin Salani takes a faceoff during Monday's NAHL Top Prospects Tournament game. Salani was one of six Austin players on Team Central's roster along with head coach Steve Howard.
Jordan McAlpine / The Rink Live

“It’s unbelievable playing in this event and it’s a great opportunity for all of us to showcase what we can do,” said Austin forward Austin Salani. “It’s a little surreal looking up into the stands and seeing so many (scouts, coaches, etc.). Obviously we were all invited to play here for a reason and you just want to put on a good showing for yourself.

“You don’t want to change anything up and just stay simple and approach it like any other game. But we’re all happy to be here.”

As for the games themselves, those inside the Pittsburgh Penguins practice facility got to see a mix of offense, creativity, and even some physicality throughout the day.

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East Grand Forks, Minn. product Landon Parker takes a faceoff during Monday's NAHL Top Prospects Tournament game. Parker and Team Central defeated Team East, 3-1.
Jordan McAlpine / The Rink Live

Team Midwest broke the ice in game one thanks to a goal from Chippewa forward JJ Grainda 4:38 into the contest. However, Team South responded with four unanswered goals.

Drake Morse (Shreveport Mudbugs) and Ryan Prewitt (Lone Star Brahmas) in the first, and Morse and Tanyon Bajzer (Odessa Jackalopes) tacked on two more in the second. Brendan Williams (Oklahoma Warriors) also scored in the middle frame and Team South took a 5-3 lead into the third period.

Kolby Amici (El Paso Rhinos) and Mason Mara (Lone Star) tacked on two more goals in the third. Mara led Team South with three points (1-2-3) while Morse led the way with two goals.

Arthur Smith (Lone Star) played the entire game between the pipes for Team South and turned aside 20 of the 23 shots fired his way.


However, offense wasn’t as plentiful in game two.

Team East drew first blood thanks to a power-play tally from Maryland defenseman Gunnar VanDamme.

A little more than three minutes later, Team Central’s Patrick Johnson (Bismarck Bobcats) responded by pushing a rebound into a gaping net to even the game up.

Justin Dauphinais (Minot Minotauros) netted the eventual game-winner with 7:07 left in the second period and Austin defenseman Parker Anderson hammered home a one-time blast early in the third period to double the lead.

All four teams will be in action again Tuesday before heading home and returning to their teams. Team Central and Team South will kick the day off at 10 a.m. CDT, followed by Team East and Team Midwest at 1 p.m. CDT.

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Jordan McAlpine is a junior and prospects reporter for The Rink Live.
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