Arizona players representing state well with U.S. NTDP Under-17 Team
Three players with Arizona ties are making the state proud and helping to continue reinforcing the notion that great hockey players can come from a warm-weather state.
Erik Middendorf, Adam Samuelsson and D.J. King have all found success this season skating for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) Under-17 team in Plymouth, Mich.
“These three guys understand that they’re role models and that they represent the USA jersey, and they’re proud to do so,” said Pete Krupsky, the play-by-play voice of the NTDP teams. “They conduct themselves very professionally.”
Samuelsson, a 6-foot-5, 222-pound defenseman, came up through the Jr. Coyotes program and played for their Bantam AAA team during the 2013-14 season before moving on to the USPHL and the NTDP. The son of NHL legend and two-time Stanley Cup champion Ulf Samuelsson, he has committed to play at Boston College (Hockey East), where his older brother, Philip, played.
Middendorf (pictured top) played for the Jr. Coyotes beginning with the Mite level, first learning to skate at three or four years old, and finished his time with the program by playing with its 16U AAA team last season. A 6-foot, 173-pound left winger, he has committed to the University of Denver (NCHC).
King also played most of his youth hockey career with the Jr. Coyotes, before playing with the Mississauga Rebels at the Bantam and Midget levels in Canada the last two seasons. The defenseman, whose father, Derek, played 830 regular-season games in the NHL for the New York Islanders, Hartford Whalers, Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues, is a solid 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds.
Through early March, Middendorf had played in 43 games for the NTDP U-17 team, tallying five goals and 13 assists. Samuelson was injured early this season and has played just two games and King had appeared in 43 games and had four assists to his name. The team’s 2016-17 schedule runs through April 8.
“We’re all family here, so you can always look to the guys on your right or left to help you out,” Middendorf said. “We’re all going through the same things. My time with the program has been unbelievable so far, and wearing the USA uniform every day is amazing. There’s a ton of energy and excitement, and everyone just wants to get better day by day.”
Added Samuelsson (left): “It has always been my dream to make it to the NTDP. I’ve been injured most of the year, but I’ve gotten so much support from my teammates, my coaches and my billet family. This is truly where I want to be.”
King said during a game broadcast in January said the transition to playing with the NTDP has provided plenty of challenges and has also helped him improve quickly as a player.
“It’s been good,” King (right) said. “Coach (Chris) Luongo and Coach (Danton) Cole have helped me a lot. It’s a really fast-paced league. I feel like I’m getting a little more comfortable. At the start of the year it was a bit nerve-wracking coming to the USHL. It was a big jump from minor hockey, but we’re feeling good about what we’re doing this year.”
Of course, the most famous hockey player to come out of Arizona recently is Auston Matthews, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, and the Arizona players on the NTDP Under-17 team have been inspired by him.
“I’ve always looked up to Auston Matthews, and I feel like he’s expanding hockey a lot in Arizona,” Samuelsson said. “And of course, I look up to my two brothers, Philip and Henrik, who played in Arizona.
“I hope to become a role model for younger players in Arizona – that would be a dream come true.”
Photos/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey NTDP
— Greg Ball