By Eli Lieberman
The U-17 USA hockey team selected two New Trier juniors, Alex Vlasic and Cameron Rowe, to be part of their team this season.
The players were chosen as two of the top 23 player in the country for their age group. The boys have been competing for this spot since they were 14, when an original 300 were chosen by team USA scouts.
For Rowe this was something he had been wanting for a long time.
“As a kid I’ve always had a dream of playing for this team, I would’ve been really disappointed if I got this close and didn’t make it,” he said.
After arriving in late August to Plymouth, Michigan, where the team’s home ice is located, Rowe and Vlasic helped the team to a strong start. The team won their first eight games in the USHL (United States Hockey League), playing teams from across the country with players ages anywhere from 17 to 20 years old.
Everyone on their team is still 16, but Vlasic feels that playing the older competition is beneficial.
“The majority of games in our league we’re gonna lose because they’re older and stronger than us, but then when we go on international tournaments and play other teams our age, it’s usually a little easier because we’re stronger than them.”
Earlier this season the team won gold at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in Canada. En route to the championship, they defeated two Canadian teams, Sweden and the Czech Republic, before finally beating out Canada’s top team 6-4 in the gold medal game. Rowe tended net and Vlasic scored an empty net goal that sealed the win. Rowe said this has been the highlight from the season so far.
Shortly after, the team flew halfway around the world to Novgorod, Russia where they played three games in three days, beating the national teams from Slovakia, Switzerland, and Russia, some of the world’s powerhouses in the sport.
Johnnie Beecher, another member of the team, praised the play styles of Vlasic and Rowe.
“Alex is a great defenseman who you can always rely on to get you out of trouble. On the offensive side he has great vision and makes plays,” commented Beecher. “Cam is an amazing goaltender. He’s big and takes up space and also very mobile as he moves side to side.”
As exciting as this season has been for the two, it required them to live with a host family near the rink in Plymouth, Michigan. Vlasic said “Living with another family was weird at first, you never know how they act and how they run the house. After a while everything worked out well and they’re a really nice family.”
They are now also attending high schools located in the area. The school Rowe has been going to is roughly the size of New Trier, but with few of the amenities. For him, adjusting to the new school has been a tough transition.
“I miss New Trier,” said Rowe, “but it has helped me realize there’s all kinds of people out there and how lucky we are at New Trier to have the things like the technology we have and the support from teachers.”
Another change in schooling for Rowe and Vlasic is this they now only take four classes and finish school by noon each day – a change that neither boy seemed too torn up about. After that, they head to the rink, a 15-minute drive from their houses, to start practice. They begin with a meeting, and then practice until five in the evening when they’ll have a study hall to do their homework.
Prior to team USA , Rowe and Vlasic played for club teams in the Illinois area. Rowe played for Team Illinois and Vlasic for Chicago Mission, along with two other players making team USA.
The season ends in April, but all players from the U-17 team are expected to play for the U-18 team the following season.
Team USA now heads into the last stretch season with an overall record of 31-9, with no losses to other under 17 teams, and have 13 games left to be played.
This article was written by Eli Lieberman, a student at New Trier High School. It was first published in the New Trier News newspaper.