Under-18 United States National Team Development Program: Repeat Offenders

USA Hockey Logo (photo property of the author)

When the United States U-18 National Development Team touched down in America, they did so as back-to-back champions of the Four Nations Cup.  The tournament was held in Switzerland, featuring the host nation, Finland, Sweden and the States to fight for the top spot.  But the US didn’t want to make it as difficult as last year’s Four Nations tournament.

In 2010, the U-18 team had a hard-fought battle against team Sweden in their final game which resulted in a 5-4 shootout win.  This year, Sweden would be just as tough.  On Friday, the Swedes came out strong in the first period, quickly jumping to a 2-1 lead after one against the US.  However, in the second, sloppy play by Sweden led to a U.S. powerplay.  Nic Kerdiles (pronounced ker-DEE-liss) capitalized by scoring his fourth goal of the tournament, knotting the game up at two apiece.  Six minutes later, Kerdiles buried the puck the eventual game-winner behind the Swedish goalie, securing a victory against the U.S.’s toughest opponent.

The following day, the States battled Finland in a 3-1 win.  Kerdiles put up another powerplay tally to kick off the scoring for Team USA.  Helped by two insurance markers from Matthew Lane and top American-born defenseman for the 2012 draft, Jacob Trouba, the U-18 team had one final game to win in order to bring home the crown.

After two previous games of tougher gameplay, the United States’ hard work paid off in a 6-2 breeze over Switzerland. If you’re counting at home, you probably guessed it — Kerdiles’ name popped up on the scoresheet…twice.  With the win, the U.S. repeated their winning ways with a clean sweep of the competition and another Four Nations Cup trophy to show for it in an arena that was just mesmerizing.  Have a gander:

Nic Kerdiles (left) and Quentin Shore (right) pose for a picture at a rink in Switzerland

Look at that view.  You certainly don’t get rinks like that in Canada or the U.S.

It just goes to show that the States (of late) has done a swell job in developing top-level talent, including a few top draft picks in recent years (Kane, JVR, Wilson, Shattenkirk, Campbell, J.T. Miller, Biggs, Murphy, Grimaldi, etc.).  Although the USHL (specifically the USNTDP) doesn’t get much exposure when compared to the CHL, you cannot deny the talent that has been spit out each year.  This year, Team USA is likely to make another big splash at the draft in Pittsburgh.

If you haven’t heard of Nic Kerdiles prior to this article, you will in the very near future.  The kid is a pure sniper, if there ever was one.  Showcasing his goal scoring abilities at the Four Nations Cup, Nic led the tournament in points with five (all of them goals).  The ISS has ranked him in the top 30 each month since September.  If he keeps up his solid play throughout the year, don’t be so shocked to see him as a first rounder at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Jacob Trouba is a big defenseman (6’2″/191 lbs) whose offensive skill is just as polished as his defensive game.  A slick skater with soft hands, Trouba is being talked about as a potential top-10 draft pick.  The University of Michigan commit might be the highest USA defenseman taken since Zach Bogosian was selected 3rd overall by the Winnipeg Je…errrr, Atlanta Thrashers in 2008.

Another riser on the list of Americans is Quentin Shore.  If the last names pops out at you, it’s probably because you’ve heard it mentioned in previous drafts.  Quentin is the third youngest of four Shore brothers.  His two older brothers, Drew (Florida Panthers) and Nick (Los Angeles Kings), were selected in the 2009 and 2011 drafts, respectively.  Quentin looks to become the newest in a line of Shore’s to hear his name called in June of 2012 on the big stage.  Next season he will be playing at Denver University with his two eldest siblings.

The United States ended up victorious in Switzerland, but now it is back to grind.  The team now needs to focus on the rest of the USHL season, which will be key in their development and may just slingshot them into higher draft rankings.  The ultimate test will be in April, when the team goes for their 4th consecutive gold medal at the 2012 IIHF World U-18 Championships.

Will it be difficult?….Sure.  But if there is any team that can pull a rabbit out of a hat, it’s Team USA.

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