Photo by Rena Laverty
When he reflects back now, USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 goaltender Drew Commesso realizes just how much a change in mentality has helped him when it comes to his focus.
Perhaps surprisingly, it is focusing a little less that has made the difference.
“Last year, I would go into games super focused,” he explained. “It would start with my pregame routine where I had my headphones in and wouldn’t talk to any of the guys. I would stay zeroed in on what I had to do. I found that I was playing longer games; I had never played 20-minute periods. Towards the third period, I thought I was getting mentally drained and I wasn’t as sharp and focused.
“This year, I started becoming looser before games, interacting with my teammates but still staying focused. Finding that balance is important between staying too focused and staying loose. You have to find that balance. I worked on that a ton this summer, what makes me happy and calm before games.”
Commesso credits part of his growth in working with goalie coach, Kevin Reiter. He has picked up some valuable lessons from Reiter, including one special aspect of his game.
“Puck handling is one thing we have worked on a ton this year,” said Commesso, 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds. “As we are playing colleges and older kids, the game progresses quicker than we are used to and helping out 'D' is so important to make their jobs easier. Whatever we can do to help them, it is important for us. The transitions behind the net with the 'D' and stopping the puck and playing it to them as quick and clean as possible is one thing he has really helped me on.”
In addition, Commesso participated in the Strelow Goaltending Camp in May where he was able work with some of the top goalies in the country. For Commesso, it allowed him a chance to learn from the best.
“It was a great gauge to see where I stood against the older kids,” he said. “Everyone there is a fantastic goalie and they are great guys off the ice too. It was such a fun week and something that I won’t forget.
“It was great to learn from some of the guys that made the World Junior camp like Spencer [Knight], Isaiah [Saville] and Dustin [Wolf]. It was great to pick their brains and see what worked for them. It’s cool to see how every goalie is unique and how they have their own little quirks and traits. It was cool to be with them; it was an honor.”
Photo: Rena Laverty
Access to great coaching is one of the reasons Commesso chose the NTDP and why he chose Boston University to play his college hockey. Team USA’s Jan. 3 game with BU at USA Hockey Arena is circled on Commesso’s calendar.
“It will be pretty cool,” said Commesso. “I grew up watching BU as a kid. It will be surreal playing against them this year and I’m looking forward to it. My whole family is coming out to the game and it’s my sister’s birthday the day after. It will be pretty special.
“I’m really close to their goaltending coach, Brian Eklund. It will be nice to have him watch a game in person even if it’s against his team. It will be cool to play against the coaches who have recruited me too. I can’t wait.”
For the Norwell, Massachusetts, native, it was an easy choice to attend BU. Not only will he be close to home and able to play in front of family and friends, but he is a life-long BU fan and playing for the Terriers is a dream come true.
Photo by Rena Laverty
“Having the goaltending coach there was huge for me,” said Commesso. “He has been my goalie coach my whole life. I have always gone to the games as a kid. You can find pictures of me when I was 7 and 8 wearing a BU hat. I never thought I would have a chance to play for them but when an opportunity presented itself a few years ago, there was no other choice. It was such a no-brainer for me. It is my dream school. I was so excited that I had the opportunity to go there and can’t wait for next year.”
Commesso will step onto campus more experienced than most, already having college games under his belt. He understands just how important that experience will be for him.
“It’s huge. We play a ton of college games and almost no other kid has played that level,” he said. “It’s almost like we have a half season of college under our belt. It really gives up a huge jump start, and we are the youngest kids playing college hockey. Playing against that older competition, it will be even better because we are a year older.”
Also important is lessons learned playing internationally. Commesso and the U.S. earned their first international tournament title with a win in the Five Nations in early November in Sweden.
“It was such a special moment,” Commesso said. “The whole game was surreal. We were thinking ever since last season ended and we went into spring training, and that is all that has been on my mind, that first international tournament.
“We were underdogs because no one thought we could do it, based on last year. We grew so much as a team and worked so hard; I was just happy that we won it.”
Commesso was the starting goaltender in a 3-1 win over host Sweden, stopping 29-of-30 shots on Nov. 10. But Commesso remembers it mostly as a team effort.
“That final game I still think was the best game we have played together as a team,” he said. “They made my job so easy. Our defensemen played so well and our forwards, everyone fought for each other. Everyone was focused on winning that game and doing whatever it took.
“I still remember when that final buzzer sounded and we got together, that was one of the best hockey moments of my career. I was so happy to be part of this team.”
Maybe that is why hearing the U.S. national anthem at the end of the Sweden game took on a new special meaning to him.
“I have seen the pictures of the other teams, with their arms linked together, singing the national anthem at the blue line,” said Commesso. “Ever since I came here, I wanted to do that so badly. It felt so surreal, almost like a dream when it finally came on. It was awesome and something I will never forget.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.