Photo by Rena Laverty
There was one thing that Drew Helleson couldn’t wait to do this August, and that was return to Plymouth, Michigan, and his USA Hockey National Team Development Program teammates.
“I would work out 4-5 times per week and I was skating 3-4 days per week. It was a quick summer and it almost seems that I never left Plymouth. It’s good to be back and get into a routine,” Helleson said.
More than anything, he couldn’t wait to see his Under-18 “brothers” on the ice.
“Everybody gets along,” explained Helleson. “As they say, there are no kids that cause ‘cancer’ in the locker room on this team. Everyone is a great. I honestly hang out with everyone."
“We hang out as a team. We travel together, live together and are at the rink together. We really get along so well.”
It also helps that he is more comfortable when it comes to the hockey side of things.
“It’s not being new right now [that makes a difference],” the Farmington, Minnesota, native explained. “I know what to expect from the team and coaches. I’m with a new billet family so that helps too. I think I’m more comfortable with what is happening.
“We had such a successful year and it really helps that everyone has the buy-in. Everyone gets along and I have never been on a closer team.”
He understands just how important it will be to focus this season, especially after last year’s success as a member of the Under-17 team.
“We have said this as a team but our success from last year doesn’t mean anything now,” he said. “We have a foundation that we can build upon this season and we will need the right mindset to do that. We have to keep working in practice and keep working in school. I know that we will continue to push each other.”
The 6-foot-3, 181-pound defenseman credits the training he receives as a big part of his success. He has gained nearly 15 pounds of muscle since arriving in the fall of 2017.
“The training is second to none here,” said Helleson. “There is no other place that does the things that we do. From Darryl [Nelson, strength & conditioning coach] to Kirk [Culik, off-ice conditioning coach] and Carrie [Keil, skating coach], we are definitely getting stronger, In the USHL, it is paying off and we definitely can see a difference when it comes to international play.”
Favorite Sport (outside of hockey)
Favorite NHL Player
Favorite Musical Artist
Favorite Netflix Binge
He credits this training for a big reason behind his growth last year on the ice.
“Physically, I have definitely gotten stronger,” he said. “You do not realize what a big jump it is but I really had to work hard in the gym. Physically, I was small and the style of play against older guys in the USHL, you really have to be strong. I really thought we did that last year.”
Helleson, who has committed to play hockey at Boston College after his NTDP playing days are over, is very excited to add the college schedule to this season. He understands the dedication that it will take to be successful.
“We are going to face bigger, faster, older and stronger guys,” he explained. “It will definitely help us get ready for the end of the year, the U18 World Championships. It’s our goal this year is to win a few games. We are just 17 years old and playing against guys who can be 24-25 years old. It will be great to play these teams and we want to see how our hard work will pay off in the end. It’s a hard schedule but it’s will be worth it.”
Of course, he does have a few games circled on the schedule.
We hang out as a team. We travel together, live together and are at the rink together. We really get along so well.
“I can’t wait to play Michigan at Yost. It’s going to be a big game and we get to play in that atmosphere,” said Helleson. “I’m also looking forward to playing the Hockey East teams. It will be great to see those teams and to figure out what it is going to be like to play against them next year when I’m at BC. It’s also pretty neat that we will get to play a few games at USA Hockey Arena.”
This season, Helleson and his U18 teammates are working with a new associate coach in Dan Hinote. He played in 503 games in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup championship with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
“He is very upbeat and really likes to mess around with us,” explained Helleson. “He is a funny guy and it’s easy to laugh around him.
“He definitely brings credibility to the locker room. It’s always a hockey player’s goal to win a Stanley Cup. He has done that and he knows what it takes, the small stuff, to get that done.”
One thing will never change for him and that is the pride he has for wearing the colors of his country.
“It means everything to wear the USA jersey. It is such a great feeling to wear the crest and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said.
Maybe that is why he takes such pride is some very simple advice from the U18 coaching staff. It’s a message that really highlights how important the team first attitude is for him.
“The coaches talk about good habits every day and to be respectful and responsible,” said Helleson. “We need to make sure that we get our school work done. We have to show respect to our coaches and our billets. Last year, the coaches talked about making sure that we keep up those habits. Those are not just words, it is something we need to live by.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo by Rena Laverty