skip navigation

Lasting Legacy: Alumni of 2016 Youth Olympic Games Starring at U18 Worlds

By John Tranchina, 04/25/18, 11:00AM EDT


Core of U.S. National Under-18 Team started to form in Lillehammer two years ago

It is a testament to the skill level, determination and character of the players that won the gold medal for Team USA at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games that now, two years later, many of them are still competing at the highest level internationally.

No less than 10 players (from a roster of just 17) from that squad are currently suiting up for the United States at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Under-18 Men’s World Championship in Russia, which got underway on Thursday, Apr. 19.

10 players on the 2018 U.S. U18 Men's National Team helped Team USA win gold in Lillehammer

“It’s not surprising,” said Scott Paluch, who was Team USA’s coach at that tournament. “I think even the players who are not on the U18 team are players who are going to be heard from down the road. There are some outstanding players. I think everyone knew we had a pretty special group and it was really fun to be a part of it.”

Most of those players, who were just 15 at the time, went on to join USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) for the past two seasons and have been key performers for Team USA at various international tournaments since then.

But it all started in February 2016 in Lillehammer, Norway, with their first international hockey experience. The impact of that first trip overseas, culminating with the U.S. claiming the gold medal with a 5-2 win over Canada in the final, still resonates today.

“I think the best memory from Youth Olympics was winning gold, and to beat Canada in the finals was really cool, because it was my first time representing USA,” said forward Jake Wise (Reading Mass./USAH NTDP), who scored an empty net goal in the final to help secure the victory. “To play Canada was a great experience that I’ll remember forever.”

The players have fond memories of not only their success on the ice but the experience off of it.

“It was my first time going overseas at all, anywhere other than the U.S. or Canada, and first time ever putting on the USA jersey, and it was just an unbelievable experience,” said goaltender Drew DeRidder (Fenton, Mich./USAH NTDP), who made 23 saves in the gold medal triumph. “Just interacting with other athletes from different sports, getting to know everyone — our whole floor was just full of athletes from the U.S., all different sports, and it was really cool to get to meet all those kids.”

“The travel, the first couple of days was tough, but once we got there and got all settled in, I think everyone was so excited to play,” Wise recalled. “No matter how tired you were, you still played your best, just based off adrenaline. I think it was an unbelievable experience. And also, meeting other athletes in the village, meeting the snowboarders and the skiers, it turned out to be a great event.”

The U.S. won their first two preliminary round games against Finland (4-1) and Norway (8-0) before falling 4-2 to Canada.

“Both teams were 2-0 going into the game and we played well and we played hard, but we had some turnovers, we had guys that were really amped up to play against Canada and were trying to do too much,” recounted Paluch. “I think the real important thing is, when we talked to the guys afterwards, there was almost a notion where, ‘Hey coach, we got this, we know exactly what we did wrong. We got this.’ It was a really good vibe. There was still a level of confidence that, ‘We really hope we get the opportunity to play them again.”

Team USA rebounded to defeat Russia 4-2 in their last round-robin game before having to face the Russians again 24 hours later in the tournament semi-final. Wise had a goal and an assist and DeRidder stopped all 19 shots he faced for a 3-0 win, setting up the rematch against the Canadians in the final.

Mattias Samuelsson also captained the U.S. to gold in Lillehammer

“Beating Russia twice in 24 hours in an international tournament, that was a special part of that tournament, being able to do that against such a good team, and then you get your opportunity to play Canada again,” Paluch said. “I thought we had played extremely well to that point, but that game, everything just came together and we were really in control of that game for most of it. And then when it did get close, Drew DeRidder was outstanding. It was a great group.”

In addition to Wise and DeRidder, other players from the 2016 Youth Olympic Games now playing at the U18 World Championships include forwards Jack DeBoer (Madison, N.J./USAH NTDP), Jonathan Gruden (Rochester, Mich./USAH NTDP), Jake Pivonka (Naperville, Ill./USAH NTDP), Oliver Wahlstrom (Quincy, Mass./USAH NTDP) and Tyler Weiss (Raleigh, N.C./USAH NTDP), and defensemen Ty Emberson (Eau Claire, Wis./USAH NTDP), Mattias Samuelsson (who was the captain of the team in Lillehammer and is the U18 captain) (Voorhees, N.J./USAH NTDP) and Adam Samuelsson (San Diego, Calif./USAH NTDP).

That 2016 tournament was the beginning of a strong bond between the players, both on and off the ice, and there’s no question the chemistry that started forming at the Youth Olympic Games is benefitting Team USA now at the U18 Worlds.

“That tournament for me was the first time I got to know a lot of the people that I ended up playing with for the next two years,” said Emberson, an alternate captain of the YOG team in 2016 who is also now wearing the A at the U18 Worlds. “A lot of those guys made [the NTDP] in the last two years, a lot of us have just grown really close, from the beginning.

“Being able to win that gold together was a really good start to everything. To be able to just get that knowledge and that background of how other countries play, and to be able to compete against these same countries the next two years, it gave us a little bit of a base on how to play them and how to beat them.”

And no matter where they go in their careers from here, they will always look back fondly on their first international experience.

“Great memories, obviously,” said Paluch, who serves as USA Hockey’s ADM regional manager for the Mid-American District. “I think the biggest thing was how they responded in that situation, both from a team performance standpoint on the ice, but also how they handled the whole Youth Olympic experience. I think they really relished it, they were proud to be there, and for 15-year-old kids, 15 turning 16, I was amazed at their maturity, at how they handled the whole event.”

“Any time you’re part of a championship team,” Wise added, “that’s a bond you never forget and one that travels with you forever.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

U.S. Homepage

U.S. Roster

Sights & Sounds

Tournament Website

U.S. Schedule

Date Opponent Round Time (Local/ET)/Results Location Television
Sun., April 15 France Exhibition W, 15-0 Traktor Ice Rink
Chelyabinsk, Russia
NHL Network
Thurs., April 19 Canada Preliminary L, 4-6 Metallurg Ice Rink
Magnitogorsk, Russia
NHL Network
Fri., April 20 Switzerland Preliminary W, 8-5 Metallurg Ice Rink
Magnitogorsk, Russia
NHL Network
Sun., April 22 Sweden Preliminary L, 1-3 Metallurg Ice Rink
Magnitogorsk, Russia
NHL Network
Tues., April 24 Belarus Preliminary W, 8-0 Metallurg Ice Rink
Magnitogorsk, Russia
NHL Network
Thurs., April 26 Russia Quarterfinals W, 5-1 Traktor Ice Rink
Chelyabinsk, Russia
NHL Network
Sat., April 28 Czech Republic Semifinals W, 4-1 Traktor Ice Rink
Chelyabinsk, Russia
NHL Network
Sun., April 29 Finland Gold Medal Game L, 2-3 Traktor Ice Rink
Chelyabinsk, Russia
NHL Network

2018 U18 Men's Worlds News