By @MichaelCaples –
PLYMOUTH – When the bus pulled up, USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-17 Team was there to great their elder counterparts.
The NTDP U18 Team brought home gold, but, really, that just meant that the cheering was a little louder when they got off the bus after the lengthy trip home from Slovakia.
The 17s greet the 18s. The younger class welcomes back the older class. It’s becoming a tradition, and there’s oftentimes substantial hardware around the 18s’ necks.
“That was pretty special,” U18 Team forward and Oxford native Josh Norris said of the welcoming party. “I remember last year when the 18s got home from last year’s tournament, we did the same thing, and it’s nice to see them after three weeks. We missed them, so it was great to see them supporting us.”
The NTDP boys came home with the tenth gold medal from the prestigious Under-18 tournament after beating Finland in the title game on Sunday. Team USA posted a perfect 7-0 record during their time in Slovakia, and they were welcomed back with a party featuring friends, family and fans inside the arena’s restaurant.
Another title for Team USA, but a unique one, as this group of NTDP young stars were the first to skate exclusively out of USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
“Unbelievable,” said head coach John Wroblewski when asked how proud of this group he was.
“I still look at this group as the group that stepped into this place and USA Hockey Arena and they were in storage room B under the steps, dressing with pillars in the locker room and concrete and everything else. For them to persevere and to come through the season like they did is a tremendous accomplishment for these young men and just a testament to the individuals in here.”
“I feel like it’s somewhat a new-born generation of the program here,” Norris said. “To be able to finish that tournament with a huge bang like that, it’s awesome.”
It was a 20-day stretch overseas for the U18 Team; they were joined by U17 skaters Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee and roster additions Cayden Primeau and Ryan Poehling. The core of the team, like always, was the NTDP Under-18 Team, playing in their final tournament of their two-year stay with the national program.
“Pretty crazy – 20 days over there is pretty long,” Norris said. “A lot of work went into the last two years, and obviously that tournament’s a replica of what this program’s all about. To be able to bring home a gold medal is pretty special.”
Just when they thought they knew everything about each other, the tournament served as the final learning lesson for both the players and coaches.
“We got better as the tournament went on, and we learned things about our team all the way up until the end, even for how long we’ve been together,” Wroblewski said. “Playoff atmosphere in a situation like a World Championship is a different animal, and there’s different emotions. The ice sheet, the competition level, it’s all different – those teams don’t bring the same players that they do for other events. You have to evolve, you have to move on, and we learned a lot about each other and we learned a lot about ourselves throughout the entire tournament. Our progress line was on the incline.”
“It was the best experience I’ve had personally,” Norris said. “Obviously from a team perspective, to win a gold medal, so many memories I’ve made over there the past 20 days that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It was unbelievable to be a part of.”