In a normal world, USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program holds a week-long tryout for players hoping to join the under-17 squad. This year, the global Coronavirus pandemic put the kibosh on that, so the NTDP brain trust picked the team based on the scouting they had done on the age group for the past two years.
On paper, the NTDP will have another strong class headlined by names such as Rutger McGroarty, Cruz Lucius and Maddox Fleming up front. On defense, Tyler Duke is an intriguing 2022 NHL draft prospect and if his new teammates have any questions about ‘The Program,’ he is uniquely qualified.
Not only is Duke’s older brother Dylan part of the current NTDP (as is Lucius’ brother Chaz, Seamus Powell’s brother Eamon and Brady Berard’s brother Brett), but he has also lived 10 minutes from USA Hockey Arena for the past six years. With Dylan wearing the Red, White and Blue this season, Tyler’s visits were even more frequent and observing his older brother gave him great insight into the NTDP lifestyle.
“I learned a lot from him,” Duke said. “There was time management – getting up early for school then heading to the rink right at noon, then getting his schoolwork done. And on the ice he’s a really hard worker so I really look up to him.”
A smaller defenseman coveted for his puckmoving abilities and his shot, Duke and his family live in Northville, Michigan, right next to Plymouth, where the NTDP is based. His digs also allowed him to follow his favourite future NHLer up close and in person the past couple seasons – first at the NTDP, then down the highway in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan.
“My favourite NHL defenseman right now is Quinn Hughes,” he said. “He’s a smaller defenseman, can make a lot of good offensive plays, really good skater, smart guy and smart with the puck.”
Originally from Ohio, Duke’s move to Michigan allowed him to play for elite minor hockey programs such as Belle Tire and Compuware, where his teammates included current NTDPers Sasha Pastujov, Red Savage and Ty Gallagher (Dylan, a center, led that team in scoring). And even though the move didn’t involve a lot of geographic distance, it has led to quite the change in NHL allegiances for the youngster.
“Living in Ohio I was a Columbus fan,” Duke said. “But now coming to Detroit I’ve switched over to a Red Wings fan – although they’re having a rough go lately.”
As for colleges, Duke is committed to a school in another Midwestern state, this time Indiana’s legendary Notre Dame. So what attracted him to the Fighting Irish?
“The coaching staff, I had a great relationship with them,” he said. “And it’s one of the best schools in the world; the education there is awesome. Plus the hockey is awesome, too.”
Assuming everything stays as planned, that will set up a nice little sibling rivalry in a few years because Dylan is committed to the Michigan Wolverines. And given how closely Tyler has been paying attention, it’ll be hard for Dylan to fool his blueliner brother.