Photo by Rena Laverty
All it took was watching an Anaheim Ducks game on TV for Aidan Hreschuk to be hooked on hockey. No matter that he was only 2 years old at the time.
“I saw it on TV, so I wanted to try it and my parents signed me up,” said Hreschuk, who grew up in Long Beach, California.
His journey through the sport progressed rapidly from there. Beginning with a learn-to-skate program, Hreschuk quickly moved into competitive hockey around age 6 via rec tournaments, and at age 10 he started playing club hockey.
Now he’s a defender on USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-17 team.
“Hockey was different, and I liked how fast it was,” he said. “Once I tried it, I was glued to it.”
Hreschuk’s parents, David and Theresa, have always been his biggest fans, even if it meant going on some long drives so Aidan could pursue his favorite sport. Growing up he often played at the Los Angeles Kings’ facility, which was about 45 minutes away — without traffic.
“They have always been supportive,” he said. “My dad knew hockey and always liked it but never played it. They really got into it with me, and we fell in love with it together.”
While playing for the LA Junior Kings 16U team last season, Hreschuk earned an invite to try out for the NTDP.
“It was nerve-wracking, but it was definitely where I wanted to be,” he said. “I felt a little pressure, but it was fun. There have been a couple kids from California who have made it. I wanted to play college hockey, and this is where kids are getting drafted.”
Hreschuk, a 5-11, 180-pound blueliner, came to Plymouth, Michigan, with a perfect role model to look up to. Former NTDP defenseman and current University of Michigan blueliner Cam York (2017-19) is a native of Anaheim, California.
“Cam York was a talented player that we all knew about growing up,” Hreschuk said. “Now he’s a first rounder and a left-handed defenseman from California. It really matches up for me. I can see what he is doing. He is living out the dream that I had when I was younger. You can see the success he has had and how the NTDP was a good fit.”
Hreschuk trained with York this summer and took the older player’s advice to heart.
“He told me that it would not always be easy, but you will have to work through it,” Hreschuk said. “I have seen that already and I think that is good advice for anyone who is coming through this program.”
Finding comfort in the new routine in Michigan has proven to be the most challenging part, Hreschuk said.
Photo: Rena Laverty
“I have been doing the same thing growing up,” he said. “I have played with the same team since 10U, lived with my parents, made the same drive and have pretty much had the same coaches since my youth hockey experience. At the NTDP, I had to make adjustments to my routine including getting used to new living arrangements and eating to properly maintain my body, as prescribed by Brian [Galivan, director of sports science]."
He is still missing one thing from his hometown.
“The sun — that is a big one back here,” Hreschuk said. “It started snowing so early this year and I’m not ready for it.”
Since his arrival in Plymouth in late August, he has already noticed the improvement in his game, particularly on the defensive end. He’s worked hard to adapt to the higher level of play and shed bad habits that he was able to get away with at lower levels.
“Now, if you don’t compete and you don’t work on your defensive game, you are going to get exposed,” he said. “It’s about details and positioning in the defensive zone.”
Hreschuk credits the work with associate coach, Dan Hinote, who played 503 games in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, for a big part of his development, which includes watching video.
“He’s a great coach and a great guy,” Hreschuk said. “He knows everything about the game, especially the little things that it takes. He is teaching us what to do to get to the next level. It is things that we are going to use for the rest of our careers.
“We didn’t do a lot of video back home, but they go through so much tape and they put the time in. They know exactly what they are looking for so it’s been helpful for me.”
Hreschuk credits those little details as a big reason for the U17s' early-season success, which included a second-place finish at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
“We play really hard and that is the biggest thing,” he said. “A lot of guys on the team are willing to do the little things behind the scenes, not even on the ice. There are guys that don’t get the spotlight but they do what it takes to win. I think that is why we have had some success in the USHL and our first tournament.”
He knows that they can still take important lessons from the tournament and apply it to the next few weeks before the team heads to Russia for its second international tournament in mid-December.
Photo by Rena Laverty
“We got a different taste and there is a different playing style that we hadn’t seen before,” he said. “We need to take that and address it and figure out how to play with it. In the USHL, we can watch their tape, but we had no pre-scouting for the World Challenge. That will definitely help us going into our next tournament as we will have played basically all the teams.
“For us, we ran out of gas at the end. We play so hard, a go-go-go style and try to outwork teams and at the end of the day I don’t think we had that much. We need to work on training harder so we are ready.”
At the end of the day, there is one special thing for Hreschuk, and that is just how special it is to wear the colors of his country.
“It’s so special,” he said. “When you are out there for the anthem or that face-off against the other team, you get the chills. It’s special for sure. It’s big because we are a tight family and playing for something bigger.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.