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Eric Peterson, Published April 16 2009

Michigan machine: Ann Arbor-based team boasts talent from home state

The United States National Team Development Program is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and with good reason.

The United States has a definite Michigan flair on its roster at the IIHF World U18 hockey championships.

Six players on the squad hail from the state, and five players are committed to play at the University of Michigan.

“It’s definitely unique, and it’s exciting for all of us from Michigan,” said Kevin Lynch, a Grosse Pointe, Mich., native and future Wolverines player. “And to have that many of us going to the school is great, too.

“We’re a tight group.”

The five guys going to the University of Michigan are Lynch, A.J. Treais, Chris Brown, Jon Merrill and Jack Campbell.

Lynch, Treais, Campbell and Merrill are also from the Great Lake State, as are Cam Fowler and Kenny Ryan.

The state has long been one of the country’s top producers of hockey talent, and U.S. coach Ron Rolston said this year is no different.

“It’s been a strong state for our program, and this team has several players that prove that,” Rolston said. “Players from Michigan have a real competitive nature to them.

“And if you’re going to play at the University of Michigan, you’ve got to be talented.”

Dreaming of playing for the Wolverines isn’t specific to Michigan.

Brown came to the NTDP from Flower Mound, Texas, but grew up dreaming of playing for Michigan.

It was a dream that started when Brown was 5 years old, when he said he remembers watching Michigan beat Minnesota 4-3 in the 1996 national tournament.

It was a game remembered for Mike Legg’s improbable goal over Minnesota goaltender Steve DeBus’ shoulder from behind the Gophers net.

“I remember watching them on TV, and thinking their uniforms and helmets were so cool,” Brown said. “I just wanted to be a part of that, even as a really little kid.

“I’m just a small-town kid from Texas, so this is all pretty special for me.”

For the five players headed to the Wolverines, their stint in Ann Arbor won’t end with their two-year stay with the NTDP.

Lynch said all five are looking forward to continuing their careers together.

“It’s exciting for all of us, because we’ve gotten better as players (with the NTDP), and we get to continue that,” Lynch said. “We’ve had a good time here, and we’re excited for next year and the years to come together.”

The familiarity on the ice the Americans have developed with the NTDP is something that will only help them at the collegiate level, Brown said.

“It’s great to play with all these guys, and it’s going to be a lot of fun at the next level,” Brown said. “It’s going to help just having some familiar faces around, for sure.”

But before they don the maize and blue of Michigan, there is still work to do for the red, white and blue.

The medal round at the World U18 starts at 4 p.m. today with the United States taking on the Czech Republic. Sweden takes on Russia in the other quarterfinal at 7:30 p.m.

Both games are at Urban Plains Center.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548.

Collins’ blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com