TAYLOR, Mich. — Kris Draper has done thousands of interviews.
This particular one, however, made him choke up a bit.
Draper’s 2002 birth-year Little Caesars team won their sixth Michigan Amateur Hockey Association state championship on Sunday, as they topped Compuware 5-2 in the second game of a best-of-three final round of the USA Hockey Michigan District Youth Tier I 16U tournament.
Six players on the current roster have been with Draper’s squad during their remarkable reign as the top team in their age group, while a few others have been there for the majority.
“I’ve watched these kids grow up,” said Draper, the four-time Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings. “They’re great young men. A lot of those kids have committed to schools — something I’m real proud of. It’s been fun watching these guys, not only turn into real good hockey players but real proud of the young men they’ve become.”
Jacob Bauer, Grant Hindman, Mark Estapa, Garrett Szydlowski and Kienan Draper make up the core of the Little Caesars ’02 class, while twins Tiernan and Travis Shoudy returned this season after moving up to 16U one year earlier. Tanner Kelly has also been with the group since their 13U season.
“It’s unreal,” said Szydlowski, a Western Michigan commit who scored the championship-clinching goal late in the third period Sunday. “I’ve known all these guys since I was 7, 8, and we’ve won six out of the seven. This year’s especially special, because next year, we probably won’t be together anymore.
“This year means a lot.”
Another long-time member was there Sunday watching from the glass. Longtime Caesars defenseman Jacob Truscott, a member of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-17 Team, made sure he was there in time for the 11 a.m. puck drop despite playing a USHL game in Chicago the night before.
“They’re a special group of guys, so any chance I get to come back and watch them, it brings back so many memories,” said Truscott, who committed to the University of Michigan while wearing the Little Caesars baby blue and orange. “They worked hard out here today — now they just need to go win nationals.”
That’s the mission for the 2018-19 edition of the team. After falling in the final game of the 2018 USA Hockey National Championships at USA Hockey Arena last spring, they will have one more shot at winning a national title in April. They will be a few hours away from their home rink of Little Caesars Arena, but they will be skating in the familiar setting of Southside Ice Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when the puck drops on the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championship on April 4.
“We know we have a lot of work to do from now until Grand Rapids, but, this group just continues to get better, and like I said, I’m very proud of the guys I’ve had since they were 8-9 years old to guys who came in this year,” Draper said. “It’s probably the biggest turnover this team has had, and these guys bought in.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.