This past week, former VJW star Noah Hanifin took off his Boston College jersey and replaced it with a red, white and blue one.
| Noah Hanifin|
After all, Hanifin was one of 30 players selected to the preliminary roster for the 2015 U.S. National Junior Team. Those chosen players attended training camp from December 16-19 in Boston at Walter Brown Arena on the Boston University campus.
The camp culminated with a pre-tournament game against Boston University on December 19, and Hanifin showed exactly why he is projected to be a top three pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
In that exhibition game, Hanifin scored a key shorthanded tally midway through the first period and was a team-leading +3 to help propel the preliminary U.S. National Junior Team past Boston University, 5-2.
It was the first of three pre-tournament games for the U.S. in preparation for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. The final U.S. roster will be named by December 24. Team USA will compete in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, December. 26 through January 5, in Montreal, Quebec, and Toronto, Ontario.
Although just 17 years old and the youngest player ever to suit up for the Eagles, Hanifin continues to play beyond his years. Expected to be the top defensemen taken in next June’s draft, Hanifin recently said this to the Boston Globe about his experience at Boston College.
“The preparation and playing at a higher level has helped me a ton,” said Hanifin. “The speed of the college game and the physicality of it makes me feel a lot more comfortable when I’m playing with guys [on Team USA] who are a little bit younger than kids in college so I think it helped me tremendously.”
Hanifin played for the Warriors throughout his youth years and helped lead his VJW ’97 Elite team to the USA Hockey National Championship two times. Following the 2012-13 season, Hanifin - as well as two of his Warrior teammates – Colin White and Casey Fitzgerald – made the decision to move to Colorado to play for the U.S. National Under-17 Team.
It was a reunion of sorts this week for Hanifin as he was one of nine invitees who were members of the U.S. Men's National Under-18 Team that won gold at the 2014 IIHF Under-18 Men's World Championship.
Below, read more about Hanifin (in a recent issue of Toronto Sun) and learn how bright this young star is in the hockey world!
No. 3 Hanifin being overshadowed ahead of world junior
BOSTON - Welcome to McEichel-palooza, the upcoming holiday festival in which plenty of quality skilled kids are being overshadowed by hockey’s two elite blue-chip prospects.
And that’s just the way Noah Hanifin likes it.
Heading into the upcoming world junior championship, the tournament is being hyped like this: There is Connor McDavid. There is Jack Eichel. In the race for the gold medal, it stands to reason that these two will be battling neck and neck, not only through the upcoming tournament but for the honour of being selected first overall in next June’s NHL draft.
Ask any scout and they’ll be quick to tell you the race to be the top pick involves two horses, McDavid and Eichel, with the Canadian-born forward holding the edge in the competition to this point.
But what about the kid who is ranked No. 3?
Being third can be bittersweet at times. In the Olympics, that lands you a bronze medal. No one remembers the winner of the bronze -- only the two individuals who scratch and claw their way in quest of the gold.
That brings us to Hanifin, the young defenceman with Boston College. Ranked third among 2015 draft-eligible prospects by the majority of scouting services, the Team USA blueliner seems to be flying under the radar in much of the pre-tournament hype.
Judging by the way he has performed here at world junior training camp, that won’t last long.
In one of the team’s first on-ice workouts, the puck-carrying Hanifin pulled off an outstanding spin move on a defender, one that caused the confused opponent to simply plop down to the ice on his keister - presumably because his head was spinning.
No wonder the scouts are drooling at the hope of having his skills translate onto the NHL stage in the not-so-distant future.
For Hanifin, being No. 3 is an honour, not a diss. Given the two studs ahead of him, he exhibits remarkable modesty when asked to assess the situation.
“That’s nice (to be ranked so high), obviously, but I still have a long way to go,” Hanifin said. “As for Connor and Jacko, they’re great great players in their own rights.
“One thing I’m trying to do this year is focus on myself and try to find ways to help (Boston College) win hockey games. I want to get better every day. I think if you take it day-by-day, it will help you get better in the long run for the NHL, the draft -- all that stuff.
“I just think it’s really important to put that stuff in the back of your head and just concentrate on trying to get better every day.”
Given that his childhood idol is Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, he certainly has set the bar high.
While never having had the pleasure of attending a game in which Bourque played, Hanifin has poured over hours upon hours of video breaking down the game of the former Bruins captain.
“I never got the chance to watch him live but he was my dad’s favourite player with the Bruins when he was in his 20s,” Hanifin said. “So I always used to watch tape of guys like him and Nick Lidstrom -- guys who made me want to play hockey.
“(Bourque) liked to skate with the puck a lot and jump into the play. He was a great skater. When I was younger as a defenceman, I always liked to play the offensive style. I really try to pattern my game after guys like that.”
At 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, Hanifin led the U.S. National Team Development Program’s under-17 squad in points from the blue line last season with 33 points in 45 games. The Quebec Remparts own his rights but, being a Boston-area kid from nearby Norwood, Boston College was always his target.
“Obviously Quebec offers a lot for a young player. But I really wanted to play at BC,” Hanifin said. “It was a dream since I started hockey.”
Now, as part of the U.S. U-20 team, he’ll have the opportunity to play in the province of Quebec again -- this time at the Bell Centre, one of the biggest stages in the sport.
“It should be pretty interesting and a lot of fun,” he said. “Canadian fans are going to be huge. Hopefully we just take it game-by-game and hope we do all right.”
On Dec. 31, McDavid’s Canadians clash against Eichel’s Americans under the biggest spotlight a junior hockey player can be under. And, in this wonderful theatre of hockey, expect Noah Hanifin, Mr. No. 3, to show that he doesn’t need to be in anyone’s shadow -- even if they are stars.
EYES ON THE PRIZE
It would be easy for Team USA to already look ahead to the New Year’s Eve clash against Canada at the Bell Centre, the most highly-anticipated game of the preliminary round.
It would also be a mistake. And the Americans know it.
“Especially in tournaments like this,” agreed U.S. defenceman Noah Hanifin.
“I played in the U-18 worlds last April, which is like a smaller version of this tournament. Every game is so important. Anyone can beat anyone. So you can’t look ahead.
“Any game can slip away. And if that happens, the New Years game won’t matter much. You have to just take each game individually.”