Players, owners and coaches all left the Windy City on Sunday having seen some top-level competition and hopefully with a few more questions answered on the 2019-20 USPHL regular season.
Players were divided into 10 evenly-matched teams that played three games each at the Fifth Third Arena in Chicago, Ill., the practice and off-ice training facility of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Current Premier Division coaches helped behind the bench for the competitive matches that almost all ended with close scores.
On Saturday, players and their families were also kept busy with off-ice activities that included physical testing under the watchful eye of Chicago Blackhawks Strength and Conditioning coach Paul Goodman. They also took part in two sessions of a symposium that included coaches from both NCDC and Premier level teams as well as league management. After that, the players and families were given a chance to take a quick tour of the Blackhawks’ practice locker room (Fifth Third Arena is the practice home of the Hawks).
John Schwarz announced the Combine late in the spring and it was filled almost immediately and ran smoothly all weekend. Schwarz passed off much of the praise for the weekend.
“We had a lot of help, between Joshua Boyd [USPHL Media and Communications Manager], Dave Peters [Deputy Commissioner – NCDC] and all these coaches from the Premier and NCDC levels,” said Schwarz. “It made it easy. Short notice is no problem when you have a great quality team and people working really hard for you.”
The Combine’s success could also be attributed to the hard work of Combine staff members Mike Tompkins, Tori Tompkins and Johnny Schwarz.
While the competitive game play was applauded by all of the coaches in attendance, what made this event so special were the off-ice activities.
“The Blackhawks have been great with the youth and the junior levels, with me, with the Cougars and with my tournament company, Ultimate Tournaments,” said Schwarz.
“It’s been great and yesterday when we did the symposium, and everyone - all the parents and kids - got to go through the Blackhawks’ locker room, it was just frosting on the cake,” said Schwarz. “Paul Goodman, with [Goodman] Elite Training - the feedback we’re receiving on that is just second to none. I’ve been to a lot of Combines in the last six years, even when my kids were playing hockey, and this has been pretty special because I was able to imitate some things and even make it better. It’s been real fun. I’m very honored.”
Among the players taking part was Joe Ambroffi (‘02/Joliet, Ill) who last season played goal for the Joliet Jaguars and was hoping to make a positive impression with the league.
“It’s been an unreal experience so far,” said Ambroffi. “I got a lot of exposure and been able to talk to a lot of people and just an overall great experience.”
The off-ice stuff was a bit overwhelming, Ambroffi said, but he was happy to have had the chance to test himself and get some of the perks as well.
“It was great to experience what I could possibly achieve in the future,” said the young goaltender.
Forward Tim Laskowski has already committed to return to the Chicago Cougars for the 2019-20, season but couldn’t pass up a chance to test himself against some high-level competition in the middle of the off season.
“Yeah, half an hour drive, free ice…why would I pass it up?” said Laskowski with a smile. But there was more to it than that for Laskowski, who hopes to fill a leadership role when he returns in the fall.
On Sunday morning, Schwarz was happy with all that was achieved on the weekend.
“I think it was really great to educate the Midwest on the USPHL and all the great benefits of the league as we’re growing,” said Schwarz. “We’re up to 23 teams in the Midwest.”
Teams and players will soon be focusing on the new season with USPHL Premier and Elite games scheduled as early as the first weekend of September.
The USPHL also thanks Premier/Elite Media Coordinator Jim DenHollander for his hard work at the Combine this weekend.