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World Juniors 2024

Sam Hillebrandt "couldn't believe it" when he got USA World Juniors call, but he's ready

Sam Hillebrandt isn't a household name. Not yet anyway. How could he be? This time a year ago, he was playing Jr. C hockey in Ontario with the Stayner Siskins.

Getting the call from USA Hockey to their World Junior Selection Camp roster before ultimately making the cut ought to help build his profile though. It also might mean World Juniors gold for the now-Barrie Colts' goaltender.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was speechless," Hillebrandt said of USA Hockey inviting him to camp. “The first thing I did was call my parents. They were super excited as well.”

Hillebrandt was taken a bit by surprise when he found out USA Hockey was interested. This is how it all went down.

“Not really until the week before did I get a call that I was on the radar. But even leading up to it. I was just trying to do my best on the ice. Just putting my name out there," Hillebrandt told EP Rinkside.

Goalies are taught to maintain their focus, no matter the circumstances. The more they can get that tunnel vision the better. Hillebrandt has that. He needed that back in 2022-23 when he was playing for Siskins in the PJHL. He wasn’t there for long, and he posted big numbers.

To say that jumping from that league to the OHL to play for the Colts, his team for the 2023-24 season, is big. Then to make the U.S. World Junior team? That's massive. There has never been a path like this for a member of the World Junior squad.

“Ironically, I just talked to Barrie and figured out where it would be best to get in as many games as I could get. Those guys were one of those teams,” Hillebrandt mentioned. “I don’t know the exact number but there were a lot of fans at games in not too big of a city. I just stayed as positive as I could knowing that next year is going to be the year for sure. So you have to put in your time and the work and deal with the ups and downs. Even though it might not be the greatest level of hockey, being in there and getting your reps and being able to go through your routine is the biggest thing,”

Weirdly, but not surprisingly, the complications of the NCAA transfer portal led this netminder to decide to play in the OHL.

“Just with the transfer portal kind of slowing down the process for younger guys. It was the biggest thing,” Hillebrandt admitted.

The state of Florida has four players representing them in these games, and this goalie is proud to be one of them, even as an import; Hillebrandt played for Florida Alliance before making the move to Ontario. The amount of Sunbelt players has increased dramatically over the past decade.

“It’s special and shows the sport is growing down south. So that’s good.”

“Definitely there’s a lot of travel. You have to travel up north to find better teams. It was a great time playing down there,” Hillebrandt added.

USA Hockey can be very picky about who is invited to camp. This camp, as an example, could have been larger, but then you have more cuts and less time for your core players. Hillebrandt had a unique perspective knowing he was going to make the team. All of the goalie roster spots were secured and that's something that probably put him at ease during the scrimmages.

“It was a lot faster. There are a lot of great players out there for sure. Just trying to take it all in one day at a time,” said Hillebrandt.

Some goalies borrow from some of the all-time greats. This backstop decided to talk about a younger goalie who has similar traits, and that's something you don't expect.

"Dustin Wolf’s play is kind of similar."

Some prospects are very well-traveled, and others go overseas for the first time. Being on the team is exciting enough, but jetting off to a faraway land has a lot of mystique as well.

“It’s going to be exciting to take it all in. I’ve never been outside of the United States or Canada," Hillebrandt said.

Most third goalies get into one tournament game, and that's something Hillebrandt is ready for and what that means for his development.

"Just being to be able to get some reps in. You're playing on another level so you are seeing the game differently."

Goalies are the only position that I will accept cliches. The position is built on repetition and having a short memory.

"I try to be just one shot at a time. No matter what happens. Just focus on the next one,” he stated.

Being born in Port Huron, Michigan meant that going to World Junior Camp felt like coming home.

"I came here as a fan and played here a few times."

Hillebrandt is 2024 NHL Draft Eligible. It's safe to say that he probably wasn't on anybody's draft list before Team USA announced their roster. Now, he is certainly going to be scouted heavily. He has a better chance of getting drafted since being named to the roster than not being named at all, and that could be a huge long-term benefit.

Hillebrandt looked at home in the Team USA scrimmages. He held his own. He is an insurance policy. He knows it, and it's fine. That's more than he could have expected before this season began, and he plans on making the most of this opportunity.

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This article is about:
World Juniors 2024 Barrie Colts Florida Alliance 15O AAA Florida Alliance North 16U AAA Stayner Siskins USA U20 PJCHL OHL WJC-20 Sam Hillebrandt
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