It could easily be argued that the 2018 edition of the NA3HL’s flagship event, the Showcase at the Schwan Super Rink, was its biggest ever: guest teams invited, more than 100 scouts in attendance, and arguably some of the biggest crowds at the Showcase that this writer has ever seen. The St. Louis Jr. Blues knew that this event could be a major turning point in their season, and decided to prepare for it accordingly.
“We changed things up this year, and instead of bussing up–which is a two-day trip–we flew to Minneapolis a couple days early,” said Jr. Blues head coach Chris Flaugher. “This gave us more time to settle in, bond as a team, practice on the Olympic ice we played all three games on, and get focused before we got the Showcase underway.”
This extra preparation and change in routine came up trumps for the Jr. Blues, as they went 3-0 in Blaine: combined with other results, this allowed them to climb to a tie for first place in the Central Division with four games in hand on their rivals Milwaukee.
Each of the three Jr. Blues wins–6-1 over the Northeast Generals, 4-2 against the Louisiana Drillers, and a 6-0 shutout of the L/A Nordiques–told a different story and illustrated a different facet of the Jr. Blues as a team. “Northeast has a couple guys with NAHL experience and is usually a tough out, so it was great to see our guys rise to the challenge and pull out the win there,” Flaugher noted. “Against Louisiana we really had to deal with some adversity, going down 2-1 and losing a couple guys to injury, and being able to come back and win showed a lot of character from the team. Finally versus Lewiston/Auburn, that’s a team that had only lost two games all year coming in, and we managed to put it all together and really show the kind of team we want to be.”
With these results, it was no surprise that the scouts and other league luminaries took notice of the buzz around the Jr. Blues and watched their games in droves. “Every single one of our age-out players got an offer from an NCAA Division III school or top ACHA Division I club at that event,” said Flaugher. More importantly, he highlighted the diversity of these schools who were talking to Jr. Blues players: “The kinds of places who were interested in our guys weren’t just from the Midwest, but from Massachusetts, New York, New England. This just proves that you don’t have to play out East for schools there to notice you, as well as how highly regarded we at the Jr. Blues are as a vehicle for development.”
Top performers for St. Louis included Matt Monreal (4 G, 3 A, including a hat-trick against L/A), Mikael Foucher (32 saves on 33 shots faced, and a shut-out of L/A), and Jake Wiethaupt, who capped off his 2 G, 4 A trip to the Twin Cities by signing a tender with the NAHL’s Shreveport Mudbugs at the event.