Each spring, USA Hockey hosts a selection camp to try to pick which players it will offer to join the National Team Development Program.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, USA Hockey didn't have that opportunity this year, so it had to go by its regular-season evaluations.
Needless to say, Grand Forks native Cole Spicer did more than enough to catch USA Hockey's attention.
Spicer racked up 169 points in 63 games to lead the suburban Detroit-based Honeybaked U15 team in scoring. Last week, he was offered a spot on the U.S. Under-17 Team, a collection of top 2004-born American players, and he accepted it.
"It was a tough decision," Spicer said. "I had a couple of good offers from some other places. But you can't really replace practicing and playing with the best kids in the country for your age. You can't replace that, in my opinion."
Spicer will be the fifth North Dakotan to play for the NTDP, joining Minot's Quinn Fylling (1998-00), Devils Lake's Keaton Thompson (2011-13), Grand Forks' Judd Caulfield (2017-19) and Fargo's Tyler Kleven (2018-20).
Gage Ausmus of East Grand Forks also played for the NTDP from 2011-13.
Fylling, Thompson and Aumsus all played at UND. Caulfield just completed his freshman season at UND and Kleven will be a UND rookie in the fall. Spicer has already committed to UND.
"He's a mature hockey player," Honeybaked coach Jason Deskins said. "He has pro tendencies at 15 years old in terms of attention to detail in his own zone, accountability and trustworthiness. He's going to do the right thing. He plays an honest, 200-foot game. His skills are off the charts as well, but he's a complete hockey player.
"The best compliment I can give any player is that they play the game the way it was meant to be played, and Cole truly does that."
A dominant season for Spicer
Spicer, who won a North Dakota boys state championship at Grand Forks Central in 2019, made the decision in August to go play for Honeybaked. The team went 59-3-2 and was set to go to the national tournament when the season was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Spicer led Honeybaked in scoring with a whopping 51 goals and 169 points. Nobody on the team was within 40 points of his total, including Michigan commit Frank Nazar, who also earned an invite to the U.S. Under-17 Team.
"Anything short of 'amazing' would be an understatement," Deskins said of Spicer's season. "He got here late. We had already started practicing and training. It took him a little bit of time to get his bearings and acclimate to the boys, the team, the coaching staff, a new billet home, a new school and different expectations. I think, for him, the biggest thing was taking that step of practicing and playing against some of the best players in the country and realizing how good he was. I don't know if any of us would have anticipated it coming in."
Deskins, a two-year captain at Miami from 2000-02, said Spicer took off at the end of the season.
"The last three months, he went on a tear," Deskins said. "He had stretches where he'd put up 20 points in a three-game stretch. It was crazy to see. He's an extremely gifted kid. He's probably the smartest hockey player I've ever coached in terms of hockey IQ, in terms of understanding the game and how to make players better around him."
Spicer said: "We had a really good coach, Jason Deskins, who helped me develop a lot. When it comes to confidence, it was big playing there, especially having such a good year."
Spicer will play his junior year with the U.S. Under-17 Team and his senior year with the U.S. Under-18 Team before coming to campus. His head coach is slated to be Seth Appert and one of his assistants will be Grand Forks native Nick Fohr.
Spicer asked Caulfield about what to expect at the National Team Development Program, which is based in Plymouth, Mich.
"I did text him quite a bit asking about his experience and how he felt," Spicer said.
Spicer enjoyed his 2019-20 season, even though his team wasn't able to finish it.
"Our team was pretty special," Spicer said. "And being able to play with some of the best kids in the country was pretty special."