FAIRBANKS — For the first time since 2008, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs will face the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.
The Ice Dogs are hosting the USNTDP under-17 team for a two-game exhibition series Dec. 2-3 at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, the North American Hockey League announced Thursday.
“That’s the 22 best 17-year-olds in the country. There’s no question it’ll be everything we can handle. The games are going to be awesome,” Ice Dogs general manager Rob Proffitt said by cellphone. “The event itself is going to be something that’s going to be very special and is going to be talked about for a while.”
The Ice Dogs, the reigning NAHL Robertson Cup national champions, and the USNTDP last played on Sept. 18, 2008, a 7-4 win for the program in Blaine, Minnesota.
The USNTDP last came to Fairbanks on Sept. 20, 2007. The Ice Dogs won that game 3-2.
“Part of the development of our players — on and off the ice — is the experience of traveling and playing in different parts of the country against the best competition,” Scott Monaghan said in a NAHL press release. “Playing the Ice Dogs in Fairbanks is unique and is a road trip that many of our players will experience for the first time. We look forward to the opportunity.”
Monaghan is the senior director of operations for USA Hockey National Team Development Program.
The program used to play in the NAHL and were in the same division as the Ice Dogs for some of their 12-years in the league. They left the league following the 2008-09 season.
The USNTDP has taken part in the NAHL’s Top Prospects Tournament for the last three seasons. Last season’s tournament took place at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan.
Proffitt said he had been thinking of trying to get the national development program to come to Fairbanks for a while. The process r started to get going near the end of 2015 when Kris Knauss, the Pacific Director for USA Hockey, approached Proffitt.
“He made some contacts at USA Hockey and got the ball rolling,” Proffitt said of Knauss. “All the credit goes to him for getting it going. We were fortunate enough. Had a good conversation with (Danton Cole), they’re head coach. It’s something he thought would be good for their team.”
The USNTDP U17 team is comprised of players who are all eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
“The rink’s going to be full of future NHL stars,” Proffitt said.
Nine national development program alumni were selected in the first round of the NHL draft in June.
“We are pleased to host the NTDP 17-Team in Fairbanks this season,” Knauss said in the NAHL release. “It’s a testament of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs program and their continuing success of advancing players onto the NCAA. This is a great environment to showcase Alaska Hockey and a rare opportunity to see first hand the strength of USA Hockey’s top development program at the 2000 birth year.”
The Ice Dogs open the season on Sept. 15 with a three-game series against the Topeka RoadRunners in Topeka, Kansas. The Ice Dogs play their first home game on Sept. 30 against the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks.
Contact sports reporter Tim O’Donnell at 459-7583. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.