Photo by Rena Laverty
There was one person that Jake Sanderson could not wait to see last summer and that was his older brother, Ben. The hockey brothers were almost at opposite ends of the continent last year and had plenty of catching up to do.
“It was great to have time with him to catch up and ask each other stuff about our years, the people we met and the places that we went,” Sanderson said of his brother, a forward for the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia Hockey League last year and Colorado College commit.
“He is somebody that I looked up to like my dad. My brother has had a lot of bad luck in his career, but he is one of the most positive people that I can look up to. Whenever I am in a bad situation, I think there has to be a positive like he does.”
The duo even spent the summer training together, pushing each other to get better for this season.
“That was good,” said Sanderson. “We trained in Calgary for a bit and then, in Whitefish [Montana] at our cabin. When we go to Whitefish, there is not a gym, so we go to a football field and do footwork and throw hay bales.”
In addition to his brother, Sanderson was able to get some valuable advice from his dad, Geoff, who had a 17-year NHL career, so he was familiar with some of the ups and downs that he was experiencing on the ice.
“Last year, it was difficult, and he said that you always will have difficult years in your hockey career,” said Sanderson. “You have to stick it out through that year and hopefully, the next year will be better."
And true to form, Sanderson is already noticing a big difference on the ice in his second season with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, noting a boost in confidence that has come with more strength.
“Playing as a bigger body, being more physically built, it makes it easier,” said Sanderson. “I have gained almost 20 pounds of muscle since I came to the program. It has made a huge difference.”
One key to that added muscle was the training in May of 2018, after Sanderson and his then Under-17 teammates had finished the season. It was a grind, but it also helped to develop and bring the team together.
“Nobody trains or practices like us, but I think it is setting us up for a really good career,” he said. “In the spring, we went to a hill with Brian [Galivan, director of sports science] and did some hill sprints and ran around a park with a big rope on your back. It was definitely different. It was good to be with the team and I think it brought everyone closer.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
The 6-foot-2, 186-pound blueliner has spent a considerable amount of time working on his defensive game, including watching plenty of video.
“My gaps by taking time and space away from my opponent,” he cited as an area of improvement. “We have been working on our gaps the entire time we have been here, skating into guys and angling them off.
“From the video sessions, you can take away both positive and negatives. We watch a lot of NHL video too, watching ex-NTDP players on what they do and how we incorporate it. It’s a good thing we have the video to make us better.”
All this work has definitely translated on the ice, especially when it comes to playing college teams. It’s been a challenge at times but for Sanderson, he wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.
Photo by Rena Laverty
“That was a totally different world,” he said. “Our Cornell game was probably one of the hardest games I have played in my entire life. All those guys were huge, they were strong, they can skate, and they have skill. They have everything.
“Playing college games sets us up to be ready for next year. We will not be totally blindsided and will know what will happen. We will know the pace of the game and what is expected.”
Sanderson was able to play against his future college team — the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks on Dec. 28. Despite the U18s dropping a 3-1 decision at USA Hockey Arena, it was an experience he will never forget.
“It was cool to play against future guys that I will play with next year. I will probably know those guys on the team for the rest of my life since I will be going to school with them,” he said.
One of those teammates will be a familiar face in his current defensive partner, Tyler Kleven. When it came selecting his future college team, it was an easy decision for Sanderson.
“I really liked the coaching staff,” said Sanderson. “It was intriguing to me because they are really good about developing defenseman. The facilities they have will help set you up to be an NHL player — you just have to put in the work.”
Sanderson credits the growth and development of the team as a big reason that Team USA captured its first international title — the Five Nations Tournament in early November. It was a special feeling for him and something that he wants to build on.
“That tournament was a really good building block for us,” he said. “We went through a lot of adversity our first year and we didn’t win a lot, especially internationally. Having that win was a confidence booster and finally, it was like we won. Going back to work after that tournament, we were hungry for more.”
One thing remains the same is how special it is for Sanderson to wear the red, white and blue.
“It’s really important,” he said. “I have family who live in the U.S. and obviously, I was born in the U.S. I’m not just representing the team; I’m representing them. Every time I put that logo on in front and the name in the back, it’s important.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.