Taylor Cammarata, Gopher recruit leads the USHL in scoring.
Three of the highest-scoring players in the United States Hockey League this season hail from Minnesota. In fact, they play on the same line – and they’re all products of the Reebok Minnesota Hockey High Performance Programs.
Justin Kloos, Zach Stepan and Taylor Cammarata have been lighting up the scoreboard for the Waterloo Black Hawks, consistently hovering in the top-five of the scoring race. Through 27 games, the trio registered 48 goals and 88 assists for 136 points.
“We’ve been clicking really well,” said Kloos, last year’s Mr. Hockey as part of a memorable season for the Lakeville South Cougars. “We just have the perfect combination of skill play and prettiness, scoring and playmaking. We’ve been playing well together and we’ve been able to do some pretty special things in this league.”
One part of what’s helped these players develop is the Reebok Minnesota Hockey High Performance Programs, formerly known as the Select Camps. These programs provide development opportunities for players ages 15-18 and are designed to identify the best players in the state. Top players from each district or section get the chance to play with and against Minnesota’s best.
“They were a great show of skill throughout the state,” Kloos added. “You have the best players in the state there. You’re able to see what people can do in a short period of time. You can compare yourself to other kids.”
High Performance Director Mike MacMillan believes this is another unique opportunity that sets Minnesota apart from the rest.
“You won’t find this anywhere else – a chance to compete and develop with the best players Minnesota has to offer,” MacMillan said. “This is just another reason why Minnesota Hockey continues to produce the nation’s top talent.”
Zach Stepan, Future Ohio State Buckeye advanced to USA Hockey Select Player Development Camps twice in New York.
Another benefit of the High Performance Programs? Coaches and scouts flock to it.
“The more exposure you can get, the better,” said Stepan, who is committed to play college hockey at Ohio State. “There’s no complaining about exposure for these camps. There are scouts everywhere.”
Kloos believes it also helps motivate players to keep working hard with hopes of continuing hockey at the next level, wherever that may be.
“When you have all the best kids in the state, it’s going to attract coaches and scouts, so it definitely helps out exposure,” said Kloos, who will play at the University of Minnesota next season, along with Cammarata. “You can build some confidence knowing you have a shot at going somewhere. It’s a good experience for kids to have.”
The list of current college hockey players who have participated in the Reebok Minnesota Hockey High Performance Programs is endless: Adam Wilcox (Gophers), Josh Archibald (UNO), Tony Cameranesi (UMD), Ben Hanowski (SCSU), Anders Lee (Notre Dame), Zach Lehrke (MSU), Tyler Barnes (UW), Archie Skalbeck (CC) and many, many more.
This is an opportunity to get noticed that most players otherwise would never get.
“The pool of scouts and recruiters is second to none nationally,” MacMillan said. “The exposure our players get can't be replicated in any other environment.”
Goalies are also provided great development opportunities. The Minnesota Hockey Reebok High Performance programs also include the Dave Peterson Goalie Camp for the top 15-18 boys and girls.
Justin Kloos, Gophers recruit scored 103 points in just 31 games for Lakeville South last year.
Skill development and exposure aside, it’s also a chance to play the greatest game on earth with the top local players.
“The most fun part is that you get to play with the great hockey players in Minnesota,” Stepan said. “It’s the only opportunity you get to play with all those great hockey players in the state. It’s fun to go through. It’s good hockey. Even though it’s a camp, they don’t play like it’s just a camp. There’s still a lot of pride on the line.”
After the Minnesota portion of the programs are complete, the top 20-25 players represent Minnesota Hockey at a national festival/camp sponsored by USA Hockey, involving the best players from each of the USA Hockey districts. The competition is fierce.
The national festivals/camps help identify the top performers in each age group for possible opportunities to represent the U.S. at advanced levels of national and international hockey competition. Some players make it to the national festivals and international competitions, many others don’t.
No matter how far a player advances in the program, there are plenty of benefits to participating.
“It was a good learning experience,” said Kloos, a highly sought– after recruit who experienced cuts. “Not every kid makes the team. It gives you something to work towards and some motivation once you’re told you’re not going to make it to the next level. You figure out what you need to work on.”
It’s clearly helped these top players, and it will continue developing and promoting Minnesota’s best. Keep an eye on this line’s production as the season progresses. They’re representing this hockey hotbed well.
“We like being the Minnesota line,” Stepan said. “Coming from Minnesota, since we’re the State of Hockey, it’s just fun to represent it. It’s fun to represent and show what Minnesota puts out there.”
One look at previous High Performance rosters provides just a glimpse of how much talent is developed right here in Minnesota. College players and draft picks fill each list every year. Here are a few players dating back to the 2005 roster who not only are playing in the NHL, but making a tremendous impact at the game’s highest level.
J.T. Brown – Won an NCAA National Championship with the University of Minnesota Duluth before jumping onto the Tampa Bay Lightning roster last season.
Justin Faulk – Also part of the Bulldogs’ first-ever National Championship. Now manning the blue line for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Jake Gardiner – Badgers All-American before breaking out as a top young defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Nick Leddy – Former Mr. Hockey and now one of the top scoring defensemen for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Ryan McDonagh – Former Mr. Hockey is a lynchpin on the New York Rangers’ blue line. Scored 36 points and registered a plus-27 last year while helping his team to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Derek Stepan – Captained the 2010 U.S. World Junior team to a gold medal. Scored 105 points (39g, 66a) in his first two seasons with the New York Rangers.