Neil’s Notebook: DeRidder Excited to Face Future Teammates
Neil Koepke previews Saturday's exhibition game vs. the USNTDP U-18 team.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING – A year ago, goalie Drew DeRidder was playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the United States Hockey League.
The RoughRiders were in a rebuilding mode, not winning many games and DeRidder was facing about 30-40 shots a game. There were some tough nights.
But DeRidder loved it. The experience made him a better goalie.
This year, DeRidder is the lead goaltender for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 team, based in Plymouth in suburban Detroit. He’s playing with lots of highly skilled players and in games against USHL teams, international competition and Division I college teams.
And he loves it. The experience is also making him a better goaltender and preparing him for the next step in his career: College hockey at Michigan State starting next season.
“The Program (NTDP) is amazing. It’s the best place to develop as a player and as a person,’’ said DeRidder, 17, a 5-foot-10, 168-pounder from Fenton, between Flint and Brighton. “It was the best opportunity for me to be ready to play next year, especially playing college teams like Michigan State, Michigan and a lot of others.’’
DeRidder will get a good look at his future team and the Spartans will do the same with him when the U.S. U-18s play host to Michigan State in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Saturday at USA Arena in Plymouth.
“It should be a fun experience,” DeRidder said. “We’ve played a lot of college teams and those games are a lot of fun. It’s really fast paced. And while there are some games where we’re not there 100 percent, with most games we’re right there, we’re in the game. “It’ll be a great experience and hopefully we’ll get to beat the Spartans before I play for them.’’
DeRidder committed to MSU in August, 2016, and signed a scholarship letter of intent early last month. With senior goalie Ed Minney graduating, DeRidder and John Lethemon, now a sophomore, are expected to compete for playing time in 2018-19.
“Drew has been a real rock for us this year,’’ said U.S. U-18 coach Seth Appert, a former assistant at Denver and head coach at Rensselaer. “Pretty much every USHL or international game that he’s played in, he’s given us a great chance to win or that we’ve won. And most of his Division I college games.
“Maybe there was one start at the D-1 level where his game slipped on him a little, but overall he’s been fantastic. I think he’s going to translate into an elite NCAA goalie.’’
In 17 games this season, DeRidder has a 10-4-0 record, a 2.61 goals-against average and a .908 saves percentage and three shutouts.
Last season, he was 10-26-0 for Cedar Rapids, with a 3.27 GAA and an .890 saves percentage.
“The USHL was a great league and it helped me develop a lot. It was much better than playing youth hockey in the Detroit area,’’ DeRidder said. “Cedar Rapids was great. I loved my experience there.
“It was a tough decision leaving Cedar Rapids, but in the end, this is the best place. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity.’’
And the NTDP is thrilled to have him with U-18 team that is filled with high-end talent, including about 8-11 players who could be first- or second-round draft picks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
“Drew is not the traditional goalie of today where a lot are 6-foot-3, 6-4, big and they butterfly. He’s a great athlete,’’ said Appert, who replaced MSU coach Danton Cole as this season’s U-18 coach. “He’s a little bit of a throwback. His three best skills are his athleticism, competitiveness and intelligence. He’s an extremely intelligent hockey player.
“He’s a high-end athlete and very explosive through the crease, he’s very agile and his competitiveness is off the charts.’’
Because goaltenders take longer to develop and tougher to evaluate, most college coaches don’t usually bring them in until they’re older than 18 or 19. Appert admits he looked for more experienced goalies during his stay in college hockey.
“What’s different about Drew from some of the other young goalies is that he’s been through some of the battles already,’’ Appert said. “He went to the USHL last year and played on a team that wasn’t very good and he got thrown to the wolves. It was a rebuilding year for Cedar Rapids.
“He played in 40 or so games and was getting 40 shots a night at times. That experience hardened him and helped him grow up and face the challenges he’s facing this year.’’
DeRidder is facing all kinds of competition at age 17. He’s playing USHL teams, college programs and he’ll be involved in high-level international play before the season ends.
“It’s an interesting year. And because all these games are mixed together, it’s a different element for him,’’ Appert said. “We’re 10-1 in the USHL, counting preseason games, and doing OK against NCAA teams and those are a chore for 17-year-old kids. He’s handled it really well.’’
The U-18 teams has wins over Dartmouth (3-0) and two over Adrian (4-2, 2-1) and has lost against Notre Dame (4-3), Bowling Green (4-1), Miami (7-5), Harvard (7-2), Lake Superior State (6-0) and Michigan (7-3).
Besides MSU, the U-18s will still face Ferris State, Boston University, Utica College, St. John’s University and Minnesota State later this season.
DeRidder said he’s enjoying playing on a team that is highly skilled and extremely motivated, eager to play college hockey and eventually make it in the NHL.
“I don’t want to say I’ve never played on a skilled team before but this is by far the best concentration of high-level kids that I’ve ever played with. It’s awesome,’’ he said. “Practices are just so amazing. Our coaches do a good job, keeping things at a high pace and fun. The players here are such hard workers. They work their butts off every day.’’
DeRidder said he started skating and getting interested in hockey when he was very young – like 3 or 4-years old – but didn’t become a goaltender until he was 8 or 9.
“I think a really important thing for a goaltender is learning how to skate first,’’ he said. “Learning how to skate playing at forward is important. And then from there, it’s learning how to skate with the pads on.’’
How did DeRidder eventually end up in the crease, blocking shots?
“One day our goalie just quit on us, so I thought the pads were cool and my dad was our coach and he asked if I wanted to play (in net), and I said, ‘I’ll try it. Why not,’’’ DeRidder said. “I loved it right from there.’’
Ten years later, the future Spartan has developed into an elite level goalie who “tries to keep it calm and not get too exited or hyped in the net.’’
“I think I’m pretty fast, with good movement, good with the puck and have good control of rebounds,’’ he said. “I like to be able to help the defense get the puck out of the zone efficiently and as quickly as possible.
“You can always be a better skater, get stronger and faster and be better at playing the puck and helping out the defense.’’
DeRidder said committing to Michigan State was an easy decision because he grew up a Spartan fan.
“I’ve been a Michigan State fan all my life – football, basketball and hockey. All that. I’ve been to the campus a lot,’’ he said. “I didn’t look at too many schools and made my decision pretty quick. Michigan State was the place I wanted to play my college hockey career.’’
DeRidder lives at home with his family in Fenton and commutes to Plymouth. He’s been attending high school through Connections Academy, an online charter school based in Okemos.
“It’s only about a 40-minute drive to Plymouth and I’ve been doing it for years, playing with Oakland (Junior Grizzlies) and Belle Tire,’’ he said. “I’m used to it.’’
After the NTDP season and after he graduates, DeRidder will enroll at MSU for the second summer session in July, along with most other freshmen.
Coach Danton Cole said DeRidder is not only skilled and stops pucks very well but also has an intense work ethic, the type he’s trying to instill in the Spartan program.
“His work ethic is outstanding. What we’re trying to develop with our culture here, Drew will drive that,’’ Cole said. “His win mentality is outstanding. He’s going to fit in.
“John Lethemon has had a great year and that’s good for us next season. They’ll really push each other and make each other better. The timing of this for next year is great for us.’’
THE RIVALRY: MSU leads the series with the NTDP’s U-18 team, 7-6, thanks to last season’s 5-1 victory on Dec. 4, 2016. At one time, the U-18s led the series, 6-4, after the Spartans lost four of five meetings – losing 5-4 and 4-2 in Oct., 2006 and Dec., 2008, respectively, winning 8-2 in Jan., 2010, and losing 3-0 and 4-3 in overtime in Jan., 2013, and Jan., 2014, respectively. But MSU has won the last three meetings, including 4-1 in Jan., 2015, and 3-2 in Jan., 2016. All 13 games were played at Munn Arena.
SCOUTING THE U-18S: When Danton Cole and assistant coach Chris Luongo look over at the U-18 bench on Saturday in Plymouth, they’ll see a bunch of familiar faces. They coached, guided and developed most of those players last year while serving as head coach and assistant with the U.S. U-17 team.
“I was there for seven years and I coached all those young men last year so it’ll be fun to go back there,’’ Cole said. “They sweat a lot and bled a lot for me, so it’ll be fun to see where they’re at.’’
Cole and Luongo didn’t coach U.S. U-18 goalie Drew DeRidder, who’s headed to MSU next season, but they were there with most of the group of talented 16-year-olds who’ve turned into highly touted 17-year-olds. They’ll turn 18 in 2018 and many will be high draft picks in the NHL’s Entry Draft in June.
There could be as many as five or six from the U-18 team selected in the first round and a few more in the second and third rounds.
The top-rated players include defensemen Bode Wilde (Michigan commit) and Mattias Samuelsson and forwards Oliver Wahlstrom (Harvard) and Joel Farabee (Boston University). SportsNet, a Canadian sports network and website, listed its preseason draft list in October and ranked Wilde No. 10, Wahlstrom at No. 12, with Farabee 14th and Samuelsson No. 31.
Other top players include defensemen Ty Emberson (Wisconsin), Adam Samuelsson (Boston College) and K’Andre Miller (Wisconsin).
“I think this is a good pro group. These guys aren’t all going to be top line guys but they’ll be good NHL players,’’ Cole said.
Wahlstrom leads the U-18s in scoring with 16 goals and 15 assists for 31 points in 24 games. Farabee is second with 27 points (13-14). The two high-scoring defensemen are next in Wilde (5-11-16) and Adam Samuelsson (4-10-14).
Mattias Samuelsson, who’s 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, is the son of former NHL defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, while his cousin, Adam, 6-foot-5, 240, is the son of former NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, who won two Stanley Cups. Ulf and Kjell, natives of Sweden, are brothers.
The U-18 roster includes forward Jack DeBoer, the son of San Jose Sharks coach Pete DeBoer who is committed to Boston University.
Coach Seth Appert, who replaced Cole at the NTDP, and took over the U-18s said he’s impressed with the way the team has made the adjustment to the new coaching staff.
“It’s a big change but they’ve been really good,’’ he said. “They go through their whole first year (as 16-year-olds) with Danton Cole and Chris Luongo and all of a sudden they go to MSU and myself and Nick Fohr come in, and so it’s an adjustment. Each coach has a different style of playing, coaching and practicing.
“But they’ve responded very well. We’re off to a great start in the USHL and their compete level every day has been fantastic. They’ve bought into the style of play that we want.
“We’ve had our lapses as all young guys will do, but what I’ve liked, with the exception of about two college games and one in the USHL, we’ve come out and given ourselves a great chance to win. We’ve won a good chunk of those games, but even the ones we’ve lost or tied, I liked the way we played. That usually bodes well long term as we progress this year.’’
WINNING CULTURE IMPORTANT: Michigan State is approaching the U-18 exhibition game as one in which to play a lot of players, try different things but also to stress the importance of coming away with a victory.
“We’re trying to get the feeling and expectation of winning, and I think it would be a shame if we didn’t go out and play really well and continue to build on what we’re doing and the habit of winning,’’ Coach Danton Cole said. “So for me, I want us to play a really good game.’’
Cole is looking forward to a fast-paced, skilled game, which would be good for his team.
“We know (the U-18s) will skate, play the game the right way, so it’s not going to be a lot of hooking and holding, and for us we’ll be able to get up and down the ice and to continue to work on things and stay in game shape.
“That’s what I’m looking for – for us to go play a sound, intense game and get a win.’’
The Spartans will continue to practice for a few days next week before taking about an eight-day break for Christmas. They’ll return for practice on Dec. 28 to prepare for the Great Lakes Invitational Jan. 1-2 at Little Caesars Arena. MSU plays Michigan Tech at 2:30 p.m. and Michigan faces Bowling Green at 6 p.m. on Jan. 1. The third-place game and championship game are at 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively, on Jan. 2.
ALONG THE BOARDS: The Spartans (8-9-1 overall, 2-7-1-1) have already played 18 games and have already reached the halfway point in the regular season. They’ve already won one more game than they did last season when they won seven. MSU is three victories away from topping the 2015-16 team’s win total of 10 games. . . . Freshman right wing Mitchell Lewandowski and linemate and left wing Taro Hirose share the team scoring lead at the break with 21 points apiece. Lewandowski has 10 goals and 11 assists, while Hirose has six goals and 15 assists. Center Patrick Khodorenko, the other member of the KHL line, is third with 15 points (6-9), while right wing Cody Milan (3-8) and defenseman Carson Gatt (2-9) are tied for fourth with 11 points.
Lewandowski is the Big Ten’s top freshman scorer with 21 points, four ahead of Minnesota’s Casey Mittelstadt. . . . Hirose leads the Big Ten in power-play points with 12 (1-11).
BIG TEN AT THE BREAK: Notre Dame heads into the holidays in first place in the Big Ten with a 14-point lead over second place Ohio State. The undefeated Irish (16-3-1 overall, 10-0 Big Ten) have 30 points and have won 13 games in a row.
Only four points separate the second-place Buckeyes (10-4-4, 5-4-1, 16 points) from sixth-place Michigan (7-7-2, 3-5-2-1, 12 points).
Penn State (11-7-2, 4-4-2-1) is third with 15 points, Minnesota is in fourth place with 14 points, followed by fifth-place Wisconsin (10-9-2, 4-5-1-0) with 13. The Wolverines, in sixth, have a four-point lead on seventh-place Michigan State (8-9-1, 2-7-1-1, 8 points).
Even though Notre Dame has won 13 games in a row and has lost only three all season, the Irish aren’t getting much support from coaches and media for the No. 1 ranking in the latest USCHO poll, because of now-No. 1 St. Cloud State (12-2-1, 7-2-1 NCHC) and No. 2 Denver (9-3-4, 5-3-2)
Last weekend, then-No. 1 Denver tied Colorado College twice and then-No. 2 St. Cloud State tied and won vs. No. 5 North Dakota. Despite Notre Dame’s seep at Wisconsin, St. Cloud State climbed to No. 1, Denver fell to No. 2 and the Irish went from No. 4 to No. 3. In the latest poll, St. Cloud received 35 first-place votes, Denver got 8, Notre Dame 6 and Clarkson 1.
Since Notre Dame started its 13-game winning streak on Oct. 27, St. Cloud is 7-3-2 and Denver is 7-2-1. The Pioneers did tie and win at Notre Dame (2-2, 4-2) on Oct. 13-14, opening games for both teams, and the Pioneers swept St. Cloud (4-2, 5-1) in Denver on Nov. 10-11.
Big Ten play doesn’t resume until Jan. 5-6 but only four of the seven teams are playing non-conference games before that. Minnesota and Ohio State are the only teams to play before 2018. The Gophers play host to Army, Dec. 29-30, and the Buckeyes are home against Niagara, also on Dec. 29-30. Then MSU and Michigan play Michigan Tech and Bowling Green, respectively, on Jan. 1-2 in Detroit.
When Big Ten play resumes the first weekend in January, the Spartans are home against Ohio State, Jan. 5-6, Wisconsin visits Penn State, Jan. 5-6, while Notre Dame is at Michigan on Jan. 5 and U-M plays at Notre Dame, Jan. 7.
In a non-conference series, Minnesota plays at St. Cloud State on Jan. 6 and St. Cloud visits the Gophers on Jan. 7.