Young players from coast to coast grow up dreaming of pulling a USA jersey over their heads, but only a select few get to experience it.
Parker Ford will live that dream this weekend at the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alberta.
The 18-year-old Providence College commit from Wakefield is a member of the American entry in the five-team tournament.
The U.S. team consists of some of the top Americans playing in the United States Hockey League, the top junior league in the country. The other teams are Canada East, Canada West, Russia and the Czech Republic. The first preliminary round game for the United States will be Sunday night against Canada West.
In his second season with the Sioux City Musketeers, Ford didn’t expect to be selected for the World Junior A Challenge.
“I was pretty surprised. I didn’t really know much about the World Junior A Challenge," said Ford, whose parents, John and Rebecca, and sister, Olivia, will make the trip to Alberta to watch. "This is probably the most prestigious tournament I’ve ever played in, so I was pretty shocked. I’m really excited and can’t wait.’’
High-scoring defenseman Luke Johnson, Ford’s roommate in Sioux City, also is playing for the United States in the World Junior A Challenge and is a PC commit.
Ford, a 5-foot-9-inch, 170-pound center, is off to a very good start for a strong Sioux City squad. After scoring 8 goals and 22 points in 51 games as a rookie last season, he already has 9 goals and 17 points in 19 games and is an assistant captain this season.
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. I started last year off with [a hand] injury [that required surgery]. That was kind of tough. For sure, after a year [in the league], it’s completely different. You play with a lot more confidence.
“Obviously, this year I have a bigger role than last year, so I’m on the ice a lot more. I know the coaches are relying on me a lot more. They expect a lot from me, as they should,’’ said Ford, who will enroll at PC for the 2019-2020 season.
PC coach Nate Leaman isn’t surprised by Ford’s progression. “Your first year in that league generally is a learning year," he said. "Your second year, you expect to have the kind of growth he's had, to be one of the better players on your team and be in a big role."
Relentless might be the best word to describe Ford. It’s an adjective that always comes up when you talk to scouts and coaches about him — and it’s a big reason why Ford and the Friars look to be a nice fit.
“He's skilled enough to make any play but he's gritty enough to play the game however it's going to be played that night," Leaman said. "Every coach he's played for has loved him."
Count Matt Plante, who coached Ford with the U-16 Selects Academy team in 2016-17, as one of those coaches.
“He was the complete package when we had him. He’s a coach’s dream. He was one of our most detailed players," said Plante, now the codirector of the new Mount St. Charles Hockey Academy. "You never had to worry about his work ethic. He brought it pretty much every day in practice, in the weight room, in the games.
“That U16 team we had, when it was all said and done, was one hell of a team," Plante said. "We might have had nine or 10 Division I commits on that team. Parker ended up leading that team in goals, second on the team in scoring behind [North Dakota commit] Shane Pinto. Parker had a positive impact on pretty much every single game, either on the score sheet or doing other things. That’s just the type of player he is."
Plante predicts a bright future for Ford as a Friar. “He’s so versatile. He can play anywhere in their 12 [forwards]. He’ll find a way to impact that team and their success in whatever role he’s asked to be in. They’re going to be thrilled with that kid."
Identifying under-the-radar players who mesh with the culture of the PC program has been a strong point of Leaman's coaching staff. Vimal Sukumaran is a good example.
In Ford, it looks like the Friars have found another nice fit.