When Ronnie Attard first made the transition from forward to defense as a 14-year-old playing in the Honeybaked Youth hockey program, he was careful to live up to the most important standards of his new position.
“When I was just starting to play defense, I was more of a stay-at-home defenseman, just kind of shut down the other team’s top lines and be hard to play against,” Attard said.
The 20-year-old from White Lake, Michigan, kept that approach when he arrived in the United States Hockey League. And it’s paid off during his three-year USHL career. Attard, a defenseman for the Tri-City Storm, recently earned the league’s player of the year award. The Western Michigan commit is among a group of four U.S.-born players who earned major awards from the league.
After establishing himself as a solid defenseman in his own zone, Attard began working with the Tri-City coaching staff on being better in the offensive zone.
Photo Credit: Tri-City Storm, Eldon Holmes
“Our number-one focus is development,” Storm coach Anthony Noreen said. “With Ron, a big part of his development this season has been trying some different things offensively, trying to use some of the things he has – his offensive instincts, his skating – to not just be effective on the power play, but 5-on-5 as well.”
Attard went from producing 11 goals and nine assists total in 96 games over two seasons in the USHL to putting up 30 goals and 35 assists in 48 games this season. In the process, he set league and team scoring records and earned both Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year honors from the league. Attard is the first Tri-City to earn both awards in the same season.
“I think it’s something that once he had a little bit of success doing it, obviously confidence grows,” Noreen said. “The one thing about Ronnie is that he probably has the best swagger of any kid I’ve coached at the junior level.
“It’s confidence, but it’s the right kind of confidence. It’s the kind that’s contagious to his teammates and it’s never to the demise of the team.”
Attard became the first USHL defenseman to score 30 goals. By the end of the season, his league-leading plus-47 set a Tri-City Storm record and his 65 points were the most ever in a season by a Tri-City defenseman.
“It just really started clicking for me,” said Attard, who ranked second in the league with 13 power-play goals. “I had a lot of confidence with this being my third year in the league and the puck started going in for me.”
When the regular season was over, Attard knew the numbers made him a strong candidate for the Defenseman of the Year. The league’s announcement of multiple major season awards Thursday provided the bonus of Player of the Year recognition as well.
“That was a huge surprise,” Attard said. “It was awesome to get that after being here three years and working so hard, to get rewarded for that.”
It was a season full of rewarding experiences for Attard.
Attard, who had been to the 2016 Select 16 Player Development Camp and the 2017 Boys Select 17 PDC, was part of the 2019 gold-medal winning U.S. team at the World Junior A Challenge.
“That was probably one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” Attard said. “Being able to win the tournament, too, was an awesome feeling. It’s something I’m never going to forget in my life.”
Attard was one of many prominent Tri-City figures to help the Storm dominate the USHL’s postseason awards. Isaiah Saville was selected as Goaltender of the Year and Zac Jones as Rookie of the Year.
The Storm became the first team in USHL history to receive the Player, Goaltender, Defenseman and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.
Noreen, who also serves as general manager, was named Coach of the Year after leading the Kearney, Nebraska-based team to a Western Conference title and the Anderson Cup as overall regular-season champion with a 45-12-3-2 record. He received the same award in 2014-15 while coaching the Youngstown Phantoms.
“Anthony’s focus on development of the players and doing things the right way has created great results for our players and for our fans,” Storm owner Kirk Brooks said, according to a story on the league website. “He places a high importance on developing these young men into great individuals and great players and he has fulfilled that completely.”
Saville, a three-time Boys Select PDC participant, played in the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and 2019 World Junior A Challenge where he posted a shutout against Russia in the final.
The regular season for the 18-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska has been just as impressive. He led the USHL with a 1.90 goals against average, ranked second with a .926 save percentage and went 25-4-2-1 with four shutouts.
“He’s been a rock for us,” Noreen said. “Coming in as a first-year goaltender in this league isn’t easy.”
Jones, an 18-year-old from Glen Allen, Virginia, was also a three-time Player Development Camp participant and won gold at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge. He set a team record for assists in a season with 45, and led the league and set another team record with 25 power-play assists. Working well with Attard, the Massachusetts commit also tallied seven goals during the regular season.
Photo Credit: Tri-City Storm, Eldon Holmes
“Those two just clicked,” Noreen said. “Sometimes, they make plays to each other that look like they might have eyes in the back of their head. They just have a real good feel for each other’s game, and they complement each other extremely well.”
Attard and Saville were part of the All-USHL First Team that was named earlier in the week.
Photo Credit: Hickling Images
Nick Abruzzese from the Chicago Steel, Bobby Brink from the Sioux City Musketeers and Brett Murray from the Youngstown Phantoms were the forwards on the first team.
Abruzzese, a 19-year-old Harvard University recruit from Slate Hill, New York, led the league with 51 assists and 80 points. He was a participant in the 2017 Boys Select 17 PDC.
Brink, 17, a University of Denver recruit from Minnetonka, Minn., posted six points in five games with Team USA at the recent 2019 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship. He was also a member of the 2019 World Junior A Challenge team that won a gold medal. With the Musketeers, he scored 35 goals, second-best in the league to Murray’s 41.