HELENA — North American 3 Hockey League teams will be in Blaine, Minnesota, for the NA3HL Showcase from Dec. 18-20.
This showcase gives Tier III Junior A players the chance to play in front of NAHL (Tier II), American Collegiate Hockey Association and NCAA scouts and coaches.
All NA3HL teams play three regular-season games at the showcase, one of the most well-attended and scouted events of the entire season.
Former Helena Bighorn and current forward on the Liberty University ACHA team, Sam Feamster, began his journey with Liberty’s program at the showcase.
“They first talked to me after the Granite City game. And the guy named Ben Hughes talked to me from Liberty. He's one of their recruiting guys. And at the time, I knew almost nothing about Liberty. But then I kind of did my own research and figured out, hey, that's probably somewhere I would actually love to be,” Feamster recalled.
In the 2021-22 season, 34 NA3HL players signed a tender to play in the NAHL for the 2022-23 season, 27 more players were selected for the 2022 NAHL Entry Draft, and seven current and former players made NCAA commitments. In 2022, the NA3HL had over 170 college commitments, almost 70% being NCAA pledges.
Feamster stated that playing at the highest level of Tier III hockey prepared him for the opponents he sees at the ACHA level.
“The Bighorns were huge for that. Last year really made me fall in love with the game again. The owners, the coaches, and then especially the guys I played with all like helped prepare me honestly,” Feamster said. “Just every night we had such a good team, my confidence grew so much last year, I was able to make a play every time I'm on the ice. I got to play a ton, which helped. Our coaches and owners put us in a spot where we're the best team in our division. So we're playing the best teams in the league and in that showcase, and in the national tournament.”
Liberty University, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, currently sits in third place in the ACHA's M1 Rankings, boasting an 11-5-1 record.
“It's just been a lot of fun playing in the environment that Liberty has, because like Helena, they have a good draw of people and the people are excited. And it's kind of been a challenge for me, because I'm the only freshman forward on the team. So like coming in, I knew I was gonna have to be two guys out for a spot if I wanted to play on a nightly basis. So luckily, I've been able to do that,” Feamster said.
When recruiting, Bighorns head coach Scott Cunningham looks for players with the same drive as Feamster.
“We try to not recruit players that don't have end goals. Lots of our older guys on our hockey team have a goal in mind, with a future in hockey. Obviously, college is the next level for them and in the years past, and we haven't had a lot, but we've had guys that have come through our program here in Helena go on to play D-III hockey and are still today playing minor pro and in good pro leagues,” Cunningham said.
The head coach had a hand in developing over 70 NCAA D-I hockey players, multiple NHL-drafted players and prospects, and many players that went on to play at NCAA D-III, U Sports (Canadian University) and ACHA programs.
For Cunningham, getting his players to that next level is his priority.
“Development is number one, and it really always has been. I always looked at it like if the coaches are doing their jobs, and developing their players, at the end of the season when the most important time of the year is, playoffs, if you do a good job through the regular season and develop your players that should transition into winning, and hopefully, winning championships.”