Photo by Rena Laverty
There is something special about wearing the colors of his country that Joey Cassetti takes pride in each and every day.
“Honestly, it means the world to me,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better organization or country to represent. It’s a privilege every day. You walk into the rink and see all the things that are given to us and we know what is expected.”
Maybe that is why it was so special for Cassetti when he and his teammates captured their first international win — the 2016 Five Nations — this past November at USA Hockey Arena. The U.S. National Under-18 Team posted a 3-1 record, including a thrilling 3-2 win over Finland on Nov. 5.
“It was nice to get the monkey off our back,” said Cassetti on that first big win. “Going into international tournaments, we always except to win. I think last year, it really lowered our self-esteem. We just couldn’t finish. This year, we are 1 for 1 so far. Hearing your national anthem play at the end of the game is just the best feeling.
“It never gets old playing other countries and seeing the talent from each country. It is kind of surreal to play against kids who live all over the globe from you. It’s pretty special.”
Cassetti and his teammates head to their second international tournament — the 2017 Five Nations in Sundsvall, Sweden, from Feb. 8-12. The U18s will face Finland (Feb. 8), Czech Republic (Feb. 10), Russia (Feb. 11) and hosts Sweden (Feb. 12). He knows what the U18s need to do to continue their team success.
“We have to stick with the system, and play hard and make the other team miserable,” he stated. “We have to get pucks low, get scrappy and play hard. We need to treat each shift as a tryout. We need to take pucks to the net and make it as hard as we can on the other team. That is what we do best when we have success.”
For Cassetti, he can see the difference from his first year with the NTDP to his second year, which is helping in that success on the ice.
“As a team, we are bigger and with another year under our belt, we just have better chemistry with each other on the ice,” explained Cassetti. “Individually, I’m bigger as well. Last year, I think we got bullied on the ice a lot and this year, we are kind of like the bully on the ice. I just feel more comfortable from the transition from the 17s to the 18s.”
He credits the training this past spring as another reason for the team’s overall success this season.
“I don’t think anyone took it lightly on our team,” he said. “We took it as serious as possible, especially with the new weights and facility that we were finally in. I think that has really helped us on the ice this year.”
The 6-foot-3, 187-pound forward can see the benefits that training has brought in terms of his development.
“I weighed 165 at the top 40 camp and now, I’ve gained more muscle and weight,” explained Cassetti. “It’s a big jump and I still have a lot more to go. Our coaches and the staff they are preparing us, not necessarily for the next game but for the years to come.
“We are on the ice every single day. Personally, I don’t know any other program that gets to do that. Weightlifting is a big factor for us. It makes us more prepared for when we get on the ice and play the college games.”
Maybe that is why it ended up being such an easy decision for the Pleasanton, California, native when it came to picking his future college program, Boston College. Of course, there was some family influence from when he was growing up.
“As a kid, I always visited the east coast and loved it,” said Cassetti. “I pictured myself going to college there and playing hockey there. My dad grew up in New York City. Being from California, there are no colleges close to my home that I can play at so it was a dream of mine as a little kid to play for an East Coast school. That was the biggest factor for me.”
He knows that playing against college opponents this year will only help him when he transitions to BC next year.
“I think that getting the feel for and the pace of the game is great,” explained Cassetti. “Being able to be on the ice with bigger guys is important. If you surround yourself with better players, you are bound to get better.”
One of his highlights of the year thus far was the Nov. 18 game at the University of Michigan. Despite the 6-3 setback, Cassetti took home plenty of memories from that night that will stick with him for a while.
“The Michigan game was super cool. We know a lot of the kids on that team,” remarked Cassetti. “It’s great for our billet families too since they can come and watch us play since it’s so close for them. The ice at Yost [Ice Arena] is great. It’s an awesome rink. The game was close except the last few minutes of the period. The atmosphere was fantastic.”
For now, Cassetti is just focused on the next few months and making one final run with the U18 team. He knows what he needs to do to be able to wear the jersey at the IIHF World U18 Championship in April.
“This year, the stat sheet hasn’t necessarily been my friend,” said Cassetti, who has two goals and four points in 35 games. “I have been playing as hard as I can and treating each day as a tryout. I need to play with intensity and urgency, and get pucks low and pucks on the net and hope for the best.
“I have to stick with the process. I can’t just hope for things to happen — I have to go out and do it myself. I think if I keep playing the way I am playing, I will get some lucky bounces my way and see my name on the stat sheet. It’s not the most important thing to me but rather I want to play hard.”
That is just all part of the pride that Cassetti feels when he puts on his skates and USA sweater.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo by Rena Laverty
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