Photo by Rena Laverty
Each spring, USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-17 Team goes through a rigorous four-week training program. It is one of the key ingredients that has added to the success of the NTDP in both international play and against college teams heading into the U18 season.
First-year head coach Nick Fohr (Grand Forks, N.D.) understands just how important this training is, not only for team building, but also the impact that will be seen on the ice next year.
“Obviously, the physical gains will be huge for next year; we need to get bigger, faster and stronger,” he said. “The players went home last week and we have been through four weeks of spring training. Even in this short time, when we walk through the gym, we can see their mass and strength gains already.”
Jack Parsons hugging the post in a U17 game (Photo: Rena Laverty)
While the added mass is easy to see, a less measurable benefit to the offseason workouts is building team camaraderie.
“The biggest part that is beneficial for the kids is they get to spend time with each other,” Fohr said. “They are going golfing and have done other things together. I had a conversation with one of the parents the other night and they were saying how much fun the spring has been for their player and getting to know his teammates.”
The players have enjoyed the training and building the bonds with their teammates. For goaltender Jack Parsons (Cortland, N.Y.), it’s been good to find some time to connect with his teammates, which is hard to do during the season.
“It’s been a good time,” he said. “We have grown closer together. We are working together. It’s hard but we are grinding it out together.”
Meanwhile, for defenseman Will Skahan (Woodbury, Minn.), it really helped knowing that they were not the only group that has gone through this training.
“I learned that all the previous teams have been through this stage of the development program so this is a huge step for us,” he said. “We need to become stronger and faster. More than anything, it brings us together as a team. We hangout away from rink and become closer as friends."
That bond really started in late August when the players arrived at USA Hockey Arena for their first season with the program. The squad finished with a 36-25 record, which includes winning three international tournaments and securing a spot in the USHL playoffs.
Fohr was proud of the progress he saw in his team throughout this season.
“The growth this team showed along the way was very impressive,” he said. “Each guy saw major growth. Teamwise, it was how we played as the season went on. Each weekend had a playoff atmosphere, especially as it progressed. The guys really matured and hopefully learned the importance of every game and every play.”
Parsons credits the run to the USHL playoffs as a key moment for the team this season.
“It was really beneficial to us,” he said. “Playoff hockey is very different than the regular season. It really gave us a taste of what the U18 World Championships will be like this upcoming year.”
Playing for the U17s is a big learning curve for the players, as they play against players who are bigger, faster, stronger and older than them. It’s not an easy transition, but they realize just how much their game has improved over the course of the year.
“My defensive game changed more,” Skahan said. “I started to become more of a defensive player and a way better skater as the season progressed. I adapted to the speed of the USHL and overseas, it felt like I could be a player.
For forward Kristian Epperson (Mequon, Wis.), he realized that it was the little things that made a difference in his game as the season progressed.
“It was staying after practice and working on what you wanted to work on, whether it was your edges or your shot,” he said. “The extra time was a huge help and it really helped me grow in all aspects of my game. Just moving from 15U hockey to the USHL where the players are four years old than me, it makes you stronger and faster. Even the awareness of my game got better.”
Fohr loves that his players are all pushing to get better. Staying self-motivated will be key during the summer, after the U17 players left Plymouth and are set to return in late August for their second season.
“This group is very self-motivated, and they have that internal drive to be their best,” he said. “It was something I noticed right away when I came here. We have spoken a lot about the summer training, about individually and as a group.
Kristian Epperson looking up ice (Photo: Rena Laverty)
“They understand how difficult it was for them this year, but they have also watched this past U18 group have success. We have talked about what it takes at this level and in the back of their mind, they remember how difficult it was for them at the beginning of the year. They are working hard to be prepared.”
The team has big goals for next year but for Epperson, one thing will never change and that is the dedication and commitment it will take to reach their final mark — winning a gold medal at the U18 World Championship.
“The coaches really showed us how much love they put into us and how much they care for us. They show up every day and they want us to get better, and it really rubs off on you,” he said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.