A trio of young and emerging local hockey players earned one of the sport's highest honors as the three represented their country at international tournaments in August.
Perrysburg's Tanner Dickinson and Maumee's Ben Schoen both played for USA Hockey in the Under-17 Five Nations Tournament in Slovakia in August. Sylvania native Mitchell Miller also played for Team USA in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton.
“It's definitely the best experience I've ever had,” Miller said. “To be able to throw the jersey on was the just an awesome feeling.”
The Five Nations Tournament brought together top U-17 players from the U.S., Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, and Switzerland for the tournament, while the Hlinka Gretzky Cup is an annual best-on-best U-18 tournament.
Earning spots on the national teams shows the three northwest Ohio 16-year-olds already are making names for themselves on the national level, and all three have made commitments to play at Division I universities down the road.
Dickinson, a 5-foot-11 and 180-pound forward, has committed to play at Ohio State University.
“To put on the jersey was something I'll never forget,” Dickinson said. “I got to play with some of the best players and against so many of the top players from other countries. It was really fun. I made some great memories.”
Schoen, a high-scoring and skilled forward, has pledged to play at Miami (Ohio). Schoen called making the national team a highlight of his young career.
“Walking in the locker room and seeing that USA jersey hung with my name on the back of it was the coolest thing ever,” Schoen said. “It's something I don't take for granted. It was humbling to make the team.”
Miller, a 6-foot and 190-pound forward, will play at University North Dakota. The Sylvania resident earned a spot on the U.S. Men's Under-18 select team that competed in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton.
The annual event is considered to be one of the best U-18 tournaments in the world. Miller competed on Team USA against players from Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Miller finished with five assists in the tournament, and his five points were the third most on Team USA. He posted two assists in the bronze medal game on Aug. 11 against Russia.
“Being able to put up points for the team and helping the team get a couple of wins was awesome,” Miller said. “It was the fastest hockey I've ever played. It was the funnest and the hardest. It was a great experience.”
Team USA finished fourth in the event that is named after Ivan Hlinka, a former Czech center who is central to the sport's history in that country, and the legendary Canadian forward Wayne Gretzky — the “Great One” who is regarded as perhaps the best player in the game's history.
Miller will compete this season for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League, the nation’s top junior league.
“We didn't get the outcome we wanted,” Miller said. “But it was a confidence booster for me.”
Schoen acquitted himself quite nicely at the Five Nations Tournament in Piestany, Slovakia. The Maumee native led all American skaters with three points (all assists) and was named the player of the game in Team USA's 6-2 win over Switzerland.
“It was awesome,” Schoen said. “It was a big deal just to make the team. There were 180 kids that tried out in Buffalo. Only 12 forwards made the roster. To make it was incredible.”
Schoen, who verbally committed to Miami when he was just 14, said he played before crowds of more than 3,000 in Slovakia.
“It's not often you get to play European nations,” Schoen said. “They don’t play the same as us. It made me a better player, learning how to play offense against a team that is sitting back and waiting for you to come at them. It was different. They were all over us. It was a weird style.”
Team USA played in two exhibition games and went 2-2 at the tournament to earn third place.
“Every team we played, we outshot them by 20 shots. They blocked every shot and they all had really good goalies,” Schoen said. “I did really well. We had a good week. It was awesome playing for the U.S. and playing overseas against other countries.”
Schoen has signed with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL. The young forward was essentially Youngstown's No. 1 draft choice. Schoen is attending Ursuline High School in Youngstown and is living with a sponsor family called a billet family.
Dickinson also said that it was a thrill to be among the select few to play in the Five Nations tournament.
“I learned something new every day, “ Dickinson said. “You get to see the level you need to be at. I felt really comfortable.”
In Team USA's 8-1 exhibition win over Hungary on Aug.12, Dickinson and Schoen each had a goal and an assist.
Dickinson said he had never been out of the country other than several trips to Canada.
“We went around a little bit in Budapest. We also saw a castle in Slovakia,” Dickinson said. “It was really fun.”
The three northwest Ohio prodigies all train with each other at EAO Sports in Sylvania. Each said they are proud to represent the area on the national — and international — stage.
“Toledo is not known to be a hockey powerhouse,” Dickinson said. “Some good players are coming out here now. People need to start looking at this area.”
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