There’s a lot more to Jake Sanderson than just being a standout defenseman with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.
Sanderson has been named the 2020 Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year award as the most outstanding American-born player in junior hockey, and Sanderson is committed to excellence on and off the ice.
“I’m really honored and humbled to be winning this award,” said Sanderson, a native of Whitefish, Montana. “I’d like to start off by thanking my coaches that have helped me all the way up through my youth hockey. And a special thanks to my coaches at the NTDP for the past two years, Seth Appert, Nick Fohr and Brent Darnell.”
The Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year, specifically for players who have played for a U.S.-based junior hockey team, is picked by a high-quality panel of junior coaches and administrators. The honor is named after Dave Tyler, who served on the USA Hockey Board of Directors for 32 years. He also played an instrumental role in the development and growth of junior hockey in the United States.
“I’d like to thank my teammates for being my best friends the past two years and pushing me all the time in practice and in the weight room,” Sanderson said. “Lastly, I’d like to thank my family for always helping me and supporting me throughout these times and helping me pursue my dreams as a hockey player.”
Sanderson will likely realize the first step towards his professional hockey dreams this summer.
The University of North Dakota commit is expected to be one of the highest-selected American-born players in this year’s NHL Draft. Sanderson, who could become the first player born in Montana to play in the NHL, is the son of Geoff Sanderson, who enjoyed a 17-year NHL career with eight different teams.
Appert is excited for the Sanderson family.
“I think this was a well-earned award for Jake,” Appert said. “His growth this year was tremendous. He came in as a real talented young man and developed into arguably the best defenseman in the world at his birth year. I’m really happy for him.”
The 6-foot-2, 186-pound Sanderson served as the captain of this year’s NTDP team and finished with seven goals and 29 points in 47 games, most among all defensemen. He was also named MVP of the 2020 BioSteel All-American Game, finishing with two assists.
Sanderson impressed on the offensive end this season, but Appert was more impressed with his work defensively.
“He’s an elite, world-class defender,” Appert said. “I think he’s the best defender in the world at his birth year. He was certainly the best defender in U.S. junior hockey and that set the tone for us. His defensive dominance was established early in the season and I think his offensive game grew and really started to gain confidence from his defensive game.”
Lisa Vollmers, the director of student-athlete services for the NTDP, knows Sanderson off the ice and in the classroom.
“He’s responsible in the sense that if I need to get a message to the team right away, I can text Jake and he would have the text out in no time,” Vollmers said. “He’s truly an amazing kid who works incredibly hard. He’s mature beyond his years and he holds himself in a very responsible, respectful manner. He’s an all-around great kid to work with and it’s just been a pleasure to have him at the program for the past two years.”
Vollmers said that Sanderson came to the NTDP as a sophomore, and he was dedicated to completing his high school career in two years instead of three.
“With everything that goes on at USA Hockey and the crazy-busy schedule, he still consistently took additional classes so he could graduate at the end of the school year,” Vollmers said. “He’s mature in the sense that he can see the big picture as opposed to what’s at arm’s reach. He’s a good teammate, he keeps everybody moving in the right direction and he leads by example.”
Appert believes the team that selects Sanderson will not only land a quality person, but they will also have a top pairing defenseman for at least the next decade in the NHL. He feels that Sanderson has a nice blend of offensive and defensive abilities, combined with elite skating.
“Someone who can produce offense for you without being a liability defensively is extremely rare,” Appert said. “I’d be shocked if he wasn’t the first U.S. player off the board this year. I think that’s pretty much a slam dunk. I think he’s a top 10 … top 15 pick, for sure, and probably the first American off the board. He could certainly climb his way into the top five.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.