Former fans of the Plymouth Whalers will have to hang on until the second week of October to catch the new USA Hockey teams in action.
But the waiting is over for both the National Team Development Program Under-18 and Under-17 teams, who will open their respective 2015-16 seasons with Saturday road contests.
The U18’s skate into action Saturday in Youngstown, Ohio against the Phantoms while the U17’s open up Saturday against the Chicago Steel.
According to U18 head coach Danton Cole, the older of the two NTDP squads can’t wait for the games to begin and promise a fun and fast brand of hockey at USA Hockey Arena when home games begin 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11 (against the Steel and University of Notre Dame, respectively).
“The U18 team is a very sound team with good depth,” Cole emphasized. “We like to play a fast-paced game and always be on the attack.
“The NTDP does a great job building up the strength and maturity of the players and fans will be impressed with the level of hockey these young men are able to play at their age.”
Players such as forward Clayton Keller and defenseman Chad Krys are expected to lead the team. Both won gold medals last year at the U18 World Championship.
“That experience is something that we look to help the rest of the team, who will be going through it for the first time,” Cole said. “We also feel our goaltending tandem of Joe Woll and Jake Oettinger is going to be very good for us and a strength.”
Cole’s team also enjoys a Michigan flavor. On the roster is 6-3, 214-pound defenseman Griffin Luce (grandson of former Detroit Red Wing Don Luce), who has committed to play collegiately at the University of Michigan.
Macomb native Keenan Suthers is a left winger who plans to skate at Western Michigan University after his NTDP career.
Metro-area players who are slated to play up front include Brighton’s Keeghan Howdeshell (Ferris State) and Bloomfield Hills’ Will Lockwood (U-M).
Cole also will have a physical defense, with Luce along with J.D. Greenway (6-4), Luke Martin and Michael Campoli (each 6-2). Krys stands 5-11 while other blueliners include Ryan Lindgren (6-0), Matthew Hellickson (6-0) and 5-10 Adam Fox.
Rounding out the U18 roster are forwards Trent Frederic, Nick Pastujov, Patrick Khodorenko, Zach Walker, James Sanchez, Joey Anderson, Clayton Keller, Graham McPhee, Kieffer Bellows and goalie Jordan Severo.
Also primed for the Plymouth era to begin for the NTDP is U17 head coach Don Granato, who agrees with Cole about the style of hockey fans can expect.
The U17 home opener is 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16 against the Madison Capitols.
“Fans can expect a fast-paced, back-and-forth game,” Granato said. “As a coaching objective we want to elevate the pace of the game, we want to play at a high tempo.”
One player who already knows what the metro-Detroit spectator is like is Northville’s Dylan St. Cyr, a promising goalie for the U17 squad and a U-M recruit. Also in goal will be Adam Scheel.
Among others with state ties are forwards Logan Cockerill (Brighton) and Josh Norris (Oxford).
“Everyone is a key player,” Granato said. We are working with some of the best talent in the country and each player brings something special and different to the table.”
Skating up front, in addition to Cockerill and Norris, will be Joey Cassetti, Michael Pastujov, Brady Tkachuk, Graham Slaggert, Sean Dhooghe, Logan Hutsko, Grant Mismash, Randy Hernandez, Jacob Tortora, Scott Reedy and Evan Barratt.
On the blueline will be Tyler Inamoto, Josh Maniscalco, Quinn Hughes, Nate Knoepke, David Farrance, Phil Kemp and Max Gildon.
Rarin’ to go
Meanwhile, both Cole and Granato said the players are looking forward to the first season of USA Hockey in Plymouth at the former Compuware Arena. The NTDP squads previously skated at the much-smaller Ann Arbor Ice Cube.
“They have been impressed with how welcoming everyone has been,” Cole said.
He said that players have adjusted to the community “and really love the arena and the people here.”
Granato noted that “everyone has been excited with our move to the Plymouth community.”
Both coaches stressed to new fans that they are in for a treat.
“The NTDP does a great job building up the strength and maturity of the players and fans will be impressed with the level of hockey these young men are able to play at their age,” Cole said.
Added Granato, “We look forward most to playing in front of hockey fans from the Plymouth and Metro Detroit areas. The atmosphere in USA Hockey Arena will be great.”