Takeaways from the 2023 USHL Fall Classic

Michigan programs show well at annual event in Pittsburgh

Craig Peterson

September 26, 2023

USHL Fall Classic logo superimposed over top of an aerial view of the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

The ninth annual USHL Fall Classic marks the official start to the season for the United States’ top junior league. All 16 member organizations descend on the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Pittsburgh, where each team competes in their first two regular-season games of the schedule. It is a showcase of some of the best junior hockey players in the country, on display for college and professional scouts. Additionally, 80 youth hockey teams from across the country were also invited to participate in the event this year. This provided a platform for youth hockey prospects to showcase their talents in front of junior scouts and coaches as well.

With plenty of evaluators and hockey minds consolidated in one area at the same time, several Michigan teams and players drew plenty of attention over the weekend.

Beckham Edwards tops all scorers in the 2008 birth year

15O Little Caesars was near perfect on the weekend. Starting on Thursday, Caesars scored five or more goals in each of the first four games. Dynamic forward Beckham Edwards recorded two hat tricks, the first of which came in a 5-1 win over the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes. The second came on Friday in a 5-1 win over the Valley Forge Minutemen. Not only did he lead all skaters in the age group in goals, Edwards tied for the lead in points (12) as well.

The lone blemish on the weekend came in the final game, where the New Jersey Rockets upended Caesars 4-1. A two-goal first period and a power-play goal were too much to overcome, as Caesars suffered its first loss stateside. Last weekend, the group lost a pair of games to the Toronto Jr. Canadiens and Vaughan Kings — two of the best ‘08 teams in North America.

In addition to Edwards’ offensive efforts, Jacob Monks led the showcase in assists with eight. He finished with 10 points total, and picked up a point in four of the five games at the USHL Fall Classic. Cam Nimmer also averaged a point per game with his new team, finishing with two goals and three assists.

Both Andrew McLouth and Trevor Paden finished among the top goaltenders in the event, with 1.45 and 1.81 goals-against averages. McLouth posted a 19-save shutout in Saturday’s 5-0 win over host Pittsburgh Penguins Elite. 

HoneyBaked, OJG and Compuware all made the trip at this age level as well. James Gilliam scored a goal with 2:01 left to beat the Pittsburgh Vengeance; that gave HB a big win over a team that qualified for USA Hockey Nationals last spring. OJG — a 14U qualifier in its own right — continues to play teams close. They are 5-4-0 this season, with all of those losses decided in the final moments of the game. Coach Steve Guolla’s group is a gritty one that plays teams tough; expect this OJG team to be a tough out all season.

Little Caesars, Victory Honda, Compuware, Fox Motors — An All-Michigan Final Four

The 16U division of the USHL Fall Classic featured six teams from last seasons’ USA Hockey Nationals, including 2023 national champion LA Jr. Kings. The structure of the showcase at this particular age group was for all teams to compete in three games, with a four game being against an opponent based on the Fall Classic standings. Through three games, only four teams remained undefeated in Pittsburgh, and they all share residency in the state of Michigan.

Undefeated Little Caesars faced off against Victory Honda in one semifinal. The other semifinal, Compuware took on Fox Motors. Of the 22 teams in the age group competing at the showcase, the championship came down to an All-Michigan showdown.

Caesars and VH — easily the top two teams in the state among ‘07s — shared the ice just two weeks ago at the MAHA Showcase. VH got the better of Caesars in that back-and-forth matchup, pulling away with an empty-netter and a 7-4 final. I said these two teams could trade blows all season long, and they’ve wasted little time in doing that as it was Caesars getting the better of VH in their second matchup; a 3-1 win on Monday morning.

Yet to meet this season, Fox and Compuware shared the ice for the first time while in the Steel City. A pair of goals from Brady Green and Cooper Williams were enough for Compuware to get the better of Fox in the second semifinal matchup. Compuware held a 28-17 shot advantage thanks in part to Fox taking four consecutive penalties in the second half of the game.

Caesars and Compuware weren’t slated to meet until Nov. 3rd in MAHA action. However, with both advancing to the final, the stage was set for the two to clash much sooner.

Cooper Bordeaux opened the scoring almost five minutes into the game. Then, Colorado College commit Easton Pace increased the lead to 3-0 with his first and second goals of the weekend. That first-period lead proved to be more than enough, as the highly skilled Caesars squad ousted Compuware in a 7-2 final.

A flurry of close games in the 18U Division

Michigan-based programs accounted for a quarter of all participants in the USHL Fall Classic’s oldest division. Biggby, Fox Motors, Little Caesars and OJG were four of 16 participants at the event. All four found varying levels of success, but one thing was constant: competition. Fox went 3-1-0 on the weekend, with just a plus-3 goal differential. Caesars had an identical differential, and still managed to finish .500 at the event. OJG lost a pair of one-goal games to finish 1-3-0. In total, the 18U division saw 18 games decided by two goals or fewer. The four Michigan teams combined to play in 10 of those games.

Vincent Hart was among the leading scorers in the event, with two goals and five points for Little Caesars. Biggby’s Reily Fast finished with four points. Nolan Francis and Gavin Melcher were among some of the top goalies when it came to save percentage. Francis turned away 47-of-48 shots faced for Caesars while Melcher stopped 69-of-72 in goal for Fox.

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