For the first time, the top 40 draft eligible US born players will be on one sheet of ice in the first CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo, NY on Saturday September 29th at 7:00 PM, EST.  Two of the games’ greatest names, and staples to American hockey, Phil Housley and Rob McClanahan will coach the two teams.

Players are set to arrive on Friday and will have a welcoming event courtesy of the host NHL affiliate, Buffalo Sabres.  Saturday morning, Housley’s team will take to the ice for the first time followed by McClanahan’s team.  Brief media availability will take place outside the locker rooms for approximately 45 minutes then its all business.

Phil Housley, at the completion of his 21-year career, held the scoring title among US-born players until Mike Modano broke his record.  The seven-time All Star, who was drafted by Scott Bowman and the Sabres back in 1982 said he “couldn’t think of a better city to host the event,” today during a telephone press conference.  “It will be a great showcase of the American draft eligible talent,” Phil went on to say.

Rob McClanahan, who is best known for helping the 1980 US team win gold in the Lake Placid games, including the “Miracle on Ice” as the Americans upset the Soviet Union in the semi-finals prior to upsetting Finland.  Also drafted by Buffalo, McClanahan jokingly referred to Housley’s role as the World Juniors head coach as having “an inside scoop, so his team will have to work extra hard.”

Both Phil and Rob reiterated on several occasions that the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game was a “tremendous opportunity that allows a lot of people to get a view of the players in a different environment.”  Many of the players which include Keaton Thompson, a defenseman from North Dakota and Seth Jones who hails from the new hockey hotbed of Plano, TX, are generally stars on their respective teams, now find themselves just one of twenty young men all seeking a single goal.

Despite having a potential number one overall draft pick in next year’s NHL entry draft (if there is one), Rob McClanahan definitely finds himself at a disadvantage as he stated he hasn’t had an opportunity to see any of his players in any capacity, as Phil Housley has not only coached several of the players, but has seen many of them up close, most recently in Lake Placid.

However, this is not a chance to highlight their coaching prowess.  This weekend will act as a continuance in the growth of US Hockey.  Housley credited McClanahan and the 1980 US team with opening the door and setting the standard for hockey in the United States. 

“This is…this is just exciting,” McClanahan said.  “These are young kids.  This is going to going to be exciting to see how they react.”  Housley mentioned that this game shouldn’t be taken too seriously by the participants, however, they need to know there will be a number of pro and college scouts in attendance and will be a great opportunity for those who are not picked for the World Juniors team.

I had the chance to ask them their thoughts on how locations such as Texas and California, formerly known has non-traditional hockey states, were churning out such great talent such as Seth Jones, Dallas Stars’ prospect Austin Smith and Stefan Noesen who was the first pick for the Ottawa Senators in 2011.  McClanahan attributed successful NHL programs such as the Dallas Stars (late-90’s) through the current Stanley Cup champions, Los Angeles Kings.  For McClanahan, it was the birth of the Minnesota North Stars that raised the level of hockey in a state that was already known for it.  “Kids want to interact with and emulate the players from their favorite teams when they’re successful.”  Of course, it was the Kings who traded for some guy named Gretzky that opened the door for hockey south of the Mason-Dixon Line, according to Coach Housley that got hockey in the south.

The two coaches were asked if they had any advice they wanted to make sure they conveyed to their teams by the end of the weekend and both mirrored each other by stating, “Work hard and trust in what they’ve done thus far.  They’re here on these rosters for a reason and they just need to keep it simple.”

You could tell in the tone of their voices that Phil Housley and Rob McClanahan grasp the magnitude of this weekend in Buffalo.  This is an amazing time for hockey in the United States to take center stage.  McClanahan recalled how difficult it was for Americans to make it in the NHL in the early to mid-80s.  “Canada was proud of hockey and they wanted to hold on to it,” he said.  It was Phil Housley who summed it up best as to the current state of USA Hockey, “Again, it was the 1980 US Team that opened the door but now we have way more depth.  Our world teams have so many options during the World Championships from players who missed the NHL playoffs all the way down to our junior teams.”

This weekend, the best of the best of American hockey will be on display in Buffalo.  The way US Hockey is growing, it very well could be the best in the world.