Taking The ADM to the Next Level

Chicago Steel’s Blueprint For Success Has Its Roots In Following Principles Used In Youth Hockey

Ryan Hardy listened intently as the caretakers of the American Development Model discussed their vision for a revolutionary long-term athlete development program and sought ways to enhance it.

Suddenly, a light turned on.

In his role as director of player personnel for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program from 2013-17, Hardy saw unlimited potential in implementing many of the ADM principles used to develop youth hockey players at the junior level and beyond. 

When USA Hockey introduced the ADM in 2009, many in the old guard took their time to warm up to it. Today it is accepted, not only throughout the hockey community, but by a growing number of other sports as well.

Fast forward a few seasons, and elements of the ADM appear all over the organizational blueprints for the Chicago Steel, the winningest team in the USHL since Hardy became general manager prior to the 2018-19 campaign. The Steel went 78-25-5, reached the Clark Cup Playoff final and won an Anderson Cup as regular-season champions in Hardy's first two seasons. They haven't missed a beat this year.

Hardy credits USA Hockey assistant executive director for hockey development Kevin McLaughlin, director of youth hockey Kenny Rausch and several ADM regional managers for piquing his interest. He also tagged along for a few exchanges with developmental coaches from Finland and Sweden, who have experienced success in international competition against countries with significantly larger populations.

"I felt from listening to them that there was a disconnect in the general populous that the ADM is just about cross-ice Mite hockey," said Hardy, who worked as a Boston Bruins scout for two years between his time with the NTDP and the Steel. 

"As I talked to them, it was very clear that there was a template for long-term athlete development that was rooted in more than just a bunch of hockey guys sitting around making up some ideas and calling them the gospel.

"A lot of the stuff they were saying made so much sense, and that inspired me to look for parallels to what we were doing with the NTDP."

Hardy decided to apply some of those ideas to junior hockey, specifically when it comes to scouting players who look to make the transition up the ladder  of development.

"A lot of their philosophies provide the main tenets of what this thing is all about in Chicago," he said. "We look at development in a holistic and comprehensive way."

The Steel have proven that elements of the ADM translate well to the USHL.

"We have team concepts more than team systems, per se," said Steel head coach
Brock Sheahan.

"At this level, there needs to be a team focus as well, but I'd say we have parallel lines in development with the individual aspect and the team aspect. We try to develop them together. That includes the mental side, the off-ice component and the training."

Commitment To Players

Last season, the Steel used the third fewest number of players (32) in the USHL. And that number was slightly inflated because eight affiliates list players who skated in four or fewer games, while the Steel dealt with injuries or loaned players to USA Hockey for the mid-season World Junior A Challenge.

Every player who made the Steel out of training camp remained with the team through the end of the season, a rarity in junior hockey. Only Dubuque at 28 and Waterloo at 30 rostered fewer players. The league average was 38.5.

 "I want to win the Clark Cup and the Anderson Cup, and I'd like to win all the games," Hardy said.

"At the same time, we take a lot of pride in winning through development. We're going to be successful if we invest in our people, so having the same players at the end that we started with is definitely a source of pride for us."

That philosophy certainly takes some of the pressure off the players.

"These coaches care about you, and our general manager cares about you more than anyone I've seen in junior hockey," said captain Erik Middendorf, a 20-year-old forward from Scottsdale, Ariz. 

"The Steel are different than a lot of organizations because they care more about teaching and developing than wins and losses. It's pretty ironic that they focus more on developing than winning, and we're still having so much success."

Validation Day

The Steel earned validation for their commitment to development during the 2020 NHL Draft, when they set a franchise record with eight players selected. That doubled their previous high set in 2017 and matched those taken two years later.

USHL Rookie of the Year Brendan Brisson became the Steel's first-ever first-round draft pick when the Vegas Golden Knights took him 29th overall. Sam Colangelo and Ian Moore went to Anaheim in the second and third rounds, respectively, followed by Sean Farrell to Montreal in the fourth, Matthew Kessel to St. Louis in the fifth, Luke Reid to Nashville and Joe Miller to Toronto in the sixth and Gunnarwolfe Fontaine to Nashville in the seventh.

"Organizationally, it was validating in a lot of ways," Hardy said. "It felt like, 'This is what we set out to do, and now it's starting to manifest itself.' It was validating and, at the same time, a little emotionally exhausting. 

"It was a little bittersweet because we had another five guys who ... didn't hear their names called. It doesn't temper the excitement of the guys who did get drafted, but you're looking out for every one of the kids, and you try to bear the burden of some of their pain."

And the Steel don't look like a one-hit wonder when it comes to the draft. Steel alum and University of Michigan freshman Owen Power has been mentioned as a candidate to be taken first overall this summer, and Mackie Samoskevich and Matt Coronato could also become first rounders.

Just another sign that the best is yet to come. 



Jim Leitner is a freelance writer based in Dubuque, Iowa.


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