The U.S. National Under-17 Team begins its 2013-14 schedule this weekend with a pair of home games against the North American Hockey League’s Janesville Jets on Friday and Saturday at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. Face-off is set for 7 p.m. both nights.
“I want the kids to just play and play as hard as they can,” head coach Don Granato said. “We always measure competitiveness and work ethic for our team. It is two things we have control over.”
The squad, under the direction of third-year head coach Granato, is comprised of some of the top American-born players in the 1997 birth year. The U17s will compete against teams from the Minnesota Elite League, NAHL and United States Hockey League. In addition, the squad will play in three international competitions during the course of the season.
The 2013-14 season will be the second time in which Granato has coached the U17 team. National Team Development Program head coaches continue with the same group of players as they move from the U17 to U18 ranks.
“I think everything is relative to life and coaching,” he said. “You know the game of hockey and how it relates to players at this age as we head into this type of training program. Going through it, it has provided great hindsight. There are things you were trying to figure out prior to this, and now you have a good feel for it going through it.
“The ability to build relationships with the players’ families before they were selected and arrived in town, that was a tremendous insight. Now, I have watched these players play and tracked them the last year and a half. For me, I feel so much better prepared going into a season than two years ago.”
Another positive for Granato is consistency within the coaching staff. Nick Fohr will enter his third season as an assistant to Granato, while Josh Brown will serve as intern assistant coach for the second straight season. Only goaltending coach Kevin Reiter is new to the coaching staff this season.
“It makes everything easier having that consistency with the staff,” Granto said. “We have been able to hit the ground running this fall.”
Among the 22 players on the U17 roster are eight defensemen, including Nicholas Boka (Plymouth, Mich.), Christian Evers (Waukee, Iowa), Casey Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.), Noah Hanifin (Norwood, Mass.), Caleb Jones (Frisco, Texas), Joseph Masonius (Spring Lake, N.J.), Charles McAvoy (Long Beach, N.Y.) and Zach Werenski (Grosse Pointe, Mich.).
The 12 forwards are Jeremy Bracco (Freeport, N.Y.), Christian Fischer (Wayne, Ill.), Michael Floodstrand (Hinsdale, Ill.), Jordan Greenway (Potsdam, N.Y.), Luke Kirwan (Dewitt, N.Y.), Luke Kunin (Chesterfield, Mo.), Auston Matthews (Scottsdale, Ariz.), Jack Roslovic (Columbus, Ohio), Matthew Tkachuk (St. Louis, Mo.), Brendan Warren (Carelton, Mich.), Colin White (Hanover, Mass.) and Dennis Yan (Troy, Mich.).
Michael Lackey (Washington, D.C.) and Luke Opilka (St. Louis, Mo.) will serve as the netminders.
The team reported on Aug. 26.
“We are trying to work on the players compete level in practice and work on a competitive environment when the guys step on the ice,” Granato said. “They learn to set a higher standard for themselves and their team. That is our biggest focus on the ice, setting a tone. Tactically, we certainly have worked on plenty of areas, as I like to disguise it to the players. We are running drills in practice where we can work on our systems within that drill.”
Following the Janesville games, the U17s begin a 34-game USHL regular-season schedule Sept. 21 at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube against the Youngstown Phantoms. Team USA will compete internationally at the Four Nations Tournament in Slovakia from Nov. 6-10; at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, from Dec. 28, 2013-Jan. 4, 2014; and at the Five Nations Tournament in Sweden from Feb. 5-9, 2014.
“As a staff, we are constantly taking in information as we go through the season,” Granato said of the schedule. “We know what standards we have and how we operate on a daily basis. That is the foundation of what we are doing. We are collecting information. I don’t look and say this is how we would break down a season; we don’t have the information game-to-game. If we come out and are deficient in one area, we will work on that area in practice the next week.
“We do have the core of what we want our identity to be as a team. We need to be able to change and adjust and improve where we will be on any given day.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
• Tickets for home games played at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube are $7 for adults and $5 for children, seniors and active military members. Youth hockey players wearing their team jerseys are admitted for just $1. Tickets can be purchased by calling the NTDP front office at (734) 327-9251.
• The 22 players on the U17 roster represent 11 different states. Michigan and New York have four natives on the roster, while Massachusetts and Missouri each have three.
• Christian Evers represents the first Iowa native at the NTDP.
• Michael Floodstrand recently competed with the U.S. Under-17 Select Team at the 2013 Five Nations Tournament in Trnava, Slovakia, which ran from Aug. 14-18.
• A total of 15 members of Team USA have already verbally committed to NCAA Division I schools.
• The NTDP includes both the U17 and U18 squads. Teams will count jointly as one team in the USHL standings as a member of the Eastern Conference. Should the NTDP qualify for the Clark Cup playoffs, the U.S. National Under-17 Team will represent Team USA.