By RANDY RUSSON, Mika Media
I know a few people within the National Hockey League. My wife’s first cousin, Frank Provenzano, is the assistant general manager with the Dallas Stars. I keep in regular contact with Detroit Red Wings director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell, who I have known for more than 20 years, and I have a good relationship with Buffalo Sabres scout Dave Torrie from his many years as general manager of the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.
I also check in on occasion with Red Wings American-based scout Dave Kolb, who has been known to show up in arenas where others seldom venture.
Then there are guys like Craig Hartsburg and Gary Agnew, who combined, I have known for more than 50 years. Hartsburg just departed the Calgary Flames to become associate coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets while Agnew returned to the NHL last week as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues after spending the 2011-12 season as bench boss of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.
Point is, I was talking to a couple of my NHL contacts the other day about the upcoming amateur draft and while on the subject of Corpus Christi IceRays goalie Anthony Stolarz, we got to chatting about the North American Hockey League and the impressive fact that it is sending 110 players to the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks this year, not to mention dozens more to Division 3 schools.
Both men told me what I had already heard from others, that the NAHL is an under-rated league that has a reputation for being as well-run, if not better, than any junior hockey loop in the United States and Canada, including Tier 1, Tier 2, Major Jr. and Jr. A.
It was also pointed out that while the Tier 1 United States Hockey League has more players drafted to the NHL and more annual college commitments than the Tier 2 NAHL, a good number comes from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
I was also told that while the 6-foot-5 Stolarz is a “lock” to be taken at this weekend’s NHL Draft as the fourth-rated goaltender among North American-born prospects, there are others who played in the NAHL during the 2011-12 season who are on the so-called “Futures File” list of a few NHL teams, including slender Corpus Christi defenceman Phil Pietroniro and Port Huron Fighting Falcons slick forward Brett D’Andrea.
D’Andrea, who like Stolarz and Pietroniro, is a 1994 birth year, has a D1 commitment to play at Bowling Green University in the fall and recently had his OHL rights traded from the Soo to the Windsor Spitfires.
At any rate, the NAHL most-certainly has a good name, not only among NCAA recruiters, but within NHL scouting circles that I am familiar with.
I should note that when I mentioned the names of a few NAHL coaches, notably Moe Mantha of the Michigan Warriors and Tony Curtale of the Texas Tornado, I got positive feedback.
Even Bruno Bragagnolo, who has yet to coach his first game in the NAHL with the Soo Eagles (formerly the Traverse City North Stars) is a name that my NHL contacts are quite familiar with.
Bragagnolo, you see, has coached two players who will most-assuredly have their names called at this week’s NHL Draft.
Forward Alex Galchenyuk of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, who Bragagnolo coached with the Chicago Young Americans midget squad a few years back, is expected to go in the early first round. And goalie Jake Paterson of the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, who played in the Soo for Bragagnolo and the Eagles when they were a part of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, is the third-ranked North American-born tender going into the draft.
To be sure, it’s thumbs-up on many counts to the NAHL.