Hockey's Ben Smith Reflects On U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp Experience
Aug. 20, 2007
By Ben Smith
I was laying down for a nap on a sunny afternoon in early June when my cell phone rang. The number was restricted.
"Hello?" I said.
"Hey Ben," the voice on the other end of the phone said. "This is Jim Johansson from USA Hockey. I just wanted to let you know that you have been selected to try out for the U.S. Junior National Team in Lake Placid in August."
Needless to say, I was very happy. I wasn't expecting to receive this phone call. After my past couple of seasons, I didn't think I had a chance of being selected to the 45-player roster. I thought there were definitely 24 American forwards under the age of 20 who were better than me. So, when my phone rang and I got the invitation, I was ready to get to work on my body and attempt to prove myself to the USA Hockey staff.
On the morning of August 3, I woke up early, went to the library and sent a final presentation to my French teacher. The class had ended the night before. Then I printed directions from Boston College to the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, packed up my dorm room, and hit the road. I was due before 5 p.m. that evening.
A few hundred miles and four-and-a-half hours later, I pulled into the Olympic Training Center. Having not played for the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor in high school, where most of the players at the camp played, I knew only two guys at the camp from youth hockey - Max Pacioretty and Mark Arcobello. They're both Connecticut guys. At the opening meeting, Coach John Hynes set the tone for the camp. It was clear that they would be watching us diligently on and off the ice. It was also clear that the on-ice sessions would be very intense.
After two days of two-a-day practices and multiple meetings, including a rules meeting and a nutrition presentation by strength coach Mike Potenza, we were able to find a rhythm. The days began to pass faster. A typical day included: breakfast, a bus ride to the arena for a 45-minute practice, a bus ride back to the Olympic Training Center, lunch, free time/nap, a game and then dinner.
Game preparation was a significant factor at the camp. Before every on-ice session, Coach Potenza would take us through a 20-minute warm-up consisting of dynamic and static stretches. We would also have a 10-15 minute cool down after games and practices. After a few days, these stretches became routine. They will definitely be used in December when those who make the team meet in Ann Arbor.
One of the most interesting features of the camp was the international competition. Under-20 teams from Sweden and Finland flew over to compete against two teams of American players - Team White and Team Blue. The teams representing Sweden and Finland in Lake Placid are not the exact same teams that will be in the Czech Republic in late December. Team White and Team Blue had their way with the Europeans going 7-0-0-1 against them during the five-day tournament, suffering only a shootout loss to Sweden.
While many players were traded between Team White and Team Blue, I stayed on Team White throughout the week. Team White was coached by Jamie Rice, who is the head coach Babson College, and Tim Taylor, a legendary coach at Yale University and in the USA Hockey system. After two scrimmages against Team Blue we finally began our international games against Sweden on Tuesday, August 7. That night I played with Michigan's Aaron Palushaj and Jimmy Hayes, who is a member of the U.S. National Development program. The next night I played with Palushaj and Tony Romano, who plays for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. The coaches told us that they wanted to try players in different roles in order to find the individuals with the most versatility. So, after two games of having the role as an energy player, the coaches moved me to play with some more big-name goal scorers. On Friday, I played with Harvard's Doug Rogers and Denver's Rhett Rakhshani. The next afternoon, I played with Rhakshanni and Minnesota's Kyle Okposo.
Following the games on August 11, we had a full camp meeting back at the Olympic Training Center, exactly eight days after we had the opening camp meeting. After eight days of hockey we were all ready to get back home for a couple of weeks before we headed off to our respective teams. I left camp the next day relieved and feeling like I had worked hard. As the week went on I felt better and better on the ice, especially since it was my first competitive hockey since our trip to Frozen Four in St. Louis.
I was satisfied with how I played in Lake Placid. However, as the coaches reminded us, that was only the beginning. They will be monitoring our play throughout the fall and will not publicize the final roster until early December. Until then, it is back to Boston College to begin preparing for a successful first half of the college season.