Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012 NHL Prospects Tournament Cancelled

As the current NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement draws closer to expiration on September 15th, it's reached the point of uncertainty for fans throughout the hockey world.  And the longer the potential for a lockout looms in the not-too-distant future, there appears to be no choice but to cancel various events due to the hazy outlook.  In March, the NHL cancelled the European Premiere games for the 2012-13 season, which had seen various NHL teams start their season in different cities across Europe for the last five years.  Now, the latest salvo comes from the Detroit Red Wings, as GM Ken Holland announced today the cancellation of the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan (the training camp home of the Red Wings).  Today's news was broken by New York Times hockey writer and former New York Islanders P.R. manager Chris Botta via Twitter.

This will be the first time the NHL Prospects Tournament has been cancelled since its inception in 1998, when it began as a four-team tourney featuring the future stars of Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, and Chicago Blackhawks.  Despite the lockout which wiped out the entire 2004-05 NHL season, the tournament carried on, with St. Louis claiming the crown.  As the years have passed, this tournament has evolved into an eight-team extravaganza that has come to mark the start of the season for many in the hockey world, including the many in Northern Michigan who gave either attended the tournament religiously, or have volunteered their time to make this event take place.  Despite the loss of the tournament this year (which was scheduled to begin on the day the current CBA lapses), Holland states his young Red Wings "are committed to returning to Traverse City in 2013 and continuing with this with tremendous tournament.”

For those of you who've followed this blog or my writing on the defunct NHL Connect site, then you'll know that I've done the public address announcing for the tournament since 2008, along with chronically the games I've had the pleasure of calling (and seeing from between the benches).  As many of you are, I am very disappointed in today's news.  I was particularly looking forward to a number of storylines from this year's edition of the tournament.  The Buffalo Sabres were going to attempt to defend their tournament crown to become the first team to repeat as champions since the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2005 and 2006.  The Minnesota Wild were set to boast an all-star caliber roster of elite prospects, including Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Zach Phillips, Jason Zucker, and Jonas Brodin.  From a local viewpoint, Traverse City was eager to welcome back Kyle Jean - who played Junior A hockey for the now defunct Traverse City North Stars - as a member of the New York Rangers' prospects team after impressing the Blueshirts' brass during their developmental camp this July.  Another local product, defenseman Will Weber from nearby Gaylord, was scheduled to start his first full pro season with the Columbus Blue Jackets after spending the last four years patrolling the blueline for Miami University (Ohio) after being drafted 53rd overall back in 2007.

Since I've been involved with this tournament, it has marked the unofficial start of the hockey season for me, and has been an opportunity for me to rub elbows with some of the brightest young talent the NHL will soon see on a regular basis.  It's also provided a great source of material to write about, all just minutes from my backyard.  Seeing this tournament - which has become a featured showcase for the NHL with various games televised on NHL Network in 2008 and again last year - get cancelled seems to be an ominous foreshadowing of things to come in the NHL for this upcoming season.  Yes, I realize it's "just a exhibition" and "only falls under the pre-season", but we've all been down this road before.  And for the fans who get their fix of their favorite NHL teams at training camps or prospect tournaments - more of which will undoubtedly be cancelled as the calendar draws closer to September 15th - their only chance to see NHL-caliber hockey will too vanish into the black.

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