Whenever you turn on your television and tune into a National Hockey League game, often you’ll watch players that developed under the USA Hockey development program.
The National Team Development Program (NTDP) was established to help identify elite players under the age of 18 and centralize their training and development.
Based in Plymouth, Mich., the NTDP has trained and developed countless NHL all-stars and regulars including Pittsburgh Penguins forwards Bryan Rust and Phil Kessel and Buffalo Sabres superstar center Jack Eichel to name a few.
Now, Tomahawks fans will watch the next crop of NHL hopefuls take the ice at 1ST SUMMIT ARENA when the Hawks host Team USA for a pair of preseason games on Friday, Sept. 7 (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday, Sept. 8 (3 p.m.).
For Tomahawks bench boss, Mike Letizia, the opportunity to compete against elite level competition speaks to the respect the Tomahawks organization has earned.
“The US National Development Team is the most recognized and prominent junior program in the country and maybe the world and having them come to Johnstown for these games is remarkable,” Letizia said. “I think it speaks volumes to the respect that our organization has gained over the course of our existence, and how incredible the city of Johnstown is when it comes to hockey. There are very few teams that get the opportunity to do this, and we are very fortunate that this is our second time doing so, but most excitingly our first time on our home ice with our town and fans.”
This will be the second time the Tomahawks have competed against the NTDP.
In September 2016, Johnstown hosted the NTDP team for two games at Robert Morris University.
The 2016-17 edition of Team USA featured 2018 first round picks including forward Oliver Wahlstrom (11th overall, New York Islanders), forward Joel Farabee (14th overall, Philadelphia Flyers) and defenseman K’Andre Miller (22nd overall, New York Rangers).
“There are no secrets that these are basically the top American players of their age group hand-selected to become a part of their program,” Letizia said. “Nearly every single player has or will have a Division 1 scholarship and many of them will be NHL draft picks, likely in the first round.”
“The draft this year had 16 players selected from the NTDP which is an incredible number. When you look at the alumni that has come through there it’s like an All-Star cast. Names like Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews, and obviously Penguins like Phil Kessel, Jack Johnson, and Bryan Rust. There are countless others as well.”
The contests against TEAM USA not only offer a great opportunity for fans to see NHL-level talent while cheering on the Hawks, it is obviously a chance for the Letizia to evaluate his team ahead of the first regular season game on Friday, Sept. 14 in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“Like all preseason games, it gives us a chance to evaluate where we are at with our team,” he said. “In these games, there will be even greater with the level of competition that we will be playing. The speed, skill, and pace of the game should be at an elite level and it should provide a great platform for evaluation and preparation heading into our season opener. I am eagerly looking forward to these two games and seeing how our work throughout training camp comes together.”
Season ticket holders will receive FREE admission to both preseason contests against Team USA.
General admission seats will be $7 to the public and will be on sale at a later date. Follow Tomahawks social media for updates regarding tickets.
The Tomahawks open the 2018-19 season on the road in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday, Sept. 14. The team returns to Johnstown for its home opener on Friday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m., against the Jamestown Rebels. The full 2018-19 promotional schedule will be released in the near future.