Baseball has "pitchers and catchers report" to signal the unofficial start of a new season.
For hockey fans, it's the Traverse City prospects tournament.
The annual event, staged on the shore of Lake Michigan, hosts some of the NHL's brightest young stars, all hoping to make their marks ahead of the start of training camps. The 2014 edition gets underway on Friday and features the top prospects from the Sabres, the Hurricanes, the Blue Jackets, the Stars, the Red Wings, the Wild, the Rangers and the Blues.
The five-day tournament will end with a championship game on Tuesday night. All games take place at David's Rink and Huntington Rink at the Centre ICE Arena, the site of Detroit's training camp.
The prospects tournament is more than just the first major event on the hockey calendar. It has also become the yardstick by which coaches and general managers can measure their prospects against their peers. "Plenty of solid NHL careers were launched in Traverse City," one scout told SI.com.
The Red Wings come in as the defending champs. They'll be looking to top picks—including forwards Anthony Mantha, Dominic Turgeon and Martin Frk—to help them become the first repeat winners since Columbus won back-to-back titles in 2005 and ’06. The Jackets, though, will be tough to beat. Their lineup includes four first-rounders (forwards Alexander Wennberg, Marko Dano, Kerby Rychel and Sonny Milano) and Team Sweden goalie Oscar Dansk.
The favorite, however, has to be Buffalo, which will be led by center Sam Reinhart, the second pick in the 2014 draft, defenseman Nikita Zadorov and blossoming sniper Nicholas Baptiste. For a team in the midst of an extreme organizational overhaul, this event will be key to gauging progress.
Unfortunately you can't watch the action, but you can follow along online via Pointstreak. The online service will update scores and provide plenty of good old fashioned stats. (Sorry, no Corsi here).