Origin stories: The USNTDP
Posted September 14th, 2021
The Under-17 Team is loaded with top talent from the 2005-birth year
Each and every fall, they arrive in Plymouth, Mich. – a new group of elite hockey players ready to suit up for Team USA.
USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (USNTDP) serves as a two-year hockey bootcamp that is seen as the top destination for American youth hockey players. A dedicated staff watches players compete across the country before bringing them together for the coveted Top 40 Camp; an evaluation process that solidifies the choices for the incoming Under-17 Team.
Players selected start a two-year journey through the program, first as the U.S. National Under-17 Team, and then as the U.S. National Under-18 Team the following season. They play in the United States Hockey League (USHL), compete in international tournaments, and the Under-18 Team will compete against NCAA opponents as even tougher training for their final test, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Under-18 World Championship.
“Thanks to our grassroots volunteers in programs all across the country and many others, the talent pool in our country continues to get better and better, making it more difficult than ever to settle on a final group of players to invite to be part of the NTDP,” said Kevin Reiter, director of player personnel, as part of the press release announcing the latest crop of budding stars welcomed into the program.
But where do the players come from? What is the most common path taken to arrive in Plymouth?
The latest Under-17 Team consists of players from the 2005 birth-year. Their final year of youth hockey leading up to the selection process was anything but normal, given the impact of COVID-19 on the sport. While that may have limited some of the off-season activities players could partake in, an evaluation of the team’s roster finds common threads that emulate most NTDP squads.
The ’05 squad features players from 12 different states. The “Three M’s” lead the way, as five kids hail from Minnesota, and three apiece from Michigan and Massachusetts. Truly a representation of hockey across the country, players come from the likes of Florida, Texas and California as well.
In the 2020-21 campaign, 15 of the 24 players selected played in the 15-Only age group. Five played ‘up’ at the 16U level, while four played high school hockey. Seven in total played in some form of high school hockey, as several states allow for players to jointly play high school and AAA hockey.
The Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers 15-Only squad produced the most players selected from a single program, as four teammates — Ryan Fine, Salvatore Guzzo, Drew Fortescue and Aram Minnetian — made the trek from Connecticut to Michigan together.
HoneyBaked had three players selected – Charlie Cerrato, Zachary Schulz and goaltender Trey Augustine, while Chicago Mission also produced three in Gabriel Perreault, Carter Slaggert and Paul Fischer.
All three of those teams reached the semifinals of the 2021 USA Hockey National Championships last spring but it was HoneyBaked, not Mid-Fairfield, coming home with gold. In fact, fellow NTDP goaltender Michael Chambre would keep MFJR from reaching the finals after he put together a 30-save performance in a 2-1 shootout win for Florida Alliance. They were foes last May competing against one another for a title, but now teammates for the foreseeable future representing the red, white and blue.
The two leading scorers from the national tournament earned a spot on the NTDP roster this fall. Cerrato is a Maryland native who moved to Michigan to suit up for HoneyBaked. Mission’s Gabriel Perreault, an Illinois native, son of former NHLer Yanic Perreault and brother of first-round pick Jacob Perreault.
Chambre and Augustine led the tournament in saves, as well.
It was the lone national tournament this age group was able to experience, after their 14U event was canceled in 2020. Many of the players have seen each other through various tournaments and showcases over the course of their youth careers.
Minnetian, Cerrato, Kai Janviriya (Compuware 15O), Alex Weiermair (Seacoast Spartans 16U) and Gracyn Sawchyn (Shattuck-St. Mary’s 16U) were all standout performers at the World Selects Invitational (WSI), a premiere spring tournament that welcomes more than 3,000 athletes from as many as 16 countries annually.
Even before they were competing at the WSI, the core of this year’s NTDP group was sharing the international stage at two iconic youth hockey tournaments. Eleven of the players skated in the Brick Invitational in Alberta in the summer of 2015, and 12 of them competed at the Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament three years later.
It will be fun to see where the ’05 birth year ends up, both at the conclusion of their time with the NTDP and where they go from there. The track record for identifying talent and enhancing it during the two-year stay in Plymouth has made the NTDP an enviable program for the youth hockey community across the globe.
Sixteen of the players on the roster have already announced verbal commitments to college. In the Big Ten, Slaggert and Fischer have committed to Notre Dame; Zach Shulz and Brady Cleveland (Team Wisconsin) have pledged to Wisconsin, and Augustine and Cerrato have committed to Michigan. Eight have committed to Hockey East programs like Will Vote, Ryan Leonard, Drew Fortescue and Minnetian to Boston College; Fine, Janviriya and Chambre to Boston University; and Will Smith to Northeastern. Austin Burnevik is committed to St. Cloud State of the NCHC, and Salvatore Guzzo is committed to Harvard of the ECAC.
The NTDP Under-17 Team begins play at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn., Sept. 17-18. Their first home game will be on Oct. 1 – a USHL matchup with the Youngstown Phantoms.
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