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CEDAR RAPIDS — You can debate who will find Friday night’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders-Team USA hockey game the most strange.
Might be the RoughRiders. Might be their fans.
Might be Drew DeRidder. Might be his parents and sisters.
“It’s going to be weird. Definitely,” the Team USA goaltender said. “The first game against them and everything. But it will be good to see everyone I know. I’ll get to talk to Coach (Mark) Carlson, hopefully. It should be fun.”
DeRidder played 41 games last United States Hockey League season for the Riders, more than holding his own as a 16-year-old on a less-than-successful club. He was expected to be a vitally important cog for a Cedar Rapids turnaround this season but ended up accepting an invitation last May to join the United States National Team Development Program in his home state of Michigan instead.
“The Program,” as it’s called, is run by USA Hockey, the governing body for the sport in this country, and consists of many of the top-end players in their age groups. The USNTDP has two teams: the Under-17 and Under-18 clubs, which split a USHL schedule.
The U-18s also play against several college teams and represent the country at international tournaments. Neither goalie with the U-17 team last season was invited to return, which led to DeRidder’s invite.
He said as much as he wanted to remain with the RoughRiders, the opportunity he was offered was too good to pass up.
“It’s unreal,” he said. “It’s amazing training, the facilities are just unbelievable. Second to none. They give us everything we could ever possibly need. It’s cool to play not only all the USHL games, but also playing the college teams. That is a lot of fun. Then we go over to Finland in a couple of weeks here (for a tournament).”
DeRidder said he has been told he’ll be between the pipes for Friday night’s game against C.R. in Plymouth Mich., The Program’s home. The younger U-17 team plays the RoughRiders on Saturday night.
DeRidder’s lone game against a USHL opponent so far this season was a shutout of Muskegon. Team USA is 4-0 in the early going, Cedar Rapids 3-2.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. It was tough leaving everything there,” DeRidder said. “Such a great time, such a great experience. But the training here, the schedule, it’s the best there is. I didn’t want to have regrets later, just looking back and saying that I could have played on Team USA, the U-18 team, for a year.”
He said making sure he was fully prepared to play college hockey next year at Michigan State also played a role in joining The Program. He is from Fenton, Mich., and is able to live at home while playing with the USNTDP, another bonus, though he insisted that ultimately wasn’t much of a factor in his decision to leave Cedar Rapids.
He doesn’t attend a high school, taking classes online instead. DeRidder said he feels his game has improved, especially his ability to play and move the puck from behind the net.
The answer to the biggest question you might have is yes, Carlson was upset when told he was losing his goaltender. Needless to say, that’s understandable.
“All I’ll say is he was not too happy,” DeRidder said.