Photo by Rena Laverty
It’s hard to believe, but for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, the season is starting to near its end as both the U.S. National Under-17 and Under-18 Teams head into their February international breaks.
For the U17s, the team will head to Switzerland for the second time this season to play in a Five Nations Tournament, marking its final international competition of the season. The team will play four games in four days, starting with a Feb. 8 contest against Sweden.
The U18s will also be heading to Europe, as they’ll play in a Four Nations Tournament in Finland, with the team’s first game against Sweden on Feb. 10.
Charlie Pardue and Kamil Bednarik hug after a Team USA goal (Photo: Rena Laverty)
Kamil Bednarik (Elmhurst, Ill.) and Teddy Stiga (Sudbury, Mass.), both forwards on the Under-17 Team, are excited about their final international event. They understand what needs to be done to have continued success.
“We are expecting it will be a little harder [this time],” said Bednarik, who has 13 goals and 25 points this season through 36 games. “We have played a few of the teams already. They know how we are going to play so it will be a little tougher.”
“I’m definitely looking forward to the Czechia game. We haven’t played them yet this year, so I know it will be a good game.”
For Stiga, knowing that this is the U17 team’s final international showing for the year, he pointed to the team wanting to go out and play the right way.
“We have played our best when we are jelling together and playing to our identity, just like our captain Charlie Pardue (Winnetka, Ill.) has told us,” Stiga said. “When we play to our identity, we tend to win and still have that individual success.”
The Under-17 team will enter its final tournament with a 10-1 record so far in international play, which includes capturing top honors at both the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in November and the U17 Four Nations Tournament in December.
Stiga can see what a huge difference playing against USHL competition has made in team preparation when it comes to returning to the international stage and playing against their own age group.
“It helps a lot playing in the USHL,” he said. “The international tournaments and games are not easy. It’s the best competition at our age. In the USHL, we are playing against bigger, faster, and stronger guys. When we go back to play international, we have more time and space. We can use our skill more.”
That skill will have a little more space to show off in this tournament as well, as the teams will be playing on an Olympic-sized ice sheet in Switzerland.
Bednarik echoes this same thought process on the team’s development.
“There is a bit of a difference when we play in our own age group,” he said. “You see a similar type of player build and the strength is closer. It’s still going to be tough. The development with USA Hockey is unbelievable. You definitely get better.”
While the U18s won’t be playing their final international tournament at the Four Nations in Finland this month (they’ll head to the IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship in Switzerland in April), they’re still looking to come out with a strong performance.
For U18 defenseman Drew Fortescue (Pearl River, N.Y.) and forward Charlie Cerrato (Fallston, Md.), they know it will be the little things that will lead to success in Finland.
“We need to stick to what we have been doing all year,” Fortescue said. “We have to keep working hard. The way we defend is such a big part of our team. We need to focus on our defense and play well.
“All the games [in this tournament] are important. I’m excited to go to Finland and play them in their own country.”
Cerrato had three assists in the first international tournament this season, which helped Team USA go undefeated at the Five Nations Tournament in November at USA Hockey Arena.
“I think as a team, we need to play for each other and together,” Cerrato said. “If we play as one, and play how we should, we can have success. We need to stay on that path. I think it’s going to be a great tournament.”
Cerrato and Fortescue smiling on the ice (Photo: Rena Laverty)
The U18s head into the Four Nations Tournament on a hot streak, posting a 7-1 record in their last eight games dating back to February 2. In addition, the squad has won 14 games against NCAA opponents this season, which set a record for the most wins of any NTDP birth year. The success hasn’t gone unnoticed, especially with the players.
“We struggled big-time last year,” Cerrato said. “Everyone in our locker room knew the capabilities that we had, and it didn’t show last year, but with the offseason [we improved]. Our team also grew over the summer, and we have never been closer. No one in our locker room had any doubt that we would have success this year.”
As they get set to head to Europe, the significance of wearing a Team USA jersey gets amplified.
“It’s very special to me and our whole team,” Fortescue said. “Being able to wear the jersey every day is special, but when we get to wear [them] overseas and play other countries, we are not just representing our team; we are also representing our country. It’s pretty special.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.