USA Hockey Magazine

November 2015

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36 PHOTOS BY Bill Wippert NOVEMBER. 2015 USAHOCKEYMAGAZINE.COM T he late, great Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." When it comes to devel- oping top end hockey talent, that fork in the road is lead- ing more American players down that path to success. Nowhere was that more evident than at the fourth annual CCM/USA Hockey All- American Prospects Game as many of the 42 draft-eligible players competing at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo took different roads to get there. Some came through USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, an elite program that provides 16 and 17 year olds with the opportunity to play against college programs, top Junior teams and compete in international competition. But with a deeper player pool and a lim- ited number of spots available in Plymouth, Mich., USA Hockey needed to create alter- native routes to help talented youngsters reach their goals. "We have one path, which is the National Team Development Program, which is what we believe to be the best development pro- gram for 16 and 17 year olds in the world," said Kevin McLaughlin, senior director of hockey development. "We have a secondary path, and it starts with Affiliate and District tryout camps." From those local camps, players advance to the national player development camps where two U.S. select teams are chosen to compete at overseas summer tournaments: an Under-17 team that competes at the Under- 17 Five Nations and an Under-18 team that competes at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup. "It helps us broaden the base and give kids another setting to show where they're at in the player pool," said Jim Johansson, assis- tant executive director of hockey operations. "With that, you see them both on and off the ice, and where they fit from a leadership standpoint and competitive nature, and then obviously hockey performance." Thirteen players who competed at this year's All-American Prospects Game were alumni of one U.S. Select Team or the other. William Knierim is one of a half dozen prospects who competed at both tourna- ments. Those experiences, he said, helped him adjust to different styles of play while gaining valuable experience playing under the watchful eye of professional scouts. And that helped to quiet the nerves a bit in Buffalo, where approximately 150 NHL scouts and general managers were on hand looking for the next Jack Eichel. "To be able to go overseas and play for your country and wear the crest across your chest, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and oddly enough I was able to do it twice," said the Skokie, Ill., native who plays with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the United States Hockey League. "And now I'm here again. I'm absolutely honored to do it." Derek Plante, one of the coaches for this year's game, is very familiar with the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup and its benefits, hav- ing coached the U.S. squad at the tourna- ment the past three years. BY ALYSSA GIRARDI USA HOCKEY'S PLAYER DEVELOPMENT SYSTEM TAKES CENTER STAGE AT ALL-AMERICAN PROSPECTS GAME A WELL-TRAVELED " YOU SEE THEM BOTH ON AND OFF THE ICE, AND WHERE THE Y FIT FROM A LEADERSHIP STANDPOINT AND COMPETITIVE NATURE."

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