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Showcase event set for REA

College hockey recruiters spend countless hours each year traveling the back roads in the United States and Canada looking for the next great player.

College hockey recruiters spend countless hours each year traveling the back roads in the United States and Canada looking for the next great player.

It'll be a bit easier task for UND recruiters later this week when the Little Caesars North America Showcase comes to Grand Forks.

There will be 16 teams consisting of players in the 18-and-under age bracket from the United States and Canada in the tournament that will be played out at four different rinks from Jan. 11-14.

Teams come from nine states as far away as Texas and California and from two Canadian provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Scott Koberinski, co-director of the tournament along with Jeff Bowen, said that more than 40 scouts from the NHL, Canadian major junior leagues and U.S. colleges will attend. Koberinski and Bowen are former UND players.

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The tournament is growing. "We started with eight teams four years ago, and we had 12 teams last year," Koberinski said. "Our hope is to grow to 32 teams in the future."

While scouts and recruiters will flock to Grand Forks to see some of the best young players in the United States and Canada, the major benefactor could be UND.

It will give top-end talent from the two countries a chance to see the spectacular Ralph Engelstad Arena, a big recruiting tool for the Sioux.

Michael Cichy, a player from New Hartford, Conn., saw the rink for the first time last year in this tournament. Cichy then gave UND a verbal commitment and said seeing the rink was a deciding factor in his decision to join the program. Ben Blood, a UND recruit from Shattuck-St. Mary's in Minnesota, will be playing in this year's tournament.

Bowen said the tournament was originally set up to carry on the legacy of Ralph Engelstad, the former Sioux goalie from Thief River Falls who donated more than $100 million to build the rink bearing his name.

At the time, Engelstad said: "It has been my desire to return to UND, the Fighting Sioux hockey team, Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota that which has been extended to me in my youth. It also will serve as a magnet for recruiting athletes, students and faculty and give people a sense of pride."

The North American Showcase is like a two-way street.

It will give many players their first look at the world's finest hockey rink. Tournament organizers also hope it will serve as a springboard for others such as Cichy to choose UND.

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It also will open the world for those same players to showcase their talents for scouts and recruiters from all over, thereby shaping their future.

Returning for the weekend as a featured guest and banquet speaker is Greg Johnson, UND's all-time leading scorer and longtime NHL player, forced to retire from the Detroit Red Wings this year because of a heart ailment.

Johnson knows the importance of midget tournaments, having played in many as a youngster in Thunder Bay, Ont.

"Some of my fondest memories are from playing midget hockey in Thunder Bay," Johnson said. "I still remember the friends I made and the trips I went on. They were some of the most important years of developing that I ever had."

It was in a midget tournament that Johnson first was contacted by UND.

"I remember meeting Cary Eades (UND assistant coach) after a tournament in North Bay, Ont.," Johnson said. "It was the first time I had ever talked to a scout and I was so intimidated. It was the first time that I ever thought that I might play beyond the midget level."

Mike Ilitch, who owns the Detroit Red Wings and Little Caesars Pizza, will be a major sponsor in conjunction with Brian Conneran, who has the local franchise. And former Grand Forks Red River player Judd Sondreal purchased 1,000 tickets to distribute to Greater Grand Forks youth.

Games will be played in REA's main rink, REA's Olympic rink and Purpur and Gambucci arenas.

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Cost of a tournament pass is $20 for adults, with a day pass $10. They will be sold at the arenas.

Virg Foss, a sportswriter for the Herald for 37 years who retired from full-time writing in 2005, can be reached at virgfoss@yahoo.com or at (701) 772-9272.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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