This article originally appeared in the Aug. 12, 2013 edition of MiHockeyMag. To see it in print, click here.
By Michael Caples -
ANN ARBOR - St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk had plenty to say about the U.S. National Team Development Program during his visit to Ann Arbor in July.
“It was phenomenal for me,” said Shattenkirk, an NTDP alum celebrating a new four-year contract with the Blues. “I think from a hockey standpoint, it definitely allowed me to get to the next level. You come into a program like this, where they kind of preach a professional lifestyle, I think getting that engrained in you as a young player is awesome.
“Coming back and seeing all these familiar faces and kind of just start right where you left off is nice. There’s a lot of good friends here, and a lot of nice people. It’s nice to be back.”
Shattenkirk wasn’t the only player back in town; the USA Hockey Foundation hosted an alumni weekend from July 12-14 for all the players who have skated for the NTDP since its inception in 1996. National team invitees were welcomed back to Ann Arbor for social gatherings, some time on the ice, and a golf outing at the Polo Fields Golf and Country Club in Ann Arbor.
“There’s been 16 years of teams on the ice, and we thought it would be a good time to try to get the group together,” said USA Hockey assistant executive director Pat Kelleher. “As you can see here, the guys are having a good time reconnecting with old friends and teammates and staff and billet families. It’s just a fun event to kind of get things going.
“What we’re trying to do with the USA Hockey Foundation is revive an alumni association, so this is one of our starting steps to reengaging with those men, women, boys and girls that played on national teams for us. This is kind of a great opportunity, we have a great history so far with the NTDP, and only hoping to build on it and bring a lot of these guys together.”
Ann Arbor native Ian Cole, a teammate of Shattenkirk’s both at the NTDP (2005-07) and now in St. Louis, said it was great to see all his teammates back in his hometown.
“Oh it’s awesome,” said Cole, a first-round pick of the Blues in 2007. “It’s awesome. A lot of the guys you keep in touch with still, I obviously see Shatty all the time, unfortunately [laughs], but you see a lot of the guys. At the same time, we haven’t seen guys in years. It’s awesome to see the guys on your team, and then the older guys and the younger guys and stuff. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s really good to be back.”
Despite not experiencing as drastic of a move as the majority of his NTDP teammates, Cole still raved about what the national program did for his development on and off the ice.
“Yeah, it was huge, both as a player and as a person,” the Notre Dame alum said. “As a player, I don’t think I’d be where I am today without it. Just with the attention to detail, the attention to working out and getting in shape and time management and doing the right things as a person and being a good person. It kind of molds you into a very good college hockey player and a professional hockey player, when you can manage your time and obviously you have a good basis for working out, and kind of build on, as a player. I couldn’t ask for a better program as a player.”
Yet not all of the NTDP alums returning to town are now professional athletes. For Kelleher, it’s just as rewarding to see the former players excelling away from the ice.
“It’s fun to watch. I had conversations with a couple of guys who are playing in the NHL, and it’s an enjoyable to see. But then I had a couple of conversations with guys who are in business school, in law school, and it’s impressive. I think it speaks well to not only the NTDP and USA Hockey but I think it speaks a lot to our sport. I think the way hockey is structured and what we’re all kind of focused around, the things that we all believe are the great things about the sport, some of the guys played at the higher levels of our world and USA Hockey, but they’re the same as a lot of guys who wanted to play and tried to play college hockey to get an education, and hopefully the game has been a part of that for all these guys.”
Canton native Brandon Scero, a 2004-06 NTDP product and University of Nebraska-Omaha alum, now helps coach Salem High School’s varsity team. He credited the NTDP for helping him get a college education, and to be ready for what comes after hockey.
“What they did for me as a person, they just get you prepared for what’s ahead,” Scero said. “You go to college and you’re more groomed, you have to respect time, do all that kind of stuff. What they did outside of the rink, you can’t find anything like it around.”
A.J. Sturges, a Wisconsin native who played for the NTDP from 2005-07 before heading to Michigan State, said that the weekend served as an opportunity to reflect on how much the NTDP meant to his development both on and off the ice.
“It’s amazing to get back,” Sturges said. “I’m glad a lot of my group was able to get back to Ann Arbor and, for me, it’s about reconnecting. I’ve always been pretty close, being in East Lansing, but just being around the same people and being at the Cube yesterday, just the smell of the place, it takes you back to a really significant time of my life, a really important time for me. I have nothing but good memories to cherish as I leave, but it’s also great to come back and celebrate those.”