Photo by Rena Laverty
Whether you're a Devils fan or a Rangers faithful, we can all agree that New Jersey is fertile ground for aspiring, young hockey players, thanks to a stream of historically talented pros to look up to and top-tier efforts at the grassroots level.
One of those aspiring players is Tyler Muszelik, one of the U.S. Under-17 National Team's goaltenders and a Long Valley, New Jersey native.
Muszelik began his career as a goalie by happenstance. At the age of seven, the goalie for his recreational team had gotten hurt, and coaches needed to quickly find a replacement for the next game. Muszelik jumped at the opportunity and quickly fell in love with the position.
"They needed a guy for the next game," said Muszelik. "I played and I just loved it."
Favorite NHL Team
New Jersey Devils
Favorite NHL Player
22 Jump Street
Favorite Musical Artist
Favorite Netflix Binge
The Lord of the Rings
Playing goalie in hockey is not for the faint of heart, especially when a near-frozen puck hit just right can reach incredible speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. But blocking shots happened to be right up Muszelik's alley.
"I guess you have to be a little bit crazy to do it, but I like it," said Muszelik. "It's a nice feeling when the puck hits you."
For Muszelik, growing his hockey game in The Garden State was especially impactful, courtesy of a pair of Devils goaltenders the netminder grew up watching in Cory Schneider and, arguably one of the best goaltenders to come through the NHL, the great Martin Brodeur.
"Marty Brodeur, he's probably the best goalie I could have grown up watching," said Muszelik. "I went to a lot of his games and it was just awesome to see him play."
Then came Schneider.
"I actually met him a few times, so he's been a pretty big mentor in my development," said Muszelik. "It was great to watch both of them."
As Muszelik continued to develop and progress in the net, he kept molding his game to emulate goalies around the league while also finding his own personal flare.
"I think Carter Hart is one of my players I try to be like," said Muszelik. "Same with Frederik Anderson because they're both pretty big guys. But I mean, at the same time, I try to be myself too."
The Devils certainly had the role models for Muszelik to model, but perhaps more important for Muszelik's development was the mentorship within New Jersey's youth hockey scene.
"My goalie coach from back home, Terry Jarkowsky, had a huge impact on my development," said Muszelik. "Since I was like 10 years old, he's just been there for me, no matter the good or the bad. He's like another dad to me. I could talk to him about hockey or other stuff, and he's always there for me. It was just really nice to have him in my corner."
Fast forward a few years, Muszelik has taken what he learned from the greats in New Jersey to Plymouth, Michigan, where he dons the red, white and blue in his first season with the National Team Development Program.
For Muszelik, wearing the USA crest is a unique privilege.
"I remember the first time we threw on the jersey at Select 15 Festival, and even then I was like 'this is so cool.' Now we're in the real jersey every day ... it's just awesome."
Photo by Rena Laverty
During his two years at the NTDP, Muszelik hopes to keep his development on an upward trajectory, building on his days as a youth player on the east coast.
With a 6-5-0 record and a shutout in 580 minutes in the net on his ledger, things are looking good for the young goaltender.
"I just want to become the best that I can be and take every day one day at a time, and do my best," said Muszelik. "Another big goal of mine is go play college hockey and dominate, and then hopefully one day play professionally. Being here is going to help me do that."
Despite the hurdles the NTDP has faced this season as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muszelik feels privileged to be skating at USA Hockey Arena with his teammates and the U17 coaching staff.
"It's just such a special place," said Muszelik. "The opportunity with [Brian Galivan] and the development we get compared to any other 16-year-olds is just unmatched. Playing against the best 16-year-olds in the country every day, you're bound to get better."
Even with a reduced game schedule and ever-changing logistics this season, Muszelik believe the pandemic has brought the U17s even closer together.
"Now the whole team is spending more time with each other," said Muszelik. "The hard times we're going through, it brings us even closer. We have a real special group."
Muszelik has a lot of people to thank for helping fuel his drive to be the best, from the youth coaches he skated with in New Jersey, to his idols around the NHL. Now, with the help of the NTDP, he plans to take his game to the next level, and have some fun while he's at it.
"There's no place like [The NTDP] in the world, so it's just an honor to be here. I'm going to enjoy every moment here. There's no other place I'd want to be."