Colorado Rubber

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Terry, Walker embrace opportunity with NTDP

 

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Few individuals are as hyper-focused about building a career in hockey than Troy Terry. Former Colorado Thunderbirds teammate Zach Walker comes pretty close.

Well, they’re in the right place to cultivate that ambition.

Terry and Walker have joined USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) in Ann Arbor, Mich., this season – a common a steppingstone for elite hockey talent to truly take the next step.

Their early experiences with the NTDP have contrasted as much as their playing styles, but each remains eager and intensely fixated on soaking in every ounce of the hockey-rich atmosphere.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Terry said. “It’s just special anytime you get to put on a USA jersey. It’s an honor and you’re representing your country, which is something not a lot of kids get to do.”

Terry, who is playing with the 18U squad, and Walker (17U) are the sixth and seventh players to move from the Thunderbirds to the NTDP. They join an elite list that includes Quentin and Nick Shore, Sean Lorenz, Gavin Stoick and current Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones.

Terry and Walker each are forwards but with vastly different niches. Terry is a creative playmaker with absurdly adept stickhandling skills, while Walker is a power-forward type.

Their experiences have differed so greatly is because Terry is playing and Walker is not.

Walker hadn’t skated since September until this month after an inflamed bursa sac on his ankle became infected and necessitated surgery and a weeklong hospital stay.

“But I’ve been here (in Ann Arbor) the whole time,” he said.

Terry had an opportunity to join the NTDP last season but opted to remain with the Thunderbirds, silver medalists at the USA Hockey National Championships in the 16U AAA division (the championship game went four overtimes).

When USA Hockey came calling again, Terry didn’t hesitate to say yes this time.

“I didn’t think I was physically ready back then, and I’ve grown a lot in the past year,” said Terry, who’s listed at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds. “And by no means are the Thunderbirds a bad place to be, so I just figured I’d wait another year and let my body develop.”

Thunderbirds hockey director and 16U coach Angelo Ricci was delighted to have Terry for another year and beams at the prospect that two more of his pupils are with the esteemed USA Hockey program.

Ricci believes Terry, who has committed to the University of Denver, has a chance to be selected in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Like Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon, Terry has an early-September birthday and will make the cutoff by a matter of days.

In a celebrated case, MacKinnon nearly was too young to be eligible for the 2013 draft, when the Avalanche selected him in the first round. Terry harbors no delusions of grandeur that he’ll be a MacKinnon-type prospect, but admits he has the possibility of being drafted in the back of his mind.

And with his skill set, why not?

“Troy’s a gifted player,” Ricci said. “He has stuff you can’t teach and he’s got a great hockey mind. He’s a special player. He makes other players around him better, he sees the ice well and (going to NTDP) was a good call for Troy just in terms of what he needed for his offensive development, physically.”

Terry, a Highlands Ranch native who also played locally with the Littleton Hockey Association, went to Rock Canyon High School while in Colorado and Walker, who transplanted from Boise, Idaho, in 2012, attended Cherokee Trail.

While in Ann Arbor, members of the USA squad attend Pioneer High School. They’re on a regimented program there that allows them to keep a solid hockey schedule.

So serious is Terry, 17, about hockey that he’s on an accelerated high school program and aiming to graduate early. Although amidst his junior year, he’s technically a senior now. In regards to hockey, players in the NTDP naturally are there to sharpen their entire repertoire, but Terry has some specific personal objectives on the ice.

“I’ve always been lucky to be known for having good stick skills and playmaking ability,” he said. “But my skating and my shot have been two major focuses. It’s actually been great here because we have a skating coach who comes out with us once a week, usually, and there’s a place up in our facility where we can shoot pucks every day.”

Walker just can’t wait until shooting – and not healing – becomes his primary focus. But even while recuperating, he’s thoroughly enjoying the process.

“I definitely made the right decision coming here,” he said. “It’s really intense and everybody just buys into the program. Everyone is skating every day, working out two or three times a week and it’s just such a professional environment where everybody’s working together for a common goal.

“The team is great, the coaches are great and you can’t compete with the facilities (at the plush Ann Arbor Ice Cube).”

Walker played one season for the Thunderbirds’ 14U team coached by former Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote and one for Ricci’s 16U squad after coming from Idaho.

His move to Colorado was purely a hockey transplant, as his family stayed behind and Walker lived with teammates.

Although he only turned 16 in August, he already has committed to Boston College.

“We were very fortunate to find a player like that from a nontraditional market who wanted to come play for us,” Ricci said of Walker. “He really developed and earned everything he got. Now he’s just going to continue to learn and develop and get better. He’s a very coachable player.”

Once Walker gets his skates back underneath his 6-foot, 180-pound frame, he hopes to become more dynamic under the tutelage of the USA staff.

“I’m definitely looking forward to getting to play that power-forward game and drive the net, finish the body and get pucks to the guys so they can put them in (the net),” he said.

“I’ll crash the net and get some dirty goals if I can, but my game’s not necessarily scoring.”

In the coming years, it’s conceivable Terry and Walker could eventually square off in the Frozen Four as members of two elite Division I programs. Daydreaming even bigger, perhaps they’ll eventually oppose each other on NHL ice.

If so, they’ll readily recall 2014 and their initial inclusion on an elite national team.

“They’re obviously both well-deserving players,” Ricci said.

– Paul Willis