Suiting up for the Red, White and Blue is something every American hockey player dreams of and for those in the national team development program, that dream comes true on a nightly basis.
But while representing your country against other Americans (college teams, the North American League and soon the United States League) is great for honing skills, it’s the international competitions that provide an extra layer of pride and motivation.
Right now, in Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., NTDP defenseman Cam Fowler is getting that chance as Team USA takes on the world on home soil at the 2009 World Under-18 Championship.
“I’ve never played in a tournament this big,” said Fowler, 17. “It’s a different environment and atmosphere.”
Through two exhibition games, Fowler had two points and the Amerks were rolling, toasting the Germans 9-0 and besting a very strong Swedish squad 4-3. Gold is naturally the team’s target, as is defending home turf.
“That’s something our team talked about going in,” Fowler said. “It just gives us extra motivation to go out and take it to the other countries.”
A solid defenseman with excellent playmaking skills, Fowler can put up points, while depriving the opposition, but it’s the latter he knows he should concentrate on.
“The offensive aspect is more fun – you like getting points and there’s the glamor of it,” he said. “But I realize defense is my first priority.”
If defense is the priority, skating will be the weapon Fowler uses to achieve it. After a long courting process, the Ontario League’s Windsor Spitfires won the derby for the blueliner over Notre Dame of the CCHA and Spits GM Warren Rychel likes the base he has to work with.
“He’s got excellent glide,” Rychel noted. “He pivots well and that allows him to defend well. Very fluid skater.”
Perhaps it was destined for Fowler to become a Spitfire. After all, he was actually born in Windsor before moving across the Michigan border with his family as a two-year-old and Rychel said the Spits have been following the young prodigy for years.
“We’ve watched him since midget and wanted to add a player like that,” the GM said.
But going from the NTDP to the OHL doesn’t guarantee a smooth transition and Fowler will certainly have to work when next fall comes around.
“He’s got some habits to break,” Rychel cautioned. “He’ll have to get used to the roughings, the hard forechecks…he’ll be playing the schedule NHL guys play.”
Rychel naturally trumpets such OHL perks, but is also proud of his team’s education policies, noting Fowler won’t lose out on school opportunities because he chose major junior. According to the GM, his Spitfires missed only six days of school this season and Fowler will get the benefits of being coached by another ex-NHLer, Bob Boughner, in the process.
“He’ll have an NHL defenseman behind the bench,” Rychel said.
And ultimately, that can only help a young blueliner whose star is already on a very upward trajectory. Though it’s still a long ways off, Fowler’s incredible skill and NHL size (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) has made him one of the top prospects available for the 2010 draft and most likely the first defenseman to be taken.
While the youngster maintains his focus right now is on winning under-18 gold with his American teammates, he did admit to daydreaming every once in a while of getting up on that stage with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
“I try not to, because I understand that day is a long way to come,” Fowler said. “But I hear people talking and it’s hard not to picture yourself in that moment.”
Prep Watch, which features minor hockey players destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA, appears every Thursday, only on thehockeynews.com.
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