Photo by Rena Laverty
New faces can bring a wealth of experience to a team.
For Alex Vlasic, the addition of Dan Hinote as associate head coach of the USA Hockey Under-18 National Team Development Program squad this season has played a huge role in his development. A Stanley Cup winner as a player, Hinote has plenty of valuable experience to share.
“He has been a great addition and has really brought us closer together,” said Vlasic. “He is a mentor to us. We look up to him and the success that he has had, playing professional hockey and winning a Stanley Cup. He knows what it takes to make it to the NHL. He is someone we can talk to and he is a great person to help in my development.”
The 6-foot-6, 193-pound blueliner has already noticed a huge difference between his first year and his second year with the NTDP.
“The biggest difference is our strength,” Vlasic said. “In our Under-17 year, we are playing against older and bigger players. That first year is to really put on weight and work on our strength to get ready. In this second year, we are bigger and can compete. We have learned so much as a team. We are definitely faster and can find ways to win.”
That extra muscle is really making a difference in his game.
“I’m definitely a stronger player. I think I have learned so much more about being able to battle out there for the pucks and in the corners,” he said.
Of course, the practice and preparation that is expected of the team also have played a huge role in Vlasic’s success on the ice.
“The consistency of practice, which is at least four times per week, and lifting, which is two to three times per week, really helps with the physical side,” said Vlasic. “You are working all the time in practice and then, when you get to the game, you are ready to go and feel great. Your muscles are ready and that really helps in that part of the game.”
It feels like it’s all coming together for Vlasic on the ice, especially when it comes to the defensive side of his game.
“I’m reading plays much better this year especially when it comes to gap coverage,” Vlasic said. “Last year, there was definitely a transition and I would struggle on line rushes. It was really all about training and becoming stronger and being able to read the plays better. I can definitely close out a play in the defensive zone now.
Favorite NHL Team
San Jose Sharks
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Sport (outside of hockey)
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Favorite Home-Cooked Meal
Steak and mashed potatoes
“Watching video with Coach Hinote also helps. In a game, you are making plays and sometimes you do not have time to think it all through. When you watch video, you can really break down what you are doing. It has definitely helped with my hockey IQ and allowed me to see where I can improve my game.”
That drive to improve is a big reason why he chose Boston University to continue his hockey career. Vlasic cited the success of the program plus the opportunity to play in one of college hockey’s best atmospheres.
“It was my top choice of schools since I started looking at colleges,” said Vlasic. “… It just felt right and I’m excited to be a part of the BU program in the fall.”
Vlasic already had an opportunity to face his future college team — a 5-4 overtime defeat at Agganis Arena on Oct. 19. For him, it was a game that he will probably never forget.
“It was surreal to walk out there, stand at the line and hear the national anthem,” said Vlasic, who tallied a goal in the game. “To be able to see the rink that I’m going to play in for the next four years and the atmosphere, it was a cool experience. I really do not have many words about it — it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
He also has been able to take experiences from the college schedule and apply it to his game.
“It really helps a lot to play the college games,” said Vlasic. “It gives us a taste of the speed of the college game and just how physically strong the players are. It’s really perfect for us. I know that I will be able to go into BU next year and have some experiences already.”
The biggest difference is our strength. That first year is to really put on weight and work on our strength to get ready. In this second year, we are bigger and can compete.
For now, Vlasic is focused on the final few months of wearing the colors of his country. It is something that he feels very blessed to have been able to do.
“It has been incredible,” he said. “To be able to throw on the jersey and represent your country, it’s something that I will never take for granted. To be able to play against guys from other countries, you know that you always have to bring your ‘A’ game.”
That is one lesson that Vlasic took away from the team’s second international tournament in Russia. The squad finished with a 2-2 record, posting wins over Finland and the Czech Republic.
“It was a big learning point for us in our season,” he said. “Up until that point, we had not lost any international games. I think we had an ego build-up and it was probably good for us to bring it down.
“It was definitely a wake-up call for us … We need to be prepared as other teams will play their best game and they want to beat us. It’s better that it happened now, instead of in April [at the IIHF World U18 Championships].”
Photo by Rena Laverty
It all comes down to preparation over the next several weeks to earn a spot on the final Team USA roster for the 2019 Under-18 World Championship in Sweden.
“We need to keep doing what we are doing,” Vlasic said. “We know what we have to do and that gives 100% in both our practices and workouts. We need to stick to our system.
“Some of the best advice I got was about being a leader on the ice. I need to lead by example. In every drill at practice, I need to try as hard as I can and give 100% all the time. I have to bring that positive energy.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.