On Friday, the Tiger men’s hockey team hosts the United States Under-18 National Team at Blue Cross Arena. While the game does not count towards the standings (so a win or loss keeps the Tigers winning streak at 11 games), it is unique in a totally different way.
This U.S. team is the cream of the crop of American-born players under the age of 18. The United States National Development program, located in Ann Arbor, Mich., houses both an under-17 squad and under-18 team. The boys travel all over the country and sometimes world, playing a grueling schedule from September to April, while balancing school work.
This season, the under-18 squad has already played in Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Massachusetts just to name a few states. Next week, they travel to Sweden to compete in the prestigious Five Nations Cup (which was hosted by ESL in Henrietta a few years ago, if I am not mistaken). In April, the season ends with the IIHF Under-18 World Championships.
The travel during the year is strenuous, but the reward is phenomenal. Eighteen of the young men have already verbally committed to play Division I hockey, while a few others, including Jeremy Morin of Auburn, N.Y. (Morin’s mother Luann is an RIT graduate, who played the 1978-79 season with the Tigers women’s hockey team as a defenseman), who is projected to be a first round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Several former members of the U.S.-Under 18 team are enjoying stellar careers in the NHL, including 2009 NHL All-Stars Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils and Mike Komisarek of the Montreal Canadiens. Kane and James Van Riemsdyk, a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, were the top-two picks in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Erik Johnson (who was shown in a clip during the 2006 NHL Draft making a rush against RIT), was the #1 pick in 2006.
Current Buffalo Sabres Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe are also former members of the United States National Team Development Program.
In a funny sidebar, when the Tigers and U.S. Under-18 last played each other in 2006, Kane was a member of the squad and scored a highlight-reel goal in which he decked one of defensemen and the goalie. According to the defenseman, Kane, while celebrating skated by our defenseman and said “you will see that move in the NHL 2009” (referring to the video game). When I heard that, I thought that was pretty cocky of a just turned 17-year old to say. Sure enough, he could not have been more correct, as he has making those moves on NHL defensemen and goaltenders for two seasons.
Come on out to Blue Cross Arena and see if the next Patrick Kane or Zach Parise emerges before our eyes.
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