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Keller Leans on U18 Worlds Experience for This Year’s Tourney

By Becky Olsen, 04/13/16, 8:00AM EDT


Keller Helped U.S. Win U18 World Title as Underager Last Year

Photo by Rena Laverty

With the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Men’s World Championship starting this week, Clayton Keller is starting to realize just how special these past two seasons have been as a member of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.

“It means everything to wear the jersey,” said Keller, a forward on the U.S. National Under-18 Team. “Growing up playing hockey, you always want to be able to play for your country. As a kid, seeing all the USA guys that I used to watch who are now playing in the National Hockey League, that is really cool. I just appreciate being able to put the jersey on every day and, hopefully, we can have that success.”

The last bit of success Keller and his teammates are hoping for is at the U18 World Championship, which begin this week in North Dakota. Keller, a 5-foot-10, 168-pound forward, was one of the underage players on last year’s team that won the U18 championship.

“Last year, I was playing for fun and not really worrying about it too much,” said Keller, who had four goals and 11 points in eight games. “Looking at what all the older guys did last year and seeing what they did to prepare, it can definitely help me.”

The Swansea, Illinois, native took some lesson’s from last year’s tournament that he expects will help him this year.

“Last year, coach [Don] Granato always talked about playing our way and focusing on the little things,” he said. “I think that was the biggest thing for us — we needed to play our game and everything will work out.

“He was right; we ended up winning.”

Playing their preferred style will be the goal this year too, Keller said.

“We need to play smart and stay out of the box,” he said. “Our biggest thing at worlds will be to play our game and stay out of the box. Everything will take care of itself.”

One difference for Keller this season is that the U18 World Championship mark his last tournament with his teammates from the past two seasons at the NTDP.

“I think we are really close and everyone is comfortable around each other,” he said. “We spend time together off the ice. We have spent 16 hours on the bus for road trips. It’s bittersweet to think we only have a few more weeks with each other.”

As Keller nears the end of his time with the NTDP, he looks back on many great memories. One highlight was playing against his future team, Boston University.

“It was an awesome experience,” Keller said of the 7-4 win on Oct. 16. “Just being able to play with that group of guys and being at BU was really special. The facility was awesome. I met the trainer and spoke to [BU] coach David Quinn. We got to eat in the dining hall, so I got to experience what we will do next year.”

Keller expects that experience playing against college opponents will help him next year when he becomes a college player himself.

“Playing the college teams this year has really helped our team grow,” Keller said. “It showed me how big and strong those guys are and how fast the pace is during a game; it is something that is really good to have before college.”

Keller, who has 93 points this season, is ranked as an “A” skater for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. But he is quick to credit his teammates for his success.

“I credit that success to my teammates,” he said. “Obviously, they have to help me get points. I try to just play my game and not think about it. I want to play well in all three zones.”

As Keller goes into his final few weeks with the NTDP, he reflected on his experience with last year’s U18 team as its season wound down.

“The pre-tournament camp and spending time with all the guys and moving over to Switzerland was awesome last year,” he said. “Looking at them and knowing it was their last year, and thinking to myself that I still have a whole another year next year, it was kind of cool to stay. Hopefully, we can have that same feeling this year.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc. 

NTDP News & Features

Photo by Rena Laverty

Clayton's Favorites

Favorite NHL Team
Chicago Blackhawks

Favorite American NHL Player
Patrick Kane

Favorite Goal Celebration
Fist pump

Favorite Sport (Outside of Hockey)

Favorite Movie
Captain Ron

Favorite TV Show
Prison Break

Favorite Actor
Will Ferrell

Favorite Band
Red Hot Chili Peppers