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Players raving after USNTDP secures new home

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- Many of the participants at the 2015 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at First Niagara Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN) are getting used to a new home with the United States National Team Development Program in Plymouth, Michigan.

The USNTDP relocated their operations from Ann Arbor to Plymouth in March. After 18 years at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, the under-17 and under-18 teams will train and play games at the 3,504-seat USA Hockey Arena, formerly the Plymouth Compuware Arena.

"The setup is fantastic. They're just finishing all the building and stuff," said forward Kieffer Bellows, who will lead Team Jeremy Roenick against Team Derek Plante. "The workout center is great. They're doing a great job with that. The locker rooms are going to be fantastic. The rink's all painted; everything looking like USA Hockey and it's going to be something special."

The NTDP is a two-year residency program for the top 16- and 17-year-old players in the United States. The NTDP Under-18 Team plays in the United States Hockey League and will play their home games at USA Hockey Arena. Construction is being finalized at the facility, but the players are already enjoying their new home.

"It's been different … but they have a great plan put forward right now," Team Roenick defenseman Chad Krys said. "Everything's not in right now, but I think you see everybody working around the rink and I think it's going to be really a nice place. What they're trying to do is make it more than just a NTDP home and more of a USA Hockey home where they can have multiple international teams come though and be almost like a home for USA Hockey, so I think it'll be a real nice place."

The facility itself will contain what the players need for playing hockey and working out, but schooling will still take place in Ann Arbor. While enrolled in the NTDP this season, players will stay with billet families and continue to attend Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor.

"I think we're almost looking forward to moving into our new locker room," Krys said. "We haven't moved into the new one yet. We have a nice one now, but I think we're excited for the new renovation for the locker room. They're making a gym and it's supposed to be pretty spectacular. Right now we're working outside in a tent, so we're just kind of moving through the kinks and stuff, but I think we're all excited and ready for the new stuff."

USA Hockey Arena was the original home to the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. The Whalers have since been renamed the Flint Firebirds and will play in the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center in Flint, Mich., beginning in 2015-16.

There are 15 players in the All-American Prospects Game who play for the NTDP Under-18 Team and the NTDP program has had players like Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel and 2016 NHL Draft-eligible center Auston Matthews, currently with the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League, come through it.

"Going back and looking at all the guys that go through, you're honored to be a part of the program," Bellows said. "You're honored to represent your country."

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