Photo by Rena Laverty
PLYMOUTH, Mich. - What a difference a year makes.
After winning 19 games last season, the National Team Development Program Under-18 Team already has 11 wins under its belt, including seven wins over NCAA Division I hockey opponents.
U18 head coach, Dan Muse, is excited to see the growth and development from the team’s U17 season.
“In any season, you have to see how things start to see how the group is and how they react to different situations,” Muse said. “Even if we are winning, we still have to get back to work. We cannot get caught up in how many games we win or lose. Rather, our focus needs to be on getting better.”
Photo by Michael Caples
One of the biggest differences for this team compared to its U17 year is its record in one-goal games. As U17 players, they were 3-9 in one-goal finishes. This season, they have already won four one-goal games, the latest being a 7-6 overtime win at Army on Oct. 23.
“One thing that stood out to me is their ability to stay with it during the course of the game,” Muse said. “Early on this season, when the game was tight at the end, such as against Omaha [3-2 win] or when we played at Michigan State [4-3 win] … it was all about having that next shift mentality. You never know when the team will learn the lesson and build upon it. We are happy that we have shown that ability early in the season.”
Is there a secret to the team success? For forward Will Smith, who currently leads the U18s in scoring with 25 points, it is all about proving everyone wrong.
“Some people had written us off,” the Lexington, Massachusetts, native said. “We heard about it, but we knew we had to tune it out.
“We were together for spring training for six weeks in May and we formed a special bond. We knew as soon as we got here this year that we had something special.”
The team credits the grueling May training as a huge part of their success this season. It was six weeks of not only training, but also spending time together and bonding as a team.
For defenseman Paul Fischer, there was something about the spring training that really connected the group.
“It’s been fun [this season]. With the group, we are really close-knit and tight”, the River Forest, Illinois, native said. “We put the time and effort in spring training and it’s showing this year.”
Fischer’s teammate Gabe Perreault concurs with that assessment.
“You are together every day,” the Hinsdale, Illinois, native said. “You work out with your teammates every day. You get even closer with the guys. That has made a difference this year.”
It didn’t stop there. The U18 players took home the lessons they learned from the season and kept working.
For Smith, he understood the importance of taking advantage of the little things to set up his second season with the NTDP. He took the time over the summer to be ready for this year.
“I would work out four-five times a week,” he said. “I played in a 3-on-3 league with the local pros and doing skills work with some of the NHLers that I have watched. They got me ready for this year. They told me to appreciate where you are and take it all in. [Former NTDP forward] Matt Boldy told me to take advantage of the moment and have fun.”
Meanwhile, Perreault understood the lessons from his U17 year and carried them with him into the summer.
Photo by Rena Laverty
“I tried to go into the gym more than on the ice. That was the part I needed for me,” he said. “Last year, I was able to gain some weight and muscle. I gained 17 pounds of muscle mass and almost 30 pounds.”
Even Muse can see the difference on the ice with his team this season.
“The May training really brought this team together,” he said. “You spend that month together and with that type of training, it really helps build confidence.”
The U18s are coming off a pair of wins on the road at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Army. They are set to play three straight home games at USA Hockey Arena against the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL over the next two weekends.
For Perrault, who is currently second on the team in scoring with 23 points, playing the college games has been fun and he has taken to heart some little things that he will apply as the team heads back into USHL play.
“Do not fear the college teams,” he said. “We were getting the bounces and winning some games. We are the only guys in our age group that get to do this. It’s pretty special for us to get used to it. Going from the college games and back to the USHL, we need to show that we can still have success.”
The team is still hungry and looking to continue its hot start.
“We need to keep working every day,” said Fischer, who has nine points this season. “Don’t focus too far ahead on what is next. We need to go to the rink and be the best we can on that particular day. Compete against each other and make each other better players. That is a big part of it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.