Local players return for USHL Fall Classic
The USHL is coming back to Cranberry Township this week.
So are seven local players with their USHL teams.
Western Pa. natives Liam Walsh (Bridgeville), Cedar Rapids RoughRiders; Matt Weber (Coraopolis), Fargo Force; Paul Maust (Butler), Green Bay Gamblers; Chad Veltri (Fox Chapel), Sioux Falls Stampede; Austen Swankler (North Huntingdon), Waterloo Black Hawks; Jacob Kucharski (Erie), Des Moines Buccaneers; and Roman Kraemer (Pittsburgh), Youngstown Phantoms, will take the ice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex for the event, which runs Thursday through Saturday.
“It’s such a good experience. This event is nice,” said Walsh, a Merrimack recruit who won a Penguins Cup with Bishop Canevin his freshman year. “I have played in it the past three years with the league. I work out in that rink all summer. It’s a pretty unique experience, and I feel pretty lucky I am able to do it.
“I know pretty much all the guys coming back. Just to share the experience with them is pretty cool. It’s pretty awesome to see how far other guys from Pittsburgh have come. It’s a testament to how much the game is growing there. It’s always fun to compete against those kids and see who gets to come out on top.”
“I can’t wait to come back and play there again. I have a lot of history playing there with the Pens Elite,” said Swankler, who attended Norwin schools. “Being able to play in front of friends and family at home and in the USHL is going to be an unbelievable experience.”
All 17 USHL clubs play two games apiece at the event. Unlike previous years, these are regular seasons games and not exhibitions.
“It’s really nice these games count,” said Maust, a Mercyhurst recruit who won a Penguins Cup with Mars. “It’s nice to be able to bring my team here and have that experience in my hometown. I’ll get to show people around and get to go home and see my dogs and parents. I live 15 minutes from the rink, and I work out down there every day in the summer. I am comfortable in that environment.”
The games are more than a chance to come home and earn some points in the standings. Players have the chance to play in front of more than 350 NHL, collegiate and amateur scouts, who will be on hand to watch the USHL games as well as invitational youth tournaments for four age groups. Jack Hughes, the top-ranked NHL draft prospect, and seven other projected 2019 first-round picks will be featured performers at the USHL Fall Classic. The youth tournaments will run over the same time at different area rinks, as well.
“It’s going to be great to have a bunch of family friends come for both games. It’s nice to get a chance to play in front of them. I don’t get many chances,” said Veltri, a Niagara recruit. “It’s always great to have more scouts looking at you whenever you, too.”
For Swankler, a Michigan recruit, it’s his second high-profile event this year. He played in the USA Hockey All-American Prospects game on Sept. 19 at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn. His Team Leopold fell to Team Langenbrunner, 6-4.
“Playing in that game and in front of those fans was awesome,” he said. “It’s great to play with and against some of the best players country in the USHL, too. It’s awesome seeing so many players for Pittsburgh will be there.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.