By Andrew Cluley
AAPS Communications Specialist
This fall the USA Hockey National Team Development Program moves their operations to the former Compuware Arena in Plymouth, after calling the Ann Arbor Ice Cube home since the program’s founding in 1996. USA Hockey benefits from owning an arena that has concessions and seating appropriate for tournaments and other events. The move left many in the community assuming the program would sever ties with Ann Arbor, but NTDP officials say Ann Arbor will remain the program’s home.
Senior Director of Operations Scott Monaghan says USA hockey spent six months searching for a good home when the development program began, and the reasons Ann Arbor was initially chosen remain true today. “A great family city, great culture, great school system, a good place to raise a young man, and we want to keep our program based in that,” Monaghan says.
Defenseman Chad Krys from Ridgefield, Connecticut thinks it’s great the NTDP is maintaining Ann Arbor roots. “Pretty cool to move into a new environment and be accepted as well as we have been here,” He says. “It really makes the transition from home, you know moving away, really easy.”
Ann Arbor Public Schools specifically has been an important part of the success of the NTDP. Nearly all of the 44 players on the Under-17 and Under-18 teams attend Pioneer High School. Monaghan says the district is great academically and has a good focus on pushing kids to college. He says over the last 20 years they’ve never had a player commit to a school and not be eligible to play based on academics. “You want a district that stays cutting edge, and Ann Arbor is a pretty cutting edge district with really good programing,” Monaghan says.
This year’s U-18 team claimed the gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in Switzerland. The players also thrived at Pioneer High School. Of this year’s 19 graduates, 17 earned honors. The University of Michigan, Boston University, Boston College, Cornell, Notre Dame, and Harvard are some of the schools they will attend and play hockey at in the fall.
60 former NTDP players skated in the National Hockey League, and another 50 played in the American Hockey League. Not every player ends up with a long career in professional hockey, but Monaghan says Pioneer High School and the NTDP helps prepare kids for a successful future in other areas as well. “Guys like that always talk about how the rigor of our structure here, both with hockey and academics, helps prepare them for things like med school just as well as they do the NHL,” he says.
In addition to the quality of Ann Arbor Public Schools, a key aspect of the program is the billet system. Host families make a two-year commitment to welcome a player into their home. Players say the billets are important for a variety of reasons. The families help deal with academic problems and other issues such as players being homesick.
School Board Vice-President Christine Stead is currently hosting goalie Joe Woll from Saint Louis, Missouri. Woll says it’s been a great experience. “The Steads have been really great to me over the course of the year here, and they’ve kind of taken me in as a member of their family, and now I feel comfortable with them. Two families have come together, it’s just a really special experience.”
According to Stead the feeling is mutual. She says he’s an amazing athlete, and a really nice kid despite facing a lot of pressure. Stead thinks the experience has been great, particularly for her two sons to have an older role model that is successful academically and athletically. She also thanks USA Hockey for rules, such as a nine o’clock curfew on week nights and 10:30 on weekends.
Stead encourages families considering hosting a player to do so. “Having a player in your home is not just a logistical thing, Joe and his family are now basically our family and I expect they always will be, but that’s kind of how this thing works. They just really become part of your life in a meaningful way,” she says.
The move to the rink in Plymouth means families in northern and northeast Ann Arbor that may not have thought of billeting NTDP players in the past will now be good candidates. Monaghan says it’s a great opportunity for empty nesters, families with young children, or couples without kids to make a lasting connection with a player and his family.
The National Team Development Program hopes to keep the lasting connection going in Ann Arbor, but host families are still needed for the fall to open their home to hockey players from across the nation.