Photo by Rena Laverty
For USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 forward, Hunter Strand, there is one simple item that is making all the difference for him on the ice this season.
“It’s my confidence level. You know your teammates better and everyone gets along,” he said.
He credits a grueling May training camp as a big part of that extra confidence. It really helped bring the team together.
“The training helped us all and it really helped our relationship grow as a team,” said Strand. “It helped us become better players and better friends with each other. We are with each other six hours a day and even after that, we will go to each other’s houses and hang out or do extra activities.”
The 5-foot-11, 174-pounder credits the NTDP facilities for a big part of his growth on the ice. Having access to those resources gives him all the tools he needs to improve his game.
“It’s open almost 24/7 and I swear the gym is open all the time,” Strand said. “You can stay after school or practice to shoot pucks. Kids are in there until 7 p.m. at night. Other places don’t let that happen.”
Not only has this helped with his confidence level, but it also has helped him develop his body, which he has noticed in games.
“I have added seven pounds [of muscle since last year],” Strand said. “I’m not the biggest guy but it helps in front of the net for sure. They don’t just shove you down. That is the nice part.”
He also credits several of the drills that the team works on in practice in helping that confidence level on the ice. There is one drill in particular that he really likes.
“Our drill, McAvoy [named after 2013-15 NTDP player Charlie McAvoy] is a good drill,” he said. “We get a puck behind the net, we have to do a tight turn around the net and get it out in front and get a shot and then, we backcheck.
“It’s a good drill to work on everything. It’s about tight turns in the corner, behind-the-net play and in front of the net, I don’t get shoved around as much.”
This extra work was definitely noted when Strand and his U18 teammates captured their first international tournament title — the Five Nations Tournament in Sweden in early November. It was a culmination of hard work and sacrifice over the last 15 months and it felt very sweet to him.
“It was the greatest feeling ever to finally win an international tournament,” he said. “Just being able to represent your country and knowing that you came out on top, especially after everything we have been through with each other.
“The Sweden game [a 3-1 win on Nov. 10] seemed like everyone was clicking, and everyone was doing their job. We were all coming together as one. It was probably my favorite game.”
Photo: Rena Laverty
In addition to the training, Strand credits the college games as helping the squad prepare for international play.
“It helps prepare us for international play, especially the physicality,” he said. “Teams sometimes underestimate us because we play against the college teams.
He already has played his own future college team — the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Oct. 6. Despite the U18s coming up short in the game, it was an experience that Strand will always remember.
“It was really cool,” he said. “The guys were messing around and calling me nicknames and stuff. They were giving me some extra love in front of the net and chirping me. I tried to chirp back.
“It was fun playing against them. I know quite a few of the guys on Notre Dame’s team. We did some activities together and played some football.”
It was an easy decision when it came time to pick his future college.
Photo by Rena Laverty
“The campus is amazing,” Strand said. “Everything else was just great. They are No. 1 in business and that is what I’m leaning towards. The atmosphere, the people and the class sizes — everything about it felt right for me. I have an extra year [Strand is a junior in high school] so I’m planning to play in the USHL next year and then go to college there.”
Strand and his U18 teammates still have some upcoming college games in their schedule, including home contests against the University of North Dakota (Dec. 28), University of Wisconsin (Jan. 1) and Boston University (Jan. 3). He knows how important these games are to help in his development.
“Along with physicality and seeing how they play, it is going to teach us and show us how we have to play in order to win gold at the Under-18 World Championships,” he said. “That is what our goal is.
“We need to keep up the hard work and take every day as its own. We need to get bigger in the gym, bigger on the ice and keep improving our skill.”
One thing will never change for Strand and that is how special it is for him to wear the colors of his country.
“It means everything,” he said. “You know what you are fighting for — the red, white and blue. My grandpa fought in Vietnam for the Navy, and it means a lot to me that I’m fighting like he did, but just in a different way. He is proud of me wearing the colors.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.