Ed Note: Check this kid out. He can play.
Evan Allen knew at 11 years old that he wanted to play for the US National Team Development Program (NTDP). The 17 year old standout out forward spoke with former player Kenny Ryan about the program and it immediately became one of his goals would be to play for the NTDP. Unfortunately not all hockey parents and kids in the United States are aware the NTDP even exists. The NTDP gives elite hockey players the opportunity to develop through on and off ice training that would normally not be available to them. According to USA Hockey, the National Team Development Program was started in 1996 by USA Hockey as a way to identify elite ice hockey players in the United States under the age of 18 and centralize their training. There are two teams in the program, an Under-17(U-17’s) squad and an Under-18 (U-18’s)squad. Both teams are based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The stated goal of the NTDP is “to prepare student-athletes under the age of 18 for participation on U.S. National Teams and success in their future hockey careers. Its efforts focus not only on high-caliber participation on the ice, but creating well-rounded individuals off the ice.”
Since its inception the NTDP have sent over 40 players to the NHL and many more to Division 1 NCAA college. In 2007, Gary Bettman and USA Hockey couldn’t get the word out fast enough that two US Hockey players were drafted number 1 and 2 overall in the NHL for the first time. Patrick Kane was taken by the Chicago Blackhawks and James Van Reimsdyk was taken 2nd by the Philadelphia Flyers. Both players had spent time developing under the arm of the NTDP.
Hockey Players don’t grow on trees, they start playing youth hockey, waking up early at 4am traveling to cold ice rinks and to get a game in. There is a lot of sacrifice done by family and friends to help players play hockey. Every player in the NHL they wouldn’t be where they are without the support and help of their family and friends. Players that play for the NTDP are not different, yes they are the United States’ best of the best, but they make great sacrifices to achieve their dreams. Players like Evan Allen leave their families at a young age to live with billet families; Families that give players from across the country a place to live during the season. According to Allen “living with a billet is an awesome experience, it’s probably the biggest impact on your USA experience aside from hockey. Having a family take you in and be a huge part of their life is awesome!”
Since all the players on the team are 18 and under these players must still attend High School. Depending on their billet family situation they will attend either Ann Arbor Huron High School or Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. The player’s day is extremely busy depending on which team they are playing on. The U-17’s team will typically start School around 7:40am, with a packed academic schedule that gets them out at 1:25 and they are off to the rink. Once at the rink they will start out the day with off-ice stride workout, such as slide board, jump rope and plyometric. On every Monday on ice they have power skating for a half hour, and then practice until 4:30. Then 4 times a week we lift after practice. The U-18’s have it a little easier; they have the same school schedule as the U-17’s. They start out stretching before practice and then are on the ice until around 4:00. Once they are done on the ice they have a lifting session until meetings. There are many different meetings including, team video, powerplay video, penalty kill video and then individual meetings.
The individual meetings give players a chance to find out what they need to work on to improve their games. For a noted goal scorer like Allen, it is important for him to focus on his defensive games. “My game is a goal scorer’s mentality which means I love to shoot the puck and score using my shot to an advantage a lot. But I am working every day to work more defensively and competing every shift and working not to take a shift off.” The coaching staff of the NTDP will give Allen a chance to become a better two way player which will help his collegiate future.
First year U-18 coach Don Granato brings along many years of hockey knowledge. He is a member of USA hockey royalty with brother Tony playing 13 season in the NHL and 3 years of NHL head coaching experience. Don’s sister Cammi Granato, captained the USA womens hockey team in 1998 that won gold. She is also married to former NHL’er Ray Ferraro. Needless to say players are excited to have Don running the bench “Playing for Don Granato is an awesome, he knows so much about the game and is one of the best coaches I have ever had. He is so good working individually with players we all have a certain bond with him which is really cool.”
After the hockey duties are complete they get time to hang out with their teammates. “A lot of bonding together and just hanging out talking about hockey and what not so it’s a great time” says Allen. These players have a very busy day, the purpose of this program is to prepare them for NCAA Division 1 and eventually NHL hockey.
For American Hockey players the step before the NHL is College hockey and for players on the NTDP their schedule is a busy one. The NTDP plays in the United States Hockey League (USHL) every weekend. The U-17’s play more of these games since the U-18’s play a lot of college games, and most importantly international tournament 3 times a year. The games against college teams give them a chance to showcase their talents against NCAA teams for whom they are hoping to one day play. Currently the NTDP has 34 players committed to Division 1 college hockey teams. Evan Allen has committed to his favorite team the University of Michigan. “It’s a great opportunity for me. Having grown up a huge Michigan fan and having always wanted to play there…yes there were other colleges, but Michigan was and always will be my #1 choice.” He will have plenty of company as several of his current teammates are committed to Michigan as well.
Players like Allen have big names to follow, former NTDP Ryan Kesler also went to Michigan and then to the NHL. One of the major benefit for players on the NTDP are the alumni are always returning giving advice. A few weeks ago Kesler visited the U-17’s. Kesler isn’t the only player to return and give help, the NTDP is like a fraternity, and once you play there you take care of the next group of players to come up, according to Allen, “it’s always a pleasure to talk to former NTDP players. As they all say, not one has yet to not say this, they all tell us to enjoy it while it lasts because it goes by way too fast to take in and they still keep in contact and are best friends with all of their NTDP team mates, which is awesome.”
That is awesome indeed. It’s very similar to what the late Fred Shero once said, “win today and we’ll walk together forever.”
Check out these goals by Evan Allen on youtube…………