For 20 teenage hockey players, this will be the first time they’ve ever represented the United States in international competition.
Head coach Dan Jablonic (Milwaukee, Wis.) is charged with leading the group, as the U.S. seeks another first-place finish at the 2022 Athletix Under-17 Five Nations Tournament, which kicks off today in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“We’re excited for these kids, where they’re at right now and the bright futures that they have,” Jablonic said. “For us, as a coaching staff, it’s an honor to be with skilled players and smart young men who want to get better … who have great aspirations in hockey.”
One such player is Julian Brown, a 6-foot-3, 213-pound 16-year-old defenseman from Montclair, N.J. He most recently played with the New Jersey Avalanche and is now ready to represent the United States for the first time.
“It’s the best opportunity I’ve ever had to represent my country,” Brown said. “It will be great to see where we stand internationally, as we compete against the best players from four other countries. I’m excited to start the tournament and play with a great team. It’s going to be fun.”
The Five Nations Tournament is set to run through Saturday at Ed Robson Arena, home of the Colorado College Tigers. Other teams in the tournament include Czechia, Switzerland, Germany and Slovakia.
The U.S. opens the tournament Tuesday night against Germany. The U.S. meets Switzerland on Wednesday before a day off. A game against Slovakia follows on Friday and the U.S. faces Czechia on Saturday.
“We know we’re going to have incredibly tough competition, but we’re really excited for the opportunity to showcase who we are as a team,” Jablonic said.
The U.S. Under-17 Select Team was selected following the USA Hockey Biosteel Boys Select 16 Player Development Camp, which took place this past summer in Amherst, New York. The development camp, in addition to picking the select team, also provided participants with elite instruction, as well as the opportunity to compete at the national level against other players in their age group.
Jablonic said it was fun for him to see his players react to representing the U.S. on the international stage for the first time.
“For these kids, the first time they got their gear, or their shirts with the red, white and blue on it … to watch their faces with excitement was really cool,” Jablonic said. “These are 16-year-old kids that have the opportunity to represent their country and really understand what that means. This is a life experience and I’m excited to share that with our kids.”
Brown called it a “surreal experience” to represent his country for the first time. Current NHLers who previously played with the U.S. Under-17 Select Team include Brock Boeser, Dustin Brown, Tony DeAngelo, Thatcher Demko, Justin Faulk, Patrick Kane, Nick Leddy, Kyle Okposo and Troy Terry, among others.
Next year, Brown plans to split time with the Boston Junior Bruins and the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL. He aspires of one day playing Division I hockey, but for now Brown is focused on the red, white and blue.
“At first, it’s surreal and hard to believe,” Brown said. “Every time you put that jersey on, it really hammers home how much of an honor it is to represent your country.”
Since 2007, Team USA has captured eight championships, including last year’s title in Visp, Switzerland. Jablonic said that Bob Mancini and Ken Martel — the coach and general manager of last year’s championship-winning team — talked to this year’s group about that tournament victory during the week.
Jablonic and his team want a repeat performance this week on home soil.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to have those high expectations,” Jablonic said. “It’s something we understand, we’re going to have to work extremely hard in order to do that and we’re excited for that challenge.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.