St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk credits success in the early part of his hockey career to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. It’s part of the reason why the Greenwich, Connecticut, native reached the NHL as the No. 14 overall pick of the Colorado Avalanche in the 2007 draft.
“I think having the opportunity to go out to Ann Arbor and play out there was huge for me,” Shattenkirk said. “It’s where I really grew as a player … someone with a lot of raw qualities, being coached and honing those skills to play at a high level.
“It was a fun experience living away from home, and it challenges you as a young kid. All of that gets you ready for the college level and then moving up into the NHL.”
Shattenkirk nearly picked prep school before choosing the NTDP but ultimately decided the NTDP was best for his development.
“When you go there and you’re young, you’re playing against junior guys who are older, and it’s a great experience,” Shattenkirk said. “Then, next year, you’re playing against college teams.
“The level of play forces you to adjust and grow early, and I think off the ice it forces you to grow up and making sure you’re taking care of your responsibilities.”
Shattenkirk was tabbed as a rising star within the program, helping the U.S. to a silver medal as team captain during the 2007 U18 World Championship. He finished with five points in seven games and was named the tournament’s best defenseman.
“The captainship was something that was voted mostly as players, and that meant a lot to me to know that these guys, who I really just met, viewed me as that type of person,” Shattenkirk said. “At that point, you try to be the best, mature player and person you can be.”
Two years later, during the World Junior Championship, Shattenkirk was an alternate captain, led all tournament defensemen in scoring and was named one of Team USA’s top players.
“Having the opportunity to gain some of those accolades was huge,” Shattenkirk said. “There’s so much pressure when you’re there to play well and get drafted. As a team, we took that pressure off ourselves.
“I think that’s why I was able to play so well in those international stages, because we had such a great team.”
Shattenkirk spent the next three seasons at Boston University, helping the Terriers to a national championship during the 2008-09 season. He was named the first sole BU captain in almost 50 years before joining the American Hockey League affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche and eventually beginning his professional career.
Shattenkirk has been with the Blues since 2010, and he posted a breakout 2011-12 season with nine goals and 43 points. He duplicated the feat with 10 goals and 45 points during the 2013-14 season, the same year he represented the U.S. during the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
“It was a bit of a shock to start just being in the locker room with all those great players,” Shattenkirk said. “But then when you realize you fit in, that’s when you start to get comfortable and play your game.
“Just being in Russia was an amazing experience, having my family over there. It was an unfortunate finish, but just to have that experience was fantastic.”
Shattenkirk was invited to USA Hockey’s 48-player camp in the summer of 2013 preceding the Olympics. That’s when he thought there might be a chance.
“I focused on trying to play well,” Shattenkirk said. “Around November or December I said to myself, ‘I’ve done everything I could to make the team. If I don’t, it’s not for lack of trying.’”
Shattenkirk shared the Olympic experience with 10 Blues teammates, including fellow Americans David Backes and T.J. Oshie, who is now with the Washington Capitals.
“It was just something we get to share together for a lifetime, and you can’t really ask for much else,” Shattenkirk said.
The standout moment for Shattenkirk involved his then-teammate Oshie, who famously scored four times in a deciding shootout to defeat the host Russians.
“I remember being on the bench and almost calling every shot he was going to take,” Shattenkirk said. “I was like, ‘I’ve seen this before.’
“It was really amazing, and I couldn’t have been happier to see him shine on that stage and for him to gain recognition for his skill.”
The win against Russia was just as memorable for Shattenkirk.
“It was fast and there were so many skilled guys on the ice,” he said. “Just being able to play in that atmosphere was great, and for that type of ending … getting text messages and phone calls from people at home saying they watched it at the bar at 7 in the morning. It was just so cool.”
And Shattenkirk would love to do it again, whether it’s the world championships, the upcoming World Cup of Hockey or another Olympic appearance.
“I’m open to it all and hungry to play for any team that’s available,” Shattenkirk said. “Team USA has done a lot for me, and every opportunity you get to play in a big tournament, it’s special.
“Especially when it’s every year or every few years and you don’t have the opportunity all the time, it makes it that much sweeter when you get to put on that jersey.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.