Photo by Rena Laverty
The first international break of the season has arrived for the National Team Development Program, as the Under-18 Team is set to travel to Finland for a Five Nations Tournament while the Under-17 team will head to Prince Edward Island for the U17 World Challenge.
The U18s will kick off their tournament on Nov. 9 with a game against Sweden.
“We are all super excited to get to this first one under our belt,” Laurila said. “Even with four games in four days, it shouldn’t be too crazy due to our training each and every day at the NTDP. By the third and fourth game, our legs will be tired so the details will really matter.”
Epperson has a strategy to stay fresh while playing so many games in a row.
“With four games in four days, sleep should be our number one priority. Then, nutrition and recovery, especially stretching, both postgame and pregame,” he said.
The U18s have had a busy fall, racking up a 7-5-1-0 record this year. The schedule has included competition from the USHL and five college games.
Having a year of experience already in the program has made this season less complicated for the U18 players, according to Epperson.
“It’s been astronomically easier this year,” he said. “It definitely took time to settle in last year, but this year it was much easier since you already knew the routine. Every aspect of our game has improved.”
After winning all three international tournaments last season competing at the U17 level, this year’s squad understands that it is a new year and a new challenge. To hammer that point home, there is a quote the U18s live by: ‘Respect all, fear none.’
“It’s something that Coach (Nick) Fohr drills into us,” Laurila said. “Winning those three tournaments last year puts a bigger target on our backs. We can’t look ahead. We need to keep doing the things we are doing in practice every day.”
Sam Laurila | Photo by Rena Laverty
Meanwhile, the U17s head up to Canada and will start preliminary-round action Thursday (Nov. 2) against Sweden.
U17 defenseman Charlie Trethewey (Woodbine, Md.) shared his eagerness to compete in his first international competition.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to represent the country and wear the crest,” he said. “We have a great group of guys. I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Forward Cullen Potter (Minneapolis, Minn.), whose mom Jenny played for Team USA in four Olympic Games (1998-2010), understands what an honor it is to wear the red, white and blue in these events.
“It will be so much fun playing with my teammates and representing the country,” Potter said. “It’s such an honor to wear the jersey. I grew up watching my mom play. Anytime you get to put on a jersey, whether it’s a game or practice, it just makes it that much more special.”
One of the biggest challenges for the U17s will be playing five games in seven days. Both players understand the importance of staying focused throughout the tournament, especially with such a short turnaround between games.
“It will be hard, but the key will be the preparation,” Potter said. “We have been working to prepare for this event. It will be fun. We need to stay focused and prepare for each game.”
Trethewey said he and his teammates have been putting in extra work to get better, and that should help in this tournament.
“We have a lot of team meetings, and this group of guys are really good with communicating with each other on what is going on within the game and things we need to work on,” he said. “It’s about how we need to perform to win a game. It’s started with guys staying after practice at the rink or doing things during our recovery days. We need to take those lessons with us for the event.”
One big difference for this tournament is the U17s will be playing their own age group after starting the season with seven of their 11 games coming against USHL competition, where the players are bigger, stronger and older.
“The USHL games have helped us the most,” Trethewey said. “We have faced adversity and learned how to fight back which will help at the World Challenge.”
Potter said these games will allow the U17s to play more to their preferred style rather than what they’ve had to do against USHL teams.
“Playing games in the USHL really helps with speed,” he said. “You don't have as much time and space in USHL games. It will be good to be able to play against kids our own age. We can play fast and hard, which is really our game.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.