If there is anything better in hockey, Drew Shore
, a center with the United States National Team Development Program, has yet to experience it.
"To be honest, I don't think I could describe a more enjoyable sense of togetherness and happiness than standing on that blue line," Shore said.
The blue line in question was on the rink in Lake Placid, N.Y., following the U.S. team's gold-medal triumph against Finland at the Under-18 Four Nations Cup last November.
"Wearing the jersey, singing the national anthem on the blue line with all of the 20 other kids that you're now best friends with ... I don't think you can get a much better feeling than that," Shore said.
Four games, four wins, and more than their share of close calls led to that singular moment. And it has Shore and his teammates looking forward to a chance to repeat that moment.
"Hopefully we can do it again at the end of the year for the big one," Shore said.
"The big one" is the World Under-18 Championship, which will be held April 9-19 in Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn. This is the first time the tournament will be held in the U.S., making it even more special.
In addition to the Four Nations Cup, the U.S. team won the Five Nations Tournament in February in Sweden.
"We're 2-for-2 (in tournaments this year) and I think there's only two other teams in the (U.S.) program that won all three their 18 year, so hopefully we can get that done," said Shore.
Shore, a 6-foot-2 1/2, 190-pounder, was ranked No. 32 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in its midterm rankings for the 2009 Entry Draft. While that's a fairly substantial place to be, Shore knows there is room for improvement, which he believes will come thanks to the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based USNTDP.
"The main thing with the program for me is that they emphasize so much just getting better on a daily basis," he said. "And you work so hard every day that you do get better on a daily basis. We treat every practice here like it's a big game; the coaching staff strives to help you get better and work hard every day, and when you leave the program after two years, that's what helps you."
NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee sees a lot of the USNTDP's philosophies developing in Shore's game. He sees Shore as a player that never quits and leads by example.
"I think this kid, his upside is so dangerous," Barzee said. "I think he always brings his best effort. I don't think he leaves anything in the dressing room. His drive and determination are as good as anyone's playing the game."
Couple that with a highly developed skill set, and Shore looks to be a very attractive package for NHL teams come June.
"He gets chances and creates chances from all his hard work," Barzee said. "He's very unselfish and smart, and he's quick to make the transition from offense to defense. He's not a speedster, but he's got a long stride and he's got good speed. He's also very strong on the puck, with good strength in his arms and hands, and makes good passes."
Shore is quick to credit his teammates for his success.
"You're practicing every day with 20 or so of the other top kids in the country who all want to get where you do," Shore said, "and all have the same desires and motivations, and I definitely think that rubs off on you as a player, just because you can't take any days off. Because you've got 20 other guys that are extremely talented working just as hard as you are."
That competitiveness is something Shore and his teammates feed off. It makes each practice so big, each game so big, that the tournaments take on almost mythical proportions. And when you're wearing the U.S. sweater, it's easy to see why Shore eagerly anticipates the U-18 tournament in April.
"You have that jersey on and that international stage is such a big stage," he said. "When you're playing another country ... you go in wanting to win as bad as you can."
All that remains now is the preparation leading up to the biggest tournament of the season.
"We have two months left," said Shore. "So hopefully being at the peak of our game in April, we'll have as good a chance as any to win."
A good chance to be, once again, the team standing on the blue line, arm-in-arm, singing the national anthem.
Does it get any better than that?