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College hockey players front and center at All-American Prospects Game

As USA Hockey works to promote the American-born hockey player, its also giving a boost to college hockey.

There are 26 players who have verbally committed to NCAA programs playing in the fourth CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in First Niagara Center Thursday night while three are already starting their freshmen years -- Luke Kunin at Wisconsin, Charlie McAvoy at Boston University and Tage Thompson at Connecticut.

Last year three NCAA players were among the first eight selections at the NHL Draft. Jeremy Roenick, coaching one of the teams, said colleges are producing more NHL players in part because of the expanded options and better development leagues, including the USA Hockey development programs and the United States Hockey League.

"The colleges are so good now and the players are so good because they’re growing up in these development programs," Roenick said. "More kids are drafted out of college in last 10 years than ever before. That’s great because now you have education and athletics. That’s great because it’s hard to make it and if a kid keeps that education aspect alive while they try to make their pro debut, it’s important. It really is."

Griffin Luce, grandson of Buffalo Sabres Hall of Famer Don Luce, has committed to Michigan.

"Michigna was just a fit for me from the start," said Luce who is playing with the U.S. National Under-18 Team this year. "I felt comfortable there and and I feel love with the place right away. College hockey you can’t go wrong. You know hockey’s going to end at some point in your life and you want to have something to fall back on afater that. College, you can’t get anything better than a Michigan college degree."

Well, maybe Kieffer Bellows would disagree on that last point since he committed to Boston University.

"Most of the guys going to BU will same the same thing but it was most definitely the coaches," said Bellows also playing with the U.S. Under-18 Team this year. "They made me feel as if I was part of the Terrier family before I even committed. They have great facilities. The school is second to none. It felt like a perfect fit when I got there."

Other college hockey notes from the All-American Prospects Game:

  • Minnesota and Michigan each have four players committed to those programs for next  year. Three players are going to Boston University and three to Boston College. Minnesota-Duluth and Western Michigan each have two commits in the game. Also represented -- Notre Dame, North Dakota, Harvard, Cornell, Michigan State, Miami, Northeastern and Wisconsin.
  • AAPG coach Derek Plante spent the last few seasons as an assistant coach at Minnesota-Duluth where he worked with Eden native Alex Iafallo. Plante continues to see Iafallo as an NHL player:  "To me, he’s an NHL talent. His ability to make plays or just have the puck, control the puck. His skill level, his speed are NHL level. The one thing that he’s going to want to work on is probably just scoring, the part at the end where he can actually get points. I think at the NHL level if he doesn’t score a ton he can still be a guy who plays on different lines where he brings energy and puck control and those kind of things. He’s a fun kid to be around too. He’ll be fun to watch him keep getting better. He’s a fun player to watch. Even practice he’s fun to watch because he does so many things with the puck."
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