Ausmus models his game after pro Brooks Orpik. Photo by Tom Sorensen.
U.S. National Under-18 Team defenseman Gage Ausmus can hardly recognize the player he was one year ago.
With one year of National Team Development Program experience, the East Grand Forks, Minn., native said he feels more confident and that the details of his game — such as stick handling and positioning — have greatly improved.
“Over the summer, I watched NHL on the Fly, and watched the pros to see what they did right and what they did wrong,” he said. “I got in the weight room, worked on stick handling and shot pucks.”
He specifically spent time watching Brooks Orpik, a 2010 U.S. Olympian and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman who Ausmus tries to model his game after.
“He plays a solid game back at the blue line and doesn’t let anyone get anything easy off,” Ausmus said. “He plays a tough game, and I like that.”
Ausmus added some muscle this off-season in an attempt to toughen up. He came into the U.S. National Under-17 Team last year weighing just 196 pounds. He came back this year at 6-1 and 211 pounds.
“It’s definitely easier to box guys out and play with a more physical presence,” Ausmus said. “It’s easier all around being a bigger guy on the ice.
“I think in the penalty kill area [it has helped too]. The positioning and stick positioning — it makes the game a lot easier to block shots and get the puck out of the zone. Plus it gives me more confidence in my game.”
Ausmus also had another highlight this fall — playing for Rob McClanahan, who won a gold medal for coach Herb Brooks at the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, at the 2012 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo.
Ausmus skates up ice at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. Photo by Tom Sorensen.
“It was a great experience for me,” Ausmus said. “We played in the very nice rink in Buffalo and it was fun time being there. People thought we might take it easy playing against our own players, but that’s not what happened. It was fun and very competitive; I had a great time.
“It was fun playing for Coach McClanahan and talking to him. He said to stick with it — there will be hard times but keep on moving.”
Moving forward is something Ausmus continues to do. Winning the Four Nations Tournament, which was held in early November at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, was an experience he will never forget.
“Last year, our first international tournament was in Russia and everyone was booing us,” he recalled. “Now we got to play here and everyone was rooting for us. It was a great feeling knowing the fans are on your side and every time you score, the fans are cheering.
“The best thing I remember is standing on the blue line and hearing your national anthem in front of your fans. It’s a great feeling.”
That’s a feeling he gets in and every time he puts on the USA jersey.
“The first time I put it on last year, it was the greatest feeling in the world,” he said. “Every time I put it on, it is the same feeling over and over again. It never gets old.”
A new feeling will arrive next year when Ausmus puts on his college jersey for the University of Denver.
“The education was a big thing for me,” he said of DU. “I really liked their campus. When I first saw it, I thought it was amazing. They have a great hockey program; it’s second to none. All those things combined — it made my choice easy in the end.”
For now, Ausmus is focused on one thing: continuing to become a complete player.
“My goal for myself is to keep building confidence and to keep playing steady,” he said. “Obviously, for the team, we want win the majority of the USHL games and try to get some college wins. At the end of the year, win that big event [the world championship].”
And nothing would be sweeter for Ausmus than the icing on the cake.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.