Freshman Tyler Kelleher: From Team USA to UNH
|UNH Freshman Tyler Kelleher|
For incoming UNH freshman Tyler Kelleher, it's been a long journey from his hometown of Longmeadow, Massachusetts to the Durham campus. As a 15-year-old freshman at Longmeadow High School, he led the Lancers to the 2010 Mass Division III State Championship. Kelleher transferred to Deerfield Academy for his sophomore year and was the second leading scorer on the New England Prep School team with 11 goals and 15 assists in 18 games. Midway through the 2010-11 season at Deerfield, Tyler made a verbal commitment to play for UNH.
|Tyler Kelleher Scores for Team USA Against Russia|
Last season, Tyler Kelleher joined an elite group of players who can call themselves the leading scorer and goal scorer on the United States Under-18 team. In 67 games, Tyler scored 29 goals and 30 assists. Others who lead the Under-18 team in goals and points include Phil Kessel (04-05) and Patrick Kane (05-06). Former UNH star James van Riemsdyk lead the U-18 team in goal scoring during the 2006-07 season.
I had an opportunity to interview Tyler just prior to the final game of the men's summer league at the Olympia Ice Center in West Springfield, MA. Tyler discussed his experience with Team USA, the NHL Draft, the upcoming season with UNH, and his brother Charlie Kelleher who is also committed to UNH.
Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): You spent the last two years with the US National Team Development Program. The first year you played for the Under 17 team and were the highest scorer and last year with the U18 team, you were the highest scorer again. What did it mean to you to play for Team USA over the last two years?
Tyler Kelleher: It was pretty cool. When I was around 12 years old, I first heard about Nathan Gerbe and he played for Team USA. From then on out I wanted to play for Team USA and I also wanted to play in Hockey East. He was my hero as soon as I saw him play. I love how Gerbe plays. So playing for USA was a dream come true.
Lowry: Thinking back to when you played for Deerfield Academy and your skills at that point, how would you compare the kind of player you were then to the player you are now?
Kelleher: Obviously my skills got better but the major difference was learning how to play the game to win. Learning the right time to try to make certain plays. Pretty much my mental game improved the most with Team USA. I also got used to playing with bigger players and finding time and space was the main thing for me. I got stronger and got more skilled obviously, but the main thing was learning how to play the game and what to do with the puck versus skill. At Deerfield, it was pretty much instincts and automatic. There’s a difference between Deerfield and Team USA or college, obviously. You need to learn to use your brain more which I got used to doing and that helped me a lot.
Lowry: Was there an area where you surprised yourself in how much you improved?
Kelleher: I think my shot improved a lot. In the weight room, there’s an area where you could shoot pucks. I worked out a lot and my shot definitely got a lot harder, both my wrist shot and one-timer.
Lowry: Last year, you played against 12 or 13 Division 1 teams so you got experience understanding what it takes, as a center, to maneuver around some of the big, strong, and fast NCAA players. Do you anticipate playing center when you go to UNH?
Kelleher: I actually have no idea. I haven’t talked to coach about it or anything.
Lowry: Do you have a preference?
Kelleher: Not really. I played some wing this year but mostly center, but I can play wing - it’s not a problem for me.
Lowry: When you think back to the games against NCAA teams last year, such as Michigan, Minnesota and UNH, what do you think it takes to succeed as a center or a winger at the NCAA level?
Kelleher: Well, I think once you get to that level, pretty much everyone can skate, can shoot and everyone is strong. I think the big difference is decision-making and hockey sense. If you look at John Gaudreau at Boston College, he’s not really that fast and he’s really small, but he outthinks everyone out there, which helps him a lot. So I think that’s an under-rated part of hockey which helps players a lot.
Lowry: Is it anticipating where the big guys are going to be a maneuvering around them?
Kelleher: Yes, it’s finding open space or when your teammate is open, not trying to do too much, just hitting him at the right time. Just feeling the game out.
Lowry: Projecting forward, what do you hope to accomplish in your first year at UNH?
Kelleher: I hope to be an impact freshman year and help the team win. I really want to win a Hockey East championship as a freshman, that’s my main goal.
Lowry: What do you hope to accomplish by the end of your UNH career?
Kelleher: Definitely win a National Championship. I know UNH has never done that before so it’s the main goal - to win a National Championship.
Lowry: You’ve obviously followed college hockey for a long time - you mentioned Nathan Gerbe earlier. What do you think it takes to win the National Championship?
Kelleher: Your team has to be playing the right way at the right time - clicking at the right time. The first line has to be scoring. I think the main thing is you have to be like a family focused on nothing besides trying to win. Everything you do is about trying to win. Every player has to play their role.
Lowry: Was it like that with Team USA the last two years?
Kelleher: Yes, I was with my teammates pretty much 24-7 whether it be on a long bus trip, practice, after practice, study hall or whatever. I was always with them so they became my brothers.
Lowry: Was it a tough adjustment for you after growing up and playing at Longmeadow, then heading first to Deerfield then out to Ann Arbor?
Kelleher: Hockey-wise, the USHL seemed real fast at first but I got used to that pretty quickly. Living that far away from home took an adjustment period for everyone on my team. We all had to get used to it and it was pretty tough, but it ended up being worth it.
Lowry: A question, about the NHL draft, if you don’t mind. A couple weeks before the draft, an article on Hockey Prospectus had you ranked as #97 out of the top 100 prospects for the draft. Did you have any anticipation going into draft day and what was it like as the draft day played out?
Kelleher: I went into it with no expectations. I didn’t even watch it after the first round. Once I found out I wasn’t picked, it was kind of sad but at the same time, I used it as motivation for this year and trying to prove to all those teams that they made a mistake not drafting me.
Lowry: To get to the NHL, what path do you anticipate you’ll be taking?
Kelleher: I don’t really know - I’ll take it year by year, even day by day. If you get drafted, you have one team that tells you what they’re going to pay you but if you go undrafted, you get to choose from 30 teams. You get to choose the best contract. I remember Stevie Moses telling me that when I was touring UNH.
Lowry: One last question - if the timing works out, there’s a chance you’ll be able to play a year at UNH with your brother Charlie. What would that be like?
Kelleher: It would really be a dream come true. I remember when we were younger, NESN would air a game every Friday night and he and I would watch every single one of those games. We’d talk about how cool it would be to play in Hockey East. When we both committed to UNH, that was the first thing I brought up. Both playing in Hockey East and on the same team would be pretty cool.
Lowry: When you played for Longmeadow High School as a freshman, Charlie was too young to be on the team. Have you ever played on the same team with Charlie?
Kelleher: Back when I was in 6th grade, I played on a team that my Dad coached and two kids dropped out. So, my Dad needed a player and he brought in Charlie to play two years up. That was the last time we played together.
UNH fans will have an opportunity to see Tyler Kelleher (#16), and the other incoming freshman, in a UNH uniform for the first time on Saturday, October 5th, at the Whittemore Center. The Wildcats will play an exhibition game against Acadia University from Nova Scotia. Game time is 7:00 PM. UNH freshman Collin Bourque #20, Matias Cleland #2, and Dylan Maller #4 will also be in uniform.