Photo by Daryl Marshke
In hockey, the game is about how you adapt and overcome challenges. For defenseman Aidan Hreschuk, going into his Under-17 season, that meant a new team and teammates, a new training regimen at the National Team Development Program and yes, moving away from home in sunny California to wintry Plymouth, Michigan.
But a year later, Hreschuk is now an NTDP veteran and a leader of the Under-18 squad, fully knowing what to expect as he makes his way through the 2020-21 campaign. Through the help of summer workouts from [NTDP Director of Sports Science] Brian Galivan and equipment from Chris Martin, Hreschuk’s trainer back home in California, the 5-foot-11 blueliner was able to prepare mentally and physically for year two.
“I was able to get more than ready for the season, get my body where it needed to be,” Hreschuk explained. “I was lucky. A lot of guys don't have those capabilities during the kind of time we're living in. I think that's biggest thing was I knew more about how to take care of my body and where it needed to be by the time I came back here.”
But a new season brings new challenges. Not only does that include navigating a game and practice schedule that has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a brand-new coaching staff for the Under-18 Team just days before the season started.
Late in August, right before it was time to report to USA Hockey Arena, head coach Dan Muse was selected to lead the U18s, filling the vacancy left by John Wroblewski, who accepted the head coach position with the AHL’s Ontario Reign. Greg Mauldin was brought in as an assistant coach to round out the staff with Mike Leone, the lone holdover from Hreschuk’s first season.
“I think we've adapted pretty quickly, actually,” he said. It was kind of hectic for a little bit going into the season, a lot of changes going on. But both the new coaches have been unbelievable for me.”
This is Mauldin’s first position as a coach after a 16-year playing career that took him through the AHL and NHL along with professional stops in Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and most recently, Norway. As a long-time player, Hreschuk has felt a quick connection with the new coach and has tried to soak up all that he can.
“Coach Mauldin has been great. He just came off playing so he knows what it's like. He's had to work his butt off to get where he is and nothing's been handed to him. I think that has been really cool to see how his career played out because of hard work and what he’s been able to accomplish.”
While a player in his younger days and at DIII’s Stonehill College, Muse’s experience has since come from behind the bench. He’s a former Clark Cup champion coach with the Chicago Steel and was at the game’s highest level with the Nashville Predators prior to coming to the NTDP. Hreschuk says his experience has led him to become a great motivator for him and the U18s.
Favorite NHL Team
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Duncan Keith & Roman Josi
Favorite USA Hockey Moment
Miracle on Ice
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That 70's Show
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“Coach Muse has been great, too,” he continued. “He’s a great hockey mind and super motivated guy who has just preached hard work and really made us focus on the little things and details and playing for each other. And I think that's what you want in a coach, someone who pushes you, someone who's excited to be at the rink, excited to be better. It's just been a really cool experience.”
Although the coaches are new faces, the teammates are the same for Hreschuk, which includes plenty of elite talent that will hear their names called during the NHL Draft. More specifically, the Boston College commit claims the entire “D” group as even a little bit closer than the rest of the team overall.
Hreschuk has been paired with Roman Schmidt on the blue-line so far this year, and gets to watch guys like Luke Hughes, Sean Behrens and the rest of the U18 defensemen every day in practice and games. He loves the opportunity to learn from watching others.
Photo by Daryl Marshke
“We try and build each other up but we're also super competitive,” he said about the defensemen. “We all want to push each other and that helps out a lot. But I think you notice little tendencies that guys do, maybe they fake a certain way or how they release the puck, little things that kind of separate these players.”
There is one newcomer on the ice this season – forward Andre Gasseau was added to the Under-18 Team this summer after he played three games with the U17s last year. For Hreschuk, there was no acclimation period to including a new teammate, they were adding an old friend.
Gasseau, a Garden Grove, California, native played with Hreschuk and fellow defenseman Ty Murchison for the LA Junior Kings growing up. The trio has now reacclimated at the NTDP, and Hreschuk and Gasseau will remain teammates after this season at Boston College, where Gasseau just committed. Did Hreschuk play any role in that decision?
“Yeah, I definitely did a little bit,” he said laughing. “I was pushing him, some behind the scenes action. He’s having such a good year right now and can go anywhere he wanted, really. It was just kind of a good fit for them to be able to get him and a good fit for him and obviously both of us being together is really cool to add on to it.”
Hreschuk calls Boston College his dream school. Both of his parents are from the area and he has lots of family all over the east coast. His decision for his post NTDP-career was a no-brainer.
“My goal was always to go back to the east coast to play D1,” he siad. “When I had the opportunity to pick where I wanted to go, BC was my number one school. It’s just a storied program with a ton of success, they send a lot of guys pro. To be on a winning team on the east coast with my family is really cool for me.”
It didn’t hurt that he will get to learn from one of the best to ever man a hockey bench. Eagles head coach Jerry York is the NCAA’s all-time winningest head coach and Hreschuk has developed a great relationship with the entire BC staff.
“That’s another attraction of going there, to play for a guy like Coach York, such a legend, a Hall of Famer,” he said. It’s really cool to be able to know that I’m going to play under a coach like that. The team has been really successful, they had a great year last year and they’re going to be a contender again this year. To be moving into that with that kind of coaching is really exciting.”
Plenty remains for Hreschuk and the Under-18 Team to prove during their remaining time at the NTDP. The biggest goal remains the same, to win the Under-18 Men’s World Championship in April. This year, the team will be defending home ice as the tournament is scheduled to be played at USA Hockey Arena. But there’s an extra incentive for this group to take home gold.
“That [tournament] is everything. It’s even more now because we're doing it for the ’02 group that missed out on that opportunity, that put everything into it, so we're doing it for them. We're doing it for ourselves. Since we've been here, that's what we've been preaching is gold medal. Everything we do is for that. It's huge and it would mean everything.”
Photo by Daryl Marshke