The players that have been invited to the 2015 U.S. National Junior Team’s camp taking place this week at Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena appear not to lack in confidence and composure. After a grueling two hours of practice on Day One of the camp, many of the players were brought out to answer questions from the press. Thatcher Demko from Boston College, Jack Eichel, who is a freshman at Boston University and Noah Hanifin who started early at Boston College, at the age of seventeen, were three of the players answering questions today.
Not surprisingly, there is a lot of attention on Eichel, who sits tied for first place among the Division I scoring leaders with Andrew Gladluk, a junior at Bentley. However, what makes Eichel’s position as a leader in scoring even more impressive is the fact that he is a freshman, who turned eighteen at the end of October.
Talking with him though, it is clear that he is about as grounded as they come. And he is the first to point out the things he has to work on and to credit those older teammates who are helping him to grow as a player.
The media both in the United States and in Canada have been doing their best to make the upcoming tournament more a one-on-one battle between Eichel and Connor McDavid who will play for Canada. So, it was no surprise when this question came up post-practice while Eichel was available and how Eichel planned on handling this.
“To be honest, just not think about it,” Eichel responded with forthrightness. “This tournament is not about me versus him at all. It’s all about Team USA. That’s our motto, it’s us. This tournament is going to be about us and that’s what I’m focused on.”
Such a response belies the chronological age of Eichel and reminds all who are around that in his mind hockey is still entirely a team sport. When pressed on if he was aware of the progress that McDavid has made with his injured wrist or with Team Canada’s camp in general, Eichel again showed his commitment to what is important to him.
“I haven’t been focused on Team Canada, their camp [or] whatever’s been going on. I had two finals yesterday,” he offered. “I just finished up school and obviously all my focus is transitioned to helping Team USA.”
And it is this mention of school and finals that calls attention to the fact that with seven exceptions, the remainder of this preliminary roster for Team USA are known more frequently as “student athletes;” juggling classes, homework, and tests in addition to practice, fitness, travel and games as they represent their various schools.
Commitment and confidence showed from the moment the team hit the ice. The speed with which they attacked the drills, making it look so easy, belies the countless hours of power skating, shooting hundreds of pucks and choosing hockey over “hanging with friends.” And that commitment shows in injured Steve Santini from Boston College.
Santini wore the yellow “no contact” jersey and could often be seen skating off by himself. As the forlorn solitary player worked on skating or the occasional stick work, it was clear that he would much rather be involved in the team activities. Hurt in Boston College’s game against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on October 25th, surgery was required. But after a couple of days at home, Santini was back at school and doing what he could to keep as prepared as possible in the hopes that he would be able to participate in this year’s tournament.
The Pink Puck had the opportunity to ask Santini, who was on the team last year when Team USA fell to Russia, about the leadership role he can take in the locker room until he is cleared to play.
“Guys like Brady Skjei, Matt Grzelcyk—they were really good to me when I was the younger guy, so now I’m just trying to do my best to return the favor,” he said. “Everyone’s just trying to keep up and stay on the same page. If I can just be a good leader and a good role model to the younger guys, that will be good enough for me at the end of the day.”
Such composure from a nineteen-year-old is impressive. Many of his age are concerned only with their next party or a chance to play video games. And while most hockey players love to play video games, Santini’s ability to be reflective in the face of the adversity he faces speaks to someone of much more maturity.
Camp has just begun, and this phase of the camp will culminate with the Team USA roster taking on the Boston University Terriers on Friday evening, the 19th, at 7:30pm at Walter Brown Arena.