For most skaters who come through the National Team Development Program, hockey was love at first sight.
From the moment players step on the ice, they’re drawn to the speed, intensity and thrill of the sport.
Once the skates are laced up, there’s no looking back.
But thanks to a harrowing first encounter on a homemade rink at the young age of 5, U.S. National Under-17 Team defenseman Charlie Leddy was understandably hesitant to jump into the sport.
“I was at my godfather’s house, and he built a rink and forced me to go on and start skating, and I fell through,” said Leddy. “It was only up to like my ankles, but it traumatized me as a little bit, and I didn't want to play hockey ever again.”
After a bit of reassurance, however, Leddy stepped back on the ice, and quickly built a remarkable hockey resume. At the age of 13, the Fairfield, Connecticut native was a member of the Mid Fairfield Jr. Rangers that won the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament in 2017.
The 6-0 defenseman then took his talents an hour north of Fairfield to Avon Old Farms School, a school in Connecticut known for producing some of the National Hockey League’s most notable skaters, including Cam Atkinson, Nick Bonino and Jonathan Quick.
Leddy excelled with the Winged Beavers during the 2019-20 season, but when the chance to represent his country presented itself, the choice was easy.
“I want to represent my country,” Leddy said. “That's been a goal of mine, and probably everyone on the team since they were little, to play for USA.”
Before making the move to Michigan, the farthest Leddy had traveled was up I-95 North to Avon for school.
“I moved once, and it was across the street, so I’ve lived in Connecticut my whole life. I grew up in Fairfield, and then going to Avon was only about an hour away.”
Despite this, Leddy knew the chance to wear the USA jersey was too great an opportunity to pass up and took the challenge of moving across the country as a teenager in stride.
“It's the best developmental program and the best place to go as a 16-year-old kid to complete your dream of hopefully going pro, so it was an easy choice. I've been [in Plymouth] three months, so I'm definitely settled in. It's a little different out here, but not too much different.”
Settled may be an understatement. Leddy has made his presence felt on both ends of the ice in his first season with the NTDP, serving as a sturdy, reliable defenseman in the defensive zone while maintaining a physical presence in the offensive end. The 6-foot blueliner has dished out seven assists, including a pair of multi-point performances, and is plus-6 through 12 games.
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"Charlie plays a tough, hard-nose game, he's a great guy who sticks up for his teammates and a leader, we saw that as a younger player on a older Avon team in his evaluation year," said Rod Braceful, assistant director of player personnel at the NTDP. "Charlie is a competitor and he wants to win, you have to have players like Charlie on the ice and in the locker room if you want to win, he plays for the guy next to him, and puts the team before himself. That selflessness just goes to show what type of person Charlie is.
In addition to putting extra work in in practice and lift sessions, Leddy attributes his success on the ice to the team’s chemistry both on and off the sheet. That chemistry comes especially handy during this tumultuous season, marred by cancelations and postponements in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Team chemistry is off the charts,” Leddy said. “Everyone's friends with everyone, everyone gets along with everyone, and we're all like family – at this point, like brothers. Even in not playing that many games [the team] is still as tight as it can be.”
In his two years with the NTDP, Leddy hopes continue maturing defensively and honing his skills on both sides of the ice, in addition to strengthening his leadership skills and becoming the best possible teammate.
And in 2022, he hopes the experience culminates in a gold medal the IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship.
Whatever happens between now and then, however, Leddy is grateful to don the red, white and blue.
“It's special. Those are the two words I would use to describe it. It’s a special moment every time you get to put the jersey on. From a youth standpoint, everyone looks up to you, so it's just really exciting.”