Devils Lake standout leads US Under-18 team vs UNDGRAND FORKS — Gage Ausmus and Keaton Thompson moved away to Ann Arbor, Mich., last summer to train with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
By: Brad Schlossman, Forum Communications
GRAND FORKS — Gage Ausmus and Keaton Thompson moved away to Ann Arbor, Mich., last summer to train with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
While the move ended their high school hockey careers, it didn’t end the chance for the local hockey players to play at home.
The two defensemen and good friends are back in town tonight as members of the U.S. Under-18 team to take on the University of North Dakota in an exhibition game in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Thompson, a Devils Lake product, stands at 6 feet, 187 pounds and has two assists this season. He accelerated his education and will graduate this spring. He’ll play for UND in a year or two.
Ausmus, an East Grand Forks, Minn., native, is a 6-foot-1, 211-pound blue liner with one assist in six games this season. He will play at the University of Denver in a year or two.
“Last year, right before we left (Ann Arbor) for the summer, we got to see the schedule,” Ausmus said. “I saw this game on there and I was pretty pumped about that right away.
“It will be a good experience, having my friends and family watch me play against the Sioux, the team I watched while I was growing up. Just being on the ice and playing there will be great.”
Thompson said: “It will be tough, but it will be fun. I’m excited to come back and play in front of everyone. Some friends said they have wanted to see me play. Now, they will be able to. I’m excited — it’s going to be a good game.”
Thompson is touted as an offensive, puck-moving defenseman. He’s currently being projected as a mid-round pick in June’s NHL Draft. Ausmus is more of a defensive defenseman.
Both say their games have greatly progressed in the last year while playing for the NTDP.
“It has actually been great,” Ausmus said. “I really love it. I’m very close with all the guys on the team and I love the coaches. It’s a great deal. I definitely think since I showed up last year, myself and my teammates have improved a ton.”
Playing in a game like tonight’s isn’t always easy for the young players. Ask Nick Mattson.
After committing to UND, Mattson played against his future squad as a member of the U.S. Under-18 team.
“That was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been for a game,” the sophomore defenseman said. “I remember sitting in my hotel room before the game. I couldn’t take a pregame nap or anything. I was really nervous. I kind of felt like I had to make the team that night almost. I didn’t play very well and I remember being pretty upset. My dad was trying to cheer me up after the game.
“Looking back, I wish I would have just relaxed, had fun and taken it in a little more. It was a pretty cool experience and I was excited to know I was going to play here someday. But at the same time, it definitely made me realize that I had a long way to go to be ready to make a difference here.”
UND hasn’t decided whether or not captain Andrew MacWilliam (shoulder) will play in the game. MacWilliam was held out of last weekend’s exhibition game for precautionary reasons.
… The U.S. Under-18 team is comprised of many of the top 1995-born American players.