BUFFALO – Jerry D’Amigo isn’t even 20 years old, but he’s already represented his country more times than many players do in a lifetime. A very poster boy for the U.S. National Team Development Program, he devoted two years of his life to USA Hockey’s model for teen development (2007-09) and has been rewarded with one trip to the World U18 Championship and is now in his second tour of duty with the U20 team.
So far, he is two for two, winning gold at both U18 in 2009 and U20 in 2010, and looking for a golden hat trick this year in Buffalo. He has also been drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, played a year of college hockey at RPI, and started his first pro season with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Marlies.
D’Amigo’s presence in Buffalo is thanks to Leafs’ GM Brian Burke loaning the player from the AHL to participate at the U20, a move Burke feels can only help D’Amigo’s development. “I look at this as an opportunity,” D’Amigo said of Burke’s call to discuss joining the American U20 team. “Not a lot of people get the chance to play here, so I just took it. I’m with the Marlies right now, and I have a couple of more steps before I make it to the Leafs, so this will be a good step for me. He told me just to play hard and work my butt off to win a gold medal because he’s American, too. It’s good he has the confidence in me, and I’ll be back with the Marlies in a couple of weeks.”
Indeed, Burke was GM for Team USA at the 2010 Olympics and is the ideal GM for D’Amigo to develop under, a respected NHL executive with a thorough knowledge of USA Hockey’s program. For the player, though, the transition – physically and emotionally – is difficult. He started the year in September, one of 60 or so hopefuls at the Leafs’ training camp, went down to the AHL, and is now with the juniors.
“It’s a matter of playing within your role,” he explained. “With the Marlies, I’m a rookie, but here I’m a leader. It’s definitely kind of tough to change that up, but, you know what, I have to play with it. Bringing my experience from last year is definitely going to help the team this year. I have more confidence here and feel like there’s more room to make a play. It gives me the confidence to make the plays I’m supposed to make.”
If USA Hockey continues its trend to use the World Championship as an opportunity for young players to develop international experience at the senior level, D’Amigo might well be a candidate for the 2011 Worlds in Slovakia as well. “If I’m invited, I’d play in the World Championships for sure,” he admitted, noting that nothing further could be assumed until he got the phone call to play.
For now, D’Amigo’s focus is on the team’s reaction to game one here in Buffalo, a surprisingly close, 3-2 overtime win against Finland before a crowd with plenty of Canadians razzing the home side and cheering the Finns.
“It made it a little bit more difficult,” he suggested, “but we can’t let that get to us. We just have to play our game and not worry about the other stuff. It’s definitely good to play with the home crowd and everything but we can’t have added pressure on ourselves. We have to factor that out. We’re at the border so we know there’ll be lots of fans from Canada. It’s good to have some boos and cheers. It’s not too bad.”
Next up for the Americans is a December 28th date with Slovakia. “We just have to chill,” D’Amigo said. “We didn’t play our best against Finland, but we still won, so we have to work on a few things tomorrow and be better the next game, and carry it through. It’s a long grind, but guys understand that.”