Big Things Come In Small Packages For Budding NTDP Star

Jeremy Bracco is used to hearing it, and he doesn’t like it: “You’re too small. You aren’t strong enough. Players your size can’t withstand physical play at the next level.”

Standing at 5-foot-9 and weighing in at 154 pounds, Bracco doesn’t fit the arbitrary mold of what some teams look for in a hockey player. Throughout his first season with the National Team Development Program’s Under-17 Team, Bracco has been determined to show his detractors that size doesn’t matter.

“Everyone usually knocks me for my size, but I kind of use it as motivation to try and be the best player on the rink,” said the Freeport, N.Y., native.

If he’s not the best player on the ice most nights, he’s certainly in the discussion. He led the U-17 team in scoring with 74 points, 10 more than his closest teammate. Even as a smaller player, he’s not afraid to venture into the muck-and-grind areas in front of the net or into the corners.

But that’s not his game. He’s a wizard with the puck who would rather pass than shoot. In fact, he passes a lot. This year, he broke the NTDP single-season assist record of 50, set by U.S. Olympian Patrick Kane during the 2005-06 season.

“Honestly, it’s truly a testament to the boys I play with. It’s them that help me do that. They’re doing everything night-in and night-out to grind guys out, which gives me the opportunity to do things,” said Bracco, who established a new mark with 58 helpers to go along with 16 goals.


 

Position: Forward

Shoots: Right

Height: 5-foot-9

Weight: 154 pounds

Birth Date: March 17, 1997

Hometown: Freeport, N.Y.

Junior Hockey: National Team Development Program

College: Committed to
Boston College

Draft Status: Eligible for 2015 NHL Entry Draft

USA Hockey History: Won a gold medal at the 2014 World U17 Challenge; played the
2013–14 season with the NTDP U-17 Team.

With as successful as he has been, it’s easy to forget Bracco played the majority of the season as a 16-year-old, against a schedule featuring United States Hockey League teams with players as much as four years older than him.

Bracco credits that experience for helping him prepare for the next level. It’s also helped him excel when he’s played against players in his age group.

He’s been at his best on the biggest stages. During the World Under-17 Challenge and the Under-17 Five Nations Tournament, both which the U.S. won, Bracco posted four goals and 15 assists in 11 games.

“Winning that Five Nations was huge but obviously the Challenge is the hardest. You have to win seven games in eight nights, which was big,” said Bracco, who won’t be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until 2015. 

“Coming from last year, the guys won bronze and were telling us how hard it was going to be to do that. We wanted to represent our country and come out with gold.”

While his hockey career is still in its adolescent stages, the future already appears bright for Bracco. He has one more season with the NTDP, where he will vie for a spot on the 2015 World Junior Championship roster. He’s called making the Under-17 team his favorite hockey memory to this point, and has loved the relationships he’s built with his teammates and his billet family. 

And even with the potential allure of the Canadian junior leagues tempting him, as they did with Kane in 2006, Bracco said that as of right now, he is determined to live out his dream of playing college hockey and earn a world-class education.

 

“Both of my parents went to college,” said Bracco, who has already committed to play college hockey at Boston College after originally committing to Harvard University. “So that’s what I have my heart set on.”

 

Photos courtesy of Dave Reginek and Tom Sorensen



Youth Star

Bryce Bitsky
Age: 12
Parker, Colo.

Bryce has grown up with the game, having played since he was 5 years old. Despite being smaller than most of his counterparts, he uses his smarts and his skills to stay one step ahead of the competition.

He was the captain of his Squirt team that won a Colorado state championship in 2011. When he moved up to his Peewee A squad, he was named an alternate captain. To go along with his leadership qualities, he also led his team in scoring the past three seasons.

His love of the game has even spilled over to the officiating side of the ice as Bryce plans on enrolling in the USA Hockey officiating program in the fall.

Off the ice, Bryce is an honors student at Sierra Middle School. His leadership qualities extend to the classroom where he is among his teachers’ favorite students. When he’s not on the ice, Bryce can be found cheering on his favorite baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.

Photo courtesy of Bitsky Family

Issue: 
2014-06

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