Ask any member of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) why they joined up with the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based squad and they’ll tell you the chance to represent their country is pretty high on the list.
Ask the program’s management what the secret to its success has been recently and they’ll tell you it’s the ability to now recruit stars from all over the country, not just the northern part.
Luke Moffatt is one of those rising stars from a non-traditional hockey market. A center and right winger with the NTDP’s under-17 team, the 6-foot, 165-pounder hails from Paradise Valley, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. And while the hockey culture is still developing in the southwest, the passion was always there for the youngster. So how do you make hockey your life in a place where hockey isn’t life?
“It was definitely harder than here (Ann Arbor) or Minnesota or Canada,” Moffatt noted. “But I liked it, being something different. My dad is from Vancouver and he played all his life.”
Moffatt has played spring hockey in Vancouver with the Jr. Canucks and Jr. Giants programs, but otherwise he is a straight-up product of the Arizona hockey world.
Along with establishing himself as a rink rat early in life, Moffatt benefited from having the Phoenix Coyotes in town, basically since he was old enough to be aware of them. The family has season tickets and having a pro team to cheer for helped nurture Moffatt’s love of the game. He also did what a lot of kids in warm locales have done; he played roller hockey.
“We’ve really seen that trend over the past couple years,” said Moffatt’s coach, John Hynes, adding that the great offensive skill sets coming out of the southwest recently can partly be credited to the unstructured games of roller hockey, where creativity is paramount.
Moffatt considers himself a budding power forward who can score and thanks to some of his father’s connections, he’s had some pretty good ears to bend in learning the craft.
“I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Keith Tkachuk personally,” he said. “Him and my dad are pretty good friends. Ryan Kesler is another player I’ve talked to and I love his game: all-out, balls-to-the-wall, lovin’ every minute of it.”
But Moffatt also likes to blend styles and doesn’t limit his influences to those he has met.
“You can’t go wrong with Ovechkin and Crosby, the way they tear it up,” he added.
And when it comes to tearing it up, Moffatt will be one to watch as the years go by.
“He’s very high-energy,” Hynes said. “He does a very good job attacking the puck on defense and when he gets the puck, he’s very strong on his skates.”
Off the ice, Hynes likes what he sees as well.
“Very conscientious, very responsible with his school work, very dedicated,” the coach beamed. “He really cares about hockey.”
Moffatt is still developing, of course, and wants to work on his strength and his shot. Fortunately, he has plenty of opportunity to do so as part of the NTDP.
“It’s widely known in America that The Program is the best place to develop,” Moffatt said. “Playing every day, lifting (weights) every day, representing your country; what more could you ask for?”
Moffatt’s next destination is still unsettled, but he could be staying right where he is, thanks to a verbal commitment to the University of Michigan, also located in Ann Arbor.
Either way, don’t be surprised to see the Arizona native wearing the stars and stripes of international duty for years to come.
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.
For more great prospect profiles and news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.