CPJHL again makes waves at annual Western States Shootout showcase event in Las Vegas

by Matt Mackinder

Last month, two teams of Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League All-Stars traveled to Las Vegas to play in the Western States Shootout, an annual showcase event put on by the Western States Hockey League.

The CPJHL participated in 2016 as well, but saw a huge jump in the level of competitiveness from last year to this year.

And the amount of CPJHL players that were approached by college and higher-level junior programs increased as well.

“It's nice to see our top players doing so well,” CPJHL president Stephane Laveault said. “A big compliment to the CPJHL was to hear scouts tell us that our league was underrated, and that they would love to come to our CPJHL Showcases. This just proves that the league is moving in the right direction. We are only in Year 2 – and there is a lot more to come.”

Grey Highlands Hawks GM Cory Lafonte made the trip with the CPJHL and came away impressed by what he saw in Las Vegas.

“This year, the CPJHL was asked to bring two teams to the WSHL Shootout and this allowed for the staff to be part of more games and to have a better understanding on different teams, different scouts and what the scouts are looking for,” said Lafonte. “The biggest part of the recruitment process is something that we try to instill in players every day – work ethic, work ethic, work ethic. We have maintained that every player has talent in some way shape or form and they need to know what their particular strengths are and build on them.  

“Not every player is great at the same thing.  Every team has different needs from a player at different times.  Players need to understand that in a showcase situation, it is not the scoreboard the scouts and recruiters are looking at, but the way they play the game. Do they give 110 percent on every play? Do they think before the pass? Do they work together? And then there is the off-ice, which is just as important as the on-ice. Do your teammates like you as a person? Do you help out? Do you listen to coaches? Are you coachable? Are you a team player? Is your social media a big party?”

In Vegas, the CPJHL teams played against WSHL teams and came away with a pair of wins in seven games, dropping four other games by one goal.

“Yes, the games were very competitive, but I would like to see the two best teams from the CPJHL go as I think they would do better because they are used to playing as a group,” said Essa Stallions coach-GM Sylvain Cloutier. “I think it comes down to the coaches to sell the players to the recruiters, but the players also need to do their part. I think as a group, we all need to work together to help the players from the CPJHL move forward. The showcase was a great experience for the players and the coaching staff. A lot of scouts spoke to the players and that was a really nice compliment to the league and the level of players playing in the CPJHL.”

Lafonte added that even though the CPJHL teams went into Vegas never having played together before with not as much as one practice together, the event could not have gone any better.

“Our players knew going into the Shootout that we started with a big disadvantage,” said Lafonte. “Our players had never played together, never practiced together and most never knew each other. In fact, some only knew each other as rivals on the ice. We went into the showcase behind the 8 ball. Our teams were lucky enough to draw the earliest games possible and still managed to come out with a one-goal loss or go into OT and in some cases, a win. There was never a blowout game, never once did a goalie have a bad game, and not once did any players place any type of blame on each other for a bad play or a bad goal.  

“These traits tell me that we are doing something right. They went out there with no fear against the teams who have played together since September and they supported one another, they worked together toward a common goal, and they showed each other and the coaches respect. That is all anyone could ask for.”

At the end of the day, the CPJHL is about development, both on and off the ice, and has taken major leaps this season, just its second as an organized junior league.

“A lot of the players in our league are coming from minor hockey and this is a big step into juniors,” Lafonte said. “We want to build them into athletes and furthermore, into young men. We want these young men to portray an image of our league, which is why we ask that they dress in suit and tie or tracksuits for every league game. We pride them on their behavior on and off the ice – these are all important tools for these young men to learn to succeed in any avenue of life and I won’t just limit it to hockey.  

“As a league we are the new kid on the block, we need to work a little harder for the recognition and go the extra mile to be recognized by the scouts, but I will say that we have done just that. Our first year saw many kids with offers and move on in the hockey world, and it is my opinion that we have laid the groundwork in the first year and with continued dedication to this, we will succeed in improving these numbers. I also feel that some players require more than a year in our programs to truly get them ready for the higher leagues and the pressures of school, so it may just be that with the second year under the belt, some returning players will be looked at more seriously than last year.”