Brannon McManus and Ivan Lodnia are used to playing against elite-level competition from their days as teammates on the Los Angeles Selects and with the legendary Shattuck-St. Mary’s School program.
But on Thursday, there will be top players everywhere they look as they become teammates once again for the fifth annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
Since the game’s inception, 102 players from the AAPG have gone on to be drafted by National Hockey League teams, including 25 who were selected in the first round. Last year’s NHL Draft saw a record 10 AAPG alumni hear their name called in the first round.
Some of those alumni include Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres), Noah Hanifin (Carolina Hurricanes), Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings) and Seth Jones (Columbus Blue Jackets).
It’s something that McManus is well aware of.
“This is a big opportunity,” the Newport Beach, California native said. “It’s hosted by the NHL and USA Hockey and good things can happen from it if you play well. It’s where it starts.”
Lodnia has adopted the same mindset.
“Obviously everybody wants to play well,” he said. “Hopefully everything turns out well and we’ll see what happens after that.
“Sometimes [the NHL draft] is on your mind but you have to focus on your game and play the right way and everything will take care of itself.”
McManus has the utmost respect for his teammate and friend Lodnia.
“We always were good friends,” he said. “He’s an exceptional player and a very strong player. He has a strong skill set and the ability to make players around him play better.
“He’s always been able to do that since we were pee wees. Obviously, he has a gift and we also have a connection playing with each other.”
Lodnia easily recognized a “gift” possessed by his teammate.
“He’s a natural goal scorer,” said Lodnia, from Novi, Michigan. “He’s a really good player and plays a full game. Whenever you give him the puck you know he’ll score.”
McManus’ goal-scoring ability has been plain to see for the last several years.
He scored 68 goals and assisted on 52 as Shattuck-St. Mary’s captured the USA Hockey Youth Tier I 14U National Championship in 2014.
Then, one year later, he amassed a total of 86 points and led the Sabres to the school’s first-ever USA Hockey national championship at the Youth Tier I 16U level.
The caliber of player produced by Shattuck-St. Mary’s is well-known, boasting American NHL Star alumni like Zach Parise (Minnesota Wild) and Derek Stepan (New York Rangers). Both Parise and Stepan are representing the United States in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
McManus also played at Shattuck with Logan Hutsko, Tyler Inamoto, Grant Mismash and Austin Pratt, who will also be suiting up for the All-American Prospects Game.
“We had special, special teams,” said McManus. “The character of everyone was pretty amazing and it carried over onto the ice. I think about nine kids played junior hockey and I think there are six kids from the Shattuck team that are going to be at the Prospects Game. That says a lot about the caliber of the teams we had.
“It’s honestly going to be one of the best memories I’d had in hockey playing on the Shattuck teams with those guys and winning those national championships.”
Lodnia also has a connection with a trio of young men who’ll be playing in the AAPG: Sasha Chmelevski, Patrick Khodrenko and Michael Pastujov.
They were teammates at one time on Detroit’s HoneyBaked youth team.
“Sasha is a really skilled center,” said Lodnia. “He battles in the corners, makes great passes and shoots the puck really well.
“Patrick is a strong left winger and plays well in the offensive zone. We worked well in the corners. He has a really strong body so it’s hard to take the puck away from him.
“Michael is a very skilled guy,” continued Lodnia. “He shoots the puck really well. One of the key things is how he finds open ice. He’s a really good player.”
Other than the fact each of these young men is so highly skilled that they’re on the NHL’s radar, they also possess some qualities that don’t show up on a stat sheet.
“I think we all have the trait of being a winner and obviously nobody likes to lose,” said McManus. “But there is a difference between winning and losing. That’s a completely different feeling.
“All the kids from those Shattuck teams are winners. They know what it takes to win. That’s a trait we have in common.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.