Patrick Kane

Hockey Day in America: The USNTDP gets American players off on the right foot

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The prominence of American players in the NHL is something that’s gotten the attention of the rest of the hockey-playing world. Watching the United States make the gold medal game in the 2002 and 2010 Olympic games as well as seeing the World Junior Championships team take home the gold in 2010 has served notice to the world that America is serious about hockey and things are getting better year by year.

American players don’t pop up out of nowhere though and it all starts at the grass roots level playing pee-wee, bantam, and midget hockey. From there, if players are good enough they can take part in the United States National Team Development Program. The list of players who have come through the USNTDP in Ann Arbor, Michigan is illustrious and growing by the year. Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, Jimmy Howard, and Ryan Suter are among the names the USNTDP can call alumni.

The success of the USNTDP is something they’re trying to improve upon and help grow the sport in the United States. Having success stories like the players mentioned as well as others only helps increase the program’s profile.

Chris Peters, formerly of USA Hockey and currently writing at The United States of Hockey, says that what the program is doing is only helping make hockey all the more popular in the States. The USNTDP’s growth, however, came thanks to the United States not liking where they stood compared to the rest of the world.

“USA hockey had struggled so much internationally,” Peters said.  “[current Notre Dame head coach] Jeff Jackson, I think, was the coach of the junior team in in ’95 or so and said they were getting killed out here. They obviously wanted to get the best players and develop them all the same way.

“Basically what it’s done over the 15 years in its existence is that not only has it made those 40-plus players better but it’s forced everyone else to get better at what they do… Now we’re not only seeing the high-end players being very good but also the depth players as well.”

source: Getty ImagesThe growth of the program has been impressive over the years. According to USA Hockey, since 1999 there have been 30 players (PDF) drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft that have gone through the USNTDP. Three players out of the USNTDP system have been No. 1 picks in the draft in that time: Rick DiPietro (2000), Erik Johnson (2006), and Patrick Kane (2007).

In 2007, the top two picks in Kane and James van Riemsdyk were both graduates of the USNTDP program and Kane went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks over van Riemsdyk’s Flyers. While Kane is the prime example of what can happen when coming up through the USNTDP ranks, the goals the USNTDP has are set high, especially on the world stage.

“The main goal is to get those guys prepared for international hockey, their future hockey careers. That’s part of the mission statement,” Peters says. “In the last seven or eight years, every international tournament the United States plays in now they have a chance to win gold.”

Going from being a country that was an afterthought in hockey development to being a world power takes time and hard work and what the USNTDP does and where American hockey is at now shows that their commitment is paying dividends.

Don Granato named head coach of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program


When people talk about former NHL player and current Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato, it’s common for the discussion to shift to one of his siblings as well. In most cases, they end up talking about his well-known hockey playing sister Cammi, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.

This time around, Tony’s brother Don is the focus. Don Granato was named the head coach of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (or USNTDP) today. Granato will become one of the two head coaches employed by the program, serving as the head coach of the Under-17 Team. The Penguins Web site points out that this was the same job that John Hynes – head coach of their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – once held for six years.

Don Granato has enjoyed plenty of success in his 15 years of coaching at various levels of hockey, as you can see from this mini-resume from the Penguins site.

Granato, 44, began coaching in 1993. The Downers Grove, Ill., native was the first-ever coach and general manager of the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League (USHL), where he twice led the team to two Anderson Cup titles as regular season champions and also coached them to a Clark Cup as playoff champion.

After spending three seasons in the ECHL – winning a Kelly Cup with the Peoria Rivermen in 2000 – Granato moved to the American Hockey League (AHL), where he won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the most outstanding coach in 2001 with the Worcester IceCats.

He spent four seasons with the IceCats, the minor-league affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, from 2000-05, becoming the winningest coach in franchise history with a 191-130-45-14 record.

After serving as an assistant coach for St. Louis in 2005-06, Granato was head coach of the Chicago Wolves, then the minor-league affilate of the Atlanta Thrashers, from 2008-10. He spent last season as a scout with the Vancouver Canucks.

(Photo credit: Ross Dettman of the Chicago Wolves via USA Hockey.com.)