Caruso garners NHL interest at Top Prospects tourney
They are taking note of Michael Caruso, a 6-foot-1, 190 pound defenseman with the Soo Eagles of the North American Hockey League.
Caruso, who has a 1995 birth date, was so impressive at the recent NAHL Top Prospects Tournament that was held in the Detroit suburb of Troy that at least one National Hockey League scout inquired about the strong-skating, hard-shooting defender who plays with a nasty edge.
Eagles coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo confirmed that a scout from the NHL's Vancouver Canucks approached him to specifically ask about Caruso.
Caruso has never been ranked by NHL Central Scouting so the rather-sudden interest in him would seem to indicate that he is becoming a better-known prospect as an 18-year old.
Somewhat of a late developer, Caruso played two seasons of Midget AAA hockey in Sault Ste. Marie and another in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League with the Soo Thunderbirds before crossing the International Bridge to play for the NAHL Eagles this 2013-2014 season.
A 14th-round pick of the Peterborough Petes at the 2011 Ontario Hockey League draft, Caruso has retained his NCAA Division I eligibility.
The Metro Jets of the North American 3 Hockey League have proven to be a top producer of goaltenders who move on to higher levels.
Jets goaltending alumni include current Ontario Hockey League puckstoppers Alex Nedeljkovic of the Plymouth Whalers and Devin Williams of the Erie Otters.
Another former Jets goalie who has moved up is Dillon Kelley of the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League.
As well, current Jets goalies Trevor Kalinowski and Kam Limburg both made brief appearances in the NAHL this season.
The Jets move more than just goalies, however.
Two of the more-famous Jets alumni made it to the National Hockey League within the last year.
They are Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and defenseman Steve Oleksy, who has played parts of the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons with the Washington Capitals.
Fun in Flint
The Flint Jr. Generals not only have the top spot secured in the East Division of the NA3HL but they have a shot at first overall in the 21-team loop.
As of March 1, Flint boasted a 40-4-2 record with two games to play in the 2013-2014 regular season.
Flint's .891winning percentage is second only to the defending Silver Cup champion North Iowa Bulls. North Iowa, with a 39-2-0 record, has a .951 winning percentage.
“It's been a fun season thus far,” Flint coach Steve Howard told me. “We have tried to stick to the foundation of what Tier 3 hockey is here for and believe we are one of the best.”
Howard pointed to the number of players the Jr. Generals have had called up to the NAHL this season.
“Moving four players to five different NAHL teams is never easy on a locker room but we have kept things rolling,” Howard said. “These weren't just weekend call-ups … the boys stuck in the NAHL. We did have one come back to us after over a month in the NAHL. We are here to help our players get to a higher level.”
Moving so many players from the NA3HL to the NAHL just makes Flint's 40-4-2 record all-the-more amazing.
Howard puts a lot of time into the Jr. Generals. But he is quick to thank those who have made his job easier.
“(Coach) Moe Mantha and the Michigan Warriors (of the NAHL) have been a big help to me this year. I think Moe likes to mentor young coaches as much as he likes coaching himself. Moe has been great and so has Jon Jepson,” Howard said.
Jepson serves as both general manager of the NA3HL Jr. Generals and assistant coach with the NAHL Warriors.
Then there's Doug Bailey, who scouts for the NAHL's Soo Eagles.
“Doug is a great guy to have on our side,” Howard said of Bailey, who has a long association to the Flint program.
Despite his team's regular-season success, Howard knows the playoffs are another story.
“Playoffs are always a whole different ballgame,” Howard noted. “No one remembers what you did in the regular season if you don't follow it up with a good playoff run.”