It has the makings of a major event for the fledgling Canadian International Hockey League.
As of now, five teams are confirmed for a showcase tournament that the CIHL’s Kalkaska Rhinos will play host to on January 8, 9 and 10.
Tournament organizer Krzysztof Oliwa — the former National Hockey League enforcer and Stanley Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils who coaches Kalkaska and operates the Oliwa Hockey Academy — told HockeyNewsNorth.com that besides the host Rhinos and the Batchewana Attack and Espanola Rivermen of the CIHL, the Detroit Fighting Irish of the Midwest Jr. Hockey League and the Central Michigan University Chippewas of the American Collegiate Hockey Association have committed to the showcase event.
To be sure, the Kalkaska showcase looms as an opportunity for players to display their skills to an audience that figures to include scouts and personnel from higher-level junior leagues and American schools.
Batchewana, which is in first place in the CIHL and coached by highly-regarded former Ontario Hockey League player and coach and NHL journeyman Denny Lambert, has a plethora of high-end players who are looking to advance their level of play within the next year or two.
For starters, the Attack features a plum trio of 1998 birth-year skaters in defenceman Adam Baggs and twin-brother forwards Darian Pilon and Drake Pilon.
Baggs, who has size and skating ability to go with hockey and academic smarts, already has an OHL affiliation as a 2014 draft pick of the Niagara Ice Dogs. But Baggs has made no secret of the fact that the possibility of playing at the National Collegiate Athletic Association level is very appealing to him.
The Pilon brothers are among the scoring leaders in the CIHL. And the pair are already attracting the attention of OHL teams as undrafted free agents.
Baggs and the Pilons are not the only members of the Attack who have warranted attention for their play thus far this season.
Higher-level junior teams and schools have been inquiring about and checking on 1997 birth-year forward Jacob Palmerio and 1996 birth-year defenceman Cade Nolan.
There are many others on the Attack who stand to benefit from next month’s Kalkaska showcase, including last-year junior players Grant Syrette and Jeremy Solomon.
Syrette, who has OHL experience, needs to temper his on-ice behaviour but he and Solomon certainly have the abilities to play at the ACHA and Division 3, NCAA levels — if not minor pro.
While about half of the Batchewana players are from the Sault Ste. Marie area — including the ones mentioned above — the Attack also boasts a number of high-end skaters from elsewhere including Swedish-born defender Johan Kling and American-born forwards Rob Delury, Chris Skinner and Brian Stack.
The other CIHL teams who will participate in the showcase — second-place Espanola and third-seeded Kalkaska — also have their share of plum performers.
Among the players of note on the Rivermen are 1994 birth year forward Byron Sam, 1994 birth-year defenceman Adam Johns, 1995 birth-year forward Alex Zerbel and 1997 birth-year goalie Keegan Paulette.
Rhinos who have stood tall this season include 1994 birth-year forward Dan Bellafiore, 1995 birth-year defenceman Will Horoshak and 1998 birth-year forward Thomas Steven.
The January showcase will also afford CIHL players the opportunity to play the aforementioned Fighting Irish of Detroit — which is one of the top teams in the MWJHL — as well as the Central Michigan University club team.
Over the past couple of years, the Fighting Irish — which is coached and managed by the seasoned Dan Vasquez — has advanced more than a dozen players to the ACHA and Division 3, NCAA levels.
The 2014-2015 edition of the Fighting Irish has several more players who are being groomed by Vasquez and his staff to move up to the college ranks.
The Kalkaska showcase will serve as a fundraiser for the Tiffany Eckler Ferguson Memorial Fund. Tiffany, the mother of four children, and her father were shot and killed in Kalkaska last month. Tiffany’s estranged husband — who is the father of her children — has been charged with murder in the shootings. Tiffany was a former president of the Kalkaska Area Hockey Association.
PHOTO: Batchewana Attack defenceman Adam Baggs is an Ontario Hockey League draft pick who also has Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association aspirations. (Photo by Ali Pearson.)