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By Miguel Rodriguez

NEWS YOUTH HOCKEY COLUMNIST

Sean Malone already had his homecoming this hockey season. Other talents from the 716 area code who played with him in the USHL also were supposed to have ones of their own during the ninth Bowman Cup at First Niagara Center.

Obligations with their teams will likely prohibit participation in the Junior/Prep game by Patrick Polino (Chicago), Dylan McLaughlin (Cedar Rapids), Zach Evancho (Youngstown) and Kyle Eastman (Tri-City). If neither can play, it’s a tough break for them and fans who like to see how they’ve improved as players since they last played here, but it will open the doors to other area talents to get noticed.

Malone, the West Seneca native and member of the United States National Developmental Program’s 18-under team, was invited to the Bowman Cup but won’t be in the house because he’s in Russia with Team USA preparing for the IIHF world under-18 championships in Sochi, which start Thursday.

Still, he already had his chance to turn First Niagara Center into his own personal backyard rink in September, when he skated in the first USA Hockey Top Prospects game before NHL scouts.

Some of those scouts along with other junior-level and college ones are expected to be at the foot of Jim Kelley Way and Perry Street to see the other talented players during the tripleheader that starts at 6 p.m. with Buffalo’s high school juniors facing those from Rochester. The high school seniors from both cities meet in a game scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The junior/prep talent game pitting Buffalo’s best against Rochester’s stars starts at approximately 9 p.m. Tickets cost $5.

The Bowman Cup began in 2005 as a way of showcasing the western region’s top high school-aged hockey talents. Last year, the Sabres added the junior/prep game to the lineup since it makes sense to have the area’s best playing in an event flaunting Western New York’s top hockey talents.

The goal is also to get more of the showcase’s participants drafted by NHL teams. Phil Lane of Rochester (2008-09) is the only graduate of the contest to be drafted by an NHL team (2010, second-round pick of Phoenix). Malone will likely make it two in June even though his participation is only on paper.

There are other alumni who have done well since the last time they skated on the Sabres’ ice. Former St. Joe’s star Cole Schneider (2007 and 2008 games) plays for the Ottawa Senators’ farm team in Binghamton of the American Hockey League, while Canisius College players Patrick Sullivan, Chris Barrea and Matt Grazen, Yale’s Anthony Day and Niagara’s Kevin Ryan and Michael Benedict helped their respective teams reach the NCAA Tournament this season. Day gets a chance to play for the national title tonight when the Bulldogs face Quinnipiac.

Among the talents expected to participate include Cory Swift and Ben Sharif, who both play for Loomis Chaffee – a prep school in Connecticut.

McLaughlin has scored eight goals heading into this weekend’s games against the U.S. Under-17 team, but the Lancaster native and forward earned fame for one of them back in October when he scored on a between-the-legs shot – a highlight picked as No. 1 for ESPN SportsCenter’s top plays that night.

Nichols has nine players expected to suit up, including defenseman R.J. Gicewicz, who played with Team USA last summer in the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in the Czech Republic.

“It is a way for the Sabres to honor these kids and commend them for a great hockey season and put them on a stage and let them show what they have for one night,” said Pat Fisher, the Buffalo Junior Sabres’ assistant GM who will serve as an assistant coach during the junior/prep game.

Pepsi Tourney recap

The 37th Annual Pepsi Hockey Invitational, contested over a five-weekend period that ended April 7 at Holiday and Leisure rinks, attracted 220 house and house-select teams ages 5-17 from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan and Virginia, according to tournament director Mark Grundtisch.

Of the 32 champions crowned at the event, which drew 3,500 players, five of them were local (Amherst Knights Pee Wee Select, Niagara Jr. Purple Eagles Pee Wee Select, Buffalo Shamrocks Bantams, Buffalo Regals Mite Minor, and the Southtown Stars Squirt Green team).

The tournament is special because house-league players rarely get a chance to travel to a different rink for games during the season unless they’re part of a select team or double dipping by playing both travel and house.

Bisons girls wrap-up

The youth hockey careers of Kelly Seward, Maddie Elia, Jessica Brownschidle, Ashley Lyman, Kendall Appelbaum and Julia Duquette ended in the USA Hockey quarterfinals last weekend when the Bisons’ 19-under Tier I girls team dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker to Shattuck St. Mary’s.

They helped Bisons teams at different age groups win state titles each of the past five seasons. They helped the 16-under Bisons, which became this season’s 19-under team, to a national runner-up finish last year.

Seward (Penn State) and Elia (Boston University) earned Division I scholarships, while Brownschidle and Duquette will continue their careers at Division III powers Middlebury and Plattsburgh, respectively. Appelbaum and Lyman will play at Oswego, whose most famous female hockey alum is ESPN anchor Linda Cohn.

The Bisons team, which includes 11 players who helped Nichols’ prep team repeat as North American Prep Hockey Association and CISAA champions, went 35-12-1 under coach Scott Welch.

Welch’s 14-under Bisons girls’ squad went 26-8-4, while the organization’s 16-under Tier I team reached the national semifinals.

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email: mrodriguez@buffnews.com