By @MichaelCaples –
It may only be March 15, but USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program can start making plans for the playoffs.
Thanks to a 10-3 win over the Madison Capitols Thursday night in Plymouth, the NTDP is the first team to secure a spot in the 2018 USHL playoffs.
It will be Team USA’s first postseason appearance since the 2011-12 season.
When postseason play begins – USHL regular-season games go through April 14 – the NTDP Under-17 Team will represent the Plymouth-based program in the chase for the Clark Cup, while the Under-18 Team will represent USA Hockey at the 2018 IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Russia.
The Under-17 Team is more than capable of holding its own, however, and that’s the main reason why the NTDP is preparing for postseason play – and most likely home ice.
Both NTDP programs compete in the USHL; the two teams’ results are combined to function as one USHL team in the standings. With the Under-18 Team incorporating NCAA competition into their schedule each season, however, the Under-17 Team takes care of the bulk of the NTDP’s USHL schedule.
With an incredibly talented Under-17 Team this season, the NTDP currently holds the top spot in the USHL. Roster shuffling aside – Jack Hughes was called up in January and other players from the Under-17 Team have followed in recent weeks – the U17s have done more than their fair share in racking up the USHL wins while their older counterparts take on D1 schools.
The Under-17 Team – comprised of 16-year-olds playing against teams fielding squads of players up to four years older – is 14-10-0 on the season. That has allowed for the Under-18 Team’s remarkable 19-2-1 USHL record to catapult the combined team record to the top of the league standings.
In the U18’s Thursday night win, there were seven members of the U17s on the line-up chart. That was in part because the team is figuring out which players they want to take with them to the World Championship in Russia, in part because of a few injuries and, also in part, because the 17s have been so good they’ve earned call-ups.
A NTDP player likely won’t win the USHL scoring race because of their condensed schedule; they simply don’t play in as many games as players on other USHL rosters since the two NTDP rosters split the league-schedule workload. If you look at the USHL points-per-game leaders, however, you will find nine NTDP players in the top 20. Five of those nine players are in the Under-17 team age group – Hughes (2.00 points-per-game), Cole Caufield (1.07), Alex Turcotte (1.07), Matthew Boldy (1.04) and Trevor Zegras (1.00).
For more perspective, if Jack Hughes had played in as many games as Muskegon’s Anthony Del Gaizo – the USHL’s points leader – he would have 100 USHL points this season. Del Gaizo has 59.
Thursday’s win was an illustration of the NTDP’s depth. As previously noted, Team USA had seven members of the U17s in the line-up; the skaters recorded a combined nine points while Spencer Knight posted a 28-save outing between the pipes.
Joel Farabee, a projected top-20 pick in the upcoming NHL Draft, was the only player who scored more than one goal in the contest – nine total players found the back of the net.
Here are the highlights from the game: