Before he begins his junior year at North Branch Area High School, Brady Meyer will trade his Viking colors for the red, white and blue of Team USA.
The hockey star was recently selected as a member of the United States U18 Select squad that will compete in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial U18 Junior World Cup next month in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
“I was honored; I didn’t really know what to say,” Meyer said. “I’m excited it happened for me. It’ll be nervewracking, but it’ll be fun.”
During the 2016-17 high school season, Meyer led the Vikings with 31 goals and 54 points overall.
After the high school season ended, Meyer worked his way through two months of tryouts, camps and cutdowns to claim one of the 22 spots on Team USA.
The first step was to try out for his sectional team in the Minnesota Hockey High Performance Program. Having made that team, eight sectional teams of 20 players each played games against one another in a spring festival, with 54 players being selected for further tryouts.
That group of 54 was eventually culled down to 18, who made up the Minnesota delegation to the national tryouts in Buffalo, New York.
A total of 180 players from across the country spent the week of June 24-30 in the Buffalo camp, trying to impress the national team staff. On the final day, the best 42 participated in an all-star game, in which Meyer scored a goal. Directly thereafter, the final 22 members of Team USA were selected.
“We went to a meeting and they called out names, and the guys that were called went to a different room,” Meyer said. “Those were the guys that made the team.”
Meyer’s name was called; he had survived all the cuts and earned his Stars and Stripes.
The Ivan Hlinka tournament will run Aug. 7-12, with games split between Breclav, Czech Republic and Bratislava, Slovakia. The best young talent in the world will be on display, with the first round consisting of two four-team round-robin groups. The Americans have been matched with Sweden (Aug. 7), Switzerland (Aug. 8) and the Czech Republic (Aug. 9); Slovakia, Canada, Finland and Russia will face off in the other group. The top two teams in each group will advance to the semifinals. Before the start of the tournament, the United States will play a warmup game against Hungary in Budapest.
“Hopefully we win gold,” Meyer said.
In 26 previous editions of the tournament, Canada has won the gold medal 20 times, though they failed to medal a year ago. Team USA has won the gold medal once before, in 2003. The Stars and Stripes finished second in 2016 and enters this year’s clash with the motto “It’s Our Turn!”
That motto could also be adopted by the North Branch team next season: having won only 15 games in the previous three seasons, the 2016-17 squad picked up 16 victories and advanced to the semifinals of the Section 5A tournament, helped in no small part by Meyer’s prolific goalscoring.
“We’re hoping to win a section championship and make it to the state tournament,” Meyer said.
The dedication of the Viking squad is unquestionable: since North Branch uses the Chisago Lakes arena as its “home,” and the Wildcats have priority for afternoon practice, Meyer and his older brother Bryant had to wake up at 4 a.m. to join their teammates on a bus to Chisago in the winter darkness, completing their practice sessions before their school days begin. As he prepares for his adventure with Team USA, Meyer is able to rise at the comparatively late hour of 6 a.m. to get ready for training sessions with the Minnesota Advancement Program in Blaine. He will fly out to join the national team July 30.
Whatever happens in Europe, Meyer will be a player to watch in the years to come. He has already been drafted by two junior teams, the Minnesota Magicians (North American Hockey League) and the Bloomington Thunder (United States Hockey League). Meyer will play for Bloomington next season before and after the high school campaign. He has also been offered a scholarship to play for the University of Minnesota, Duluth once he graduates from North Branch.
Beyond that, his goal is the same as every other elite hockey prospect.
“Hopefully one day, I get drafted and play in the NHL,” Meyer said.