PLYMOUTH, Mich. — Potential members of the 2023 United States World Junior team have only practiced together since Sunday, but their identity is already taking shape:
“The thing that keeps jumping out at me is the compete level,” 2023 Team USA coach Rand Pecknold said at National Junior Evaluation Camp on Wednesday. “It’s been awesome. They’re into it, they compete, nobody takes a drill off.”
And one of the biggest contributors of that energy over the first five days of National Junior Evaluation Camp is the Michigan hockey team’s newest forwards. In an arena full of the best American players in his age group, the work ethic and commitment of incoming freshman Rutger McGroarty has captured coaches’ attention.
With such a short timetable to take notes on the 2023 roster, those character strengths matter. Coaches can only dedicate so much time to rounding out the skill sets of camp participants, which adds emphasis to finding players with the traits that take longer to instill.
Chief among them are maturity and leadership. In the case of McGroarty, those stand out.
“I could see why he wore the ‘C’ at the (Under-18) Worlds,” Pecknold said. “The one thing I did once we sent out the invites is I called every player. I had 42 phone calls to make, but he was one that really jumped out at me and he was impressive.
“He didn’t sound to me like an 18-year-old kid.”
And part of that maturity presents itself when McGroarty describes himself.
When asked by reporters to list the strengths of his game, he didn’t harp on his technical skills. Most of his answers instead tied back to the way he carries himself — an attitude that makes those around him better.
“I compete on both ends of the ice,” McGroarty said on Monday. “I bring my compete (level) and energy every single day. I feel like I’m a leader on and off the ice.”
And his play at this week’s camp reflects that.
McGroarty has made a habit of competing until the whistle in drills, never taking a moment off even when mistakes or puck bounces end them early. In an evaluation tryout that serves more to check in with players than decide on a final roster, McGroarty practices like his roster spot depends on a notable performance.
Projected as one of the top incoming forwards for the Wolverines this season, that attitude could also go a long way as McGroarty tries to establish himself at the college level. He understands that his game isn’t infallible, which might speed up his absorption of lessons from Michigan’s coaching staff. And with national team dreams still well-within reach, that maturity could help McGroarty come closer to donning the American crest when World Juniors start.
While McGroarty’s dogged determination has turned heads now, it’s a long way until December when a final American roster will be decided. But by putting his best foot forward and competing hard in every drill, McGroarty embodies the identity that Team USA wants to promote.
That attitude could help him be the kind of X-factor that both Michigan and Team USA need.