Photo by Rena Laverty
Moving thousands of miles from Anchorage, Alaska, to Plymouth, Michigan, to play for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program was a little bit of a shock at first for Hunter Strand.
The thing that kept him going was his love for hockey and love of competition.
“I loved the competition and how we are all brothers out there. We all fight for each other,” he said.
Strand started playing hockey at an early age, at the encouragement of his dad Michael.
“I started playing hockey when I was 2,” he said. “My dad played when he was younger, so I was just born into the sport.”
Luckily for Strand, his dad was able to serve as one of his coaches when he was growing up. It’s not always easy to have your dad as your coach, but he is very appreciative for all the lessons that he learned.
“He has been my coach every year,” he said. “It was great. He could teach me stuff both on and off the ice. He always pushes me to try harder and always challenges me.”
It should be no surprise that his dad was one of his biggest supporters when he earned a coveted spot at the NTDP tryout camp. Strand knew that it was difficult, but he took valuable advice from his dad to heart and he was so happy to earn that final invite.
“I knew that I could get ahead of myself as long as I kept working in the gym and on the ice. I had to keep pushing myself to get better,” he said. “I was here with my mom when I got it. I couldn’t have been more excited to earn the invite. She was crying in joy, but I was so happy.”
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The transition was tough at times for the 5-foot-11, 174-pound forward, but he is very appreciative for his “new” family that has made it easier for him.
“It’s been tough,” Strand said. “My friends, family and coaches have all been here to help me get through it. My parents tried to get down every month or so. We FaceTime all the time though.
“My little sister misses me a lot; I’m not sure about my older one. She did claim all my stuff, really my TV. I have no time for that here.”
Perhaps the most difficult part of the transition for him was not having his dad as a coach.
“It was tough; he has always been there for me but it’s nice to get new coaching. My dad is always watching and still teaching me new lessons,” Strand said.
Strand has learned plenty about himself since arriving in Plymouth. He appreciates the time and effort that it takes, day in and day out, to improve his skill set.
“I learned that everyone is a super skilled hockey player here,” he said. “Everyone can be the best that day, so I have to keep working day in and day out. I know that since I have worked for it and put the time in, I will be good in the game.”
The first year in the NTDP is always difficult and the Under-17s always experience plenty of ups and downs. Strand played a huge role in a 5-4 victory over the Tri-City Storm on Jan. 3, tallying the game-tying goal in the third period.
“It was a huge win for us against Tri-City,” he said. “We have lost the taste of wins, so it was good to get that back. I thought we played hard and found a way in the end to win.”
“I learned that everyone is a super skilled hockey player here,” he said. “Everyone can be the best that day, so I have to keep working day in and day out. I know that since I have worked for it and put the time in, I will be good in the game."
Strand and his U17 teammates will play a few more league games before heading to their final international tournament of the season — the Five Nations in Sweden in early February. He understands what the team needs to do to have success and what drives the players each day in practice.
“More than anything, we know what we need to do,” he said. “We made a huge improvement from the first one [the U17 World Challenge] to the second one [Four Nations in Plymouth]. We need to make another jump and we know we can.
“We have to compete our butts off and keep on working every day, especially in practice. I like the 3-on-3 transition [drill]. It’s a great one and it really allows you to compete.”
That is one area that really stands out for Strand and has helped push him when it comes to playing hockey.
“I love to compete,” he said. “I have always been a competitive guy. My dad is competitive and my whole family is competitive. On board game night, we always want to win and hate losing.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
One thing will never change for Strand. That is how much it means to him to wear the colors of his country. He appreciates every time he can put on the USA jersey.
“It means more than anything to fight for this nation and wear the crest every day,” he said. “I know we are finding against other countries, even in the USHL, it means everything.”
And he has his own family back home in Anchorage that is rooting him along for his success.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.