Over the years, NFL, MLB and even NBA rosters have featured athletes from Western Pennsylvania.
Recently, though, Pittsburgh-area natives are starting to make an impact in professional hockey, led by Penguins forward Ryan Malone and Flyers forward R.J. Umberger.
Will C.J. Severyn be the next one?
He’s on the right path.
Severyn, a Beaver native, is playing for the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 hockey squad.
Yeah, the same program that produced the first-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (Erik Johnson) as well as a handful of top draft choices.
“It’s probably best place you could play. You’re coming in and most of the kids are getting a college scholarships and the program is producing some of the top NHL picks,” he said. “The competition is great. We’re 17 and playing at the college level. It doesn’t get any better than that. It’ll prepare us going into college. We’ll know what we’re getting ourselves into.
“Playing for your country is great, too. I love it.”
Severyn, a 6-foot, 170-pound forward, is one of 23 players on the prestigious team, which features some of the best amateur talent in the United States. Founded in 1996, USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program was created to prepare student-athletes under the age of 18 for participation on U.S. National Teams and success in their future hockey careers. Located in Ann Arbor, Mich., the program has been instrumental in helping the United States capture gold medals at the 2002, 2005 and 2006 IIHF World Under-18 Championships and the 2004 IIHF World Junior Championship. In the eight years NTDP players have been eligible for the draft, 124 players have been selected.
The NTDP’s efforts focus on high-caliber play and on developing well-rounded individuals off the ice. The success of the NTDP is not gauged on wins and losses, but on acquiring skills and experience. The Under-18 team plays exhibition games against junior and college teams – including some of the top programs in the United States. The team’s schedule runs until the World Under-18 Championships in April.
The NTDP also has an Under-17 team, on which Severyn played last season. The two teams combine to play more than 110 games each season vs. collegiate, U.S. junior and international competition.
The U.S. fares pretty well, too. So far this year, the U-18 team beat NCAA squads Michigan State and lost to Boston College and Michigan in overtime.
“We’ve already played the top teams in the country. We’re getting a lot of good competition with the teams,” Severyn said. “I don’t think teams take us for granted because we’ve given them good games over the years.”
The U.S. U-18 team will make an appearance in the area on Sunday at 4 p.m. against Robert Morris University at the RMU Island Sports Center on Neville Island. It will be a special homecoming game for Severyn.
“I am excited for that game,” he said. “Coming home, pretty much in my back yard – I will be able to see my friends and parents and relatives. I will be pumped to play for that game. That will be a big game for me.”
Severyn has three goals and five assists in 16 games this year. However, he and his teammates don’t focus on individual accomplishments.
“I’d say I am a two-way player. Right now, I am playing center. I wouldn’t consider myself a goal-scorer. I can put the puck in the net; I’m a hard-nosed forward. I like to work down low with the puck and outwork the other team. I’d say I am more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer,” he said. “We have a lot of talent on this team. Everyone knows we’re the U.S. team and the top kids in the country at our age group. We work as a team and play as a team. There are no individuals on the team. If you’re playing well, you’re going to play. If not, you’ll sit on the bench just like any other team.”
The NTDP isn’t just about hockey. Its participants attend school during the day in addition to their hockey responsibilities.
“We go to school. There are two high schools in Ann Arbor for us. Half go to one school and half to the other. We go to five classes a day,” Severyn said. “We’re getting taught the same things every other public school teaches. With our schedule, we miss a lot of days of school, but we have tutors at school who help us out. I am keeping my grades up and they are important to me, so I am happy about that.
“Last year, I was a sophomore. This year I am senior. I took some courses over the summer and accelerated so I could go to college a year early,” he continued. “After school, we report to the rink around 2 p.m. Some days we have video and on-ice sessions or we’ll either lift or have the day off.”
Severyn played for the U-17 team last year, which was an adjustment on the ice as well as off it.
“At the beginning of last year, I was thinking, ‘what am I getting myself into?’ I had to move in with a family and didn’t have a clue what they were like. I never had to change schools before,” he said. “I went through a lot. Everything is going fine, though. I have improved greatly over the past year.”
Severyn got the opportunity to make the NTDP when he was invited to a camp filled with top prospects before last year. From there, he was selected to be on the U-17 team.
“I never knew that this opportunity would come about,” he said. “Over the past years, my dad told me whoever works the hardest will get the most out of it. I worked hard in my younger years and this opportunity came and I couldn’t pass it up.”
Two locals are on the U-17 team this season: Grant Scott of Sewickley and Patrick Gaul of Pittsburgh. Severyn says that’s a reflection of how much the local hockey season has improved.
“Hockey is Pittsburgh is growing,” he said. “The traveling teams are getting better, which I think is great.”
He said the Pittsburgh Penguins will continue to enhance interest in hockey in the area.
“I have always loved the Penguins. I think it’s great with all the young guys they have. In a few years, they will be one of the top teams and you’re going to see more and more people coming out for youth hockey there.”