Photo by Rena Laverty
When you’re a 6-foot-7, 221-pound teenager, most people expect you to play basketball. And when both of your parents were NCAA scholarship basketball players, the choice seems even more obvious.
Yet for U.S National Under-18 Team forward Keenan Suthers, the choice was always hockey.
“I started playing hockey when I was 4 years old, and we were living in Tecumseh, Ontario,” explained Suthers, who played basketball until joining the National Team Development Program. “The funny part, both my parents earned NCAA basketball scholarships, so they didn’t know much about the game of hockey.”
It didn’t seem to matter.
Suthers has four goals and 11 points in 46 games so far this season. He credits the NTDP coaching and support staff for his growth with the program.
“Working with Coach Darryl [Nelson] in the weight room, I have definitely gotten stronger,” he said. “Coach [Danton] Cole and the coaching staff have been great teachers. I have definitely seen my game grow. Plus, I have learned my role, and I want to be the best that I can be at it.”
One big emphasis for Suthers has been learning to use his size to his advantage.
“I know how I need to use my reach,” he said. “In a game, I can use that extra inch to make plays. It’s really important for me as I can open up space for the skilled players. Below the goal line is so important for puck possession; it can be the difference between scoring a goal or giving up a goal.
“It’s something that I work on after practice with [teammate] Griffin Luce. After practice, we usually pick a spot on the board and battle each other.”
Using his size is especially important when playing against older opponents from college teams or the United States Hockey League.
“I think playing the college games will definitely prepare us for the [U18] World Championship,” he said. “We are playing against older and stronger players. It is a great experience. It is definitely helping us create bonds and work for each other.
“It should help us be more successful when we go to college next year. We know what to expect.”
Following his playing days with the NTDP, Suthers will be heading to Western Michigan University to continue his hockey career.
“It’s close to home, and my parents can watch the home games,” he said. “They have a new medical facility, and I’m planning to study pre-med there. The campus is unique and beautiful.
“Andy Murray is a great coach; he has that NHL experience. He plays a pro-style game, which suits me.”
For now, though, Suthers is focusing on the NTDP.
“The 22 players are my best friends,” he said. “This team has grown very close, and we have developed that chemistry. In my two years here, I really can’t believe that success we have had. We win as a team. We stand up for each other. It’s very special.”
As their time with the program nears an end, Suthers and his teammates are focused on the IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship in April in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Suthers said they hope to learn from the recent Five Nations Tournament, where they finished fourth.
“We were able to see the competition, and we know how hard we have to work,” he said. “We are here for two years and have that one goal. We know we will be ready to go.”
Whenever Suthers needs extra motivation, he just remembers the name on the front of his sweater.
“I still remember the first day I walked into the locker room last year and saw the sweaters hanging up,” he said. “It still gives me chills. That first game is something I will never forget. To represent the country is not something that everyone gets to do. It’s been an incredible opportunity.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo by Rena Laverty
Favorite NHL Player
James van Riemsdyk
Favorite Goal Celebration
Bow and Arrow
Favorite Sport (Outside of Hockey)
Favorite Pump-Up Song
"Creepin'" by Eric Church