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NTDP Players Still Remember the Joy of Winning a National Title

By Becky Olsen, 04/01/24, 10:00AM EDT


With USA Hockey Arena set to host Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships, some NTDP players reflected on their own experience at nationals.

Winning a championship is always a special memory — whether it’s with your current teammates or the kids you grew up playing hockey with.

With USA Hockey Arena serving as a host venue for the 13O and 14U 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I National Championships from April 2-7, a few National Team Development Program players reflected on their past experiences at nationals.

The 2022 Chicago Mission 15O team

Under-18 team forward Charlie Pardue (Winnetka, Ill.) won a national championship with the Chicago Mission 15O in 2022, which is a memory that’ll live with him forever.

“Growing up as a kid, the national championship is something that everyone looks forward to,” Pardue said. “It was my last year in youth hockey, and I grew up playing with those kids in the Chicago area. Not only was it a personal achievement for me, but for the guys on the team and the Mission organization.”

Before playing in the national championship game, Pardue scored four goals in the semifinals against the Dallas Junior Stars.

“It’s definitely a game that I look back and remember,” he said. “Everything was going my way, and I found the back of the net. I have to give credit to my teammates and coaching staff for putting me in that position during the game.”

The Chicago Mission program had a successful year in 2022, as Under-17 defenseman Asher Barnett (Wilmette, Ill.) won a championship that year with the Mission, but as a member of the 14U squad.

“It was a pretty surreal experience especially being in my hometown,” Barnett said. “It felt really good to feel what we had been working on the whole year.”

What sticks with Barnett from that title was not a moment on the ice or the celebrations after the game, but the bond he had with his teammates.

“The thing I remember most is the locker room feeling between the second and third period. It was a close game and the feeling of the brotherhood, that feeling that we had something to win that we had been working on the whole year.”

The 2022 Chicago Mission 14U team

The 2023 Los Angeles Jr. Kings 15O team

Winning a national title is still a fresh memory for U17 forward Jake Stuart (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), as it came just a year ago when he helped the Los Angeles Jr. Kings 15O win the first national title in that program’s history.

“It was unreal, and honestly, it wasn’t something I was expecting,” Stuart said. “It was one of the best feelings I have ever had to win the championship.”

Before the title game, Stuart’s Kings came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Rhode Island Saints. Overcoming that adversity helped propel the Kings to the championship.

“That game was intense, and it really showed us what we had to do to be successful, Stuart said. “It gave us the confidence we needed in our next two games to win the title.”

While Stuart helped the Kings win their first national title, a handful of the current NTDP roster played, and won a championship together, for the powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary's program in Minnesota.  John Whipple (Minnetonka, Minn.), Cole Eiserman (Newburyport, Mass.), Will Skahan (Woodbury, Minn.), Brodie Ziemer (Hutchinson, Minn.), Kristian Epperson (Mequon, Wis.) and Will Belle (Minnetonka, Minn.) all linked up to win a 14U national title in 2021.

“It was cool,” Whipple said. “We had great bonds at Shattuck and to bring them here is awesome. I have known a bunch of these guys since freshman year so it’s fun to see how our relationships have developed.

“It’s really special especially for us at Shattuck. We work really hard together from August until nationals. It’s reaching that point where you practice with them, wake up early with them and run through the gauntlet with them. We had our eyes on it the whole year. It was cool to make our whole school proud.”

The 2021 Shattuck-St. Mary's 14U team

The experiences at nationals even translate over to the NTDP. For Pardue, being involved in a program as successful as the Chicago Mission prepared him for the grind of playing at a higher level.

“A lot of guys who have come through the Mission have gone to the NTDP,” he said. “The Mission really gets you ready for it. Every day, working really hard, either in the weight room or on the ice. Really sets up for wherever you are going in hockey.”

The NTDP players that have won national titles have some advice for the kids that are about to battle for one.

“It sounds cliché but have fun and soak it in,” Whipple said. “You only get to play for a national title so many times, but to play it as USA Hockey Arena is pretty cool. It’s all about how much you put it in and leave it all out on the line at the end of the day.”

While playing on a big stage like nationals can be intimidating, Stuart agrees with Whipple that no matter the results, embracing the moment is the most important thing a player can do.

“It’s all about playing for the joy of the game, the joy of winning and looking forward to all of the games,” he said. “You need to play with confidence and believe in your teammates. But most of all, just have fun.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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