Sam Hillebrandt knew who he had to call first to share the news.
After the Barrie Colts rookie goaltender found out he had been named to the U. S. National Junior Team preliminary roster and with Christmas just around the corner, it was important he made the call right away so arrangements could be made.
“My first phone call was to my parents to just let them know that they’ll be spending Christmas in Sweden this year,” said 18-year-old Riverview, FL. native, whose selection confirmed where the Hillebrandt family was spending their holiday season.
With teams carrying three goalies on their world championship roster and Hillebrandt one of only three goalies selected to take part in this month’s U.S. training camp, Hillebrandt had a great early Christmas present for his parents.
They’re super excited and very proud of me,” said the goalie, who will head to Plymouth, MI on Dec. 13 for the national team camp. “They were definitely excited to hear the news.”
In his second season with the Colts, the six-foot-one, 170-pound puck stopper has appeared in 15 games this season registering a 3.13 goals against average and .904. save percentage.
Hillebrandt has dreamt about sporting the red, white, and blue American colours since he grew up in Port Huron, MI watching the world juniors on television over the Christmas holidays.
“I’m sure everybody when they first started playing hockey grew up watching this tournament or the Olympics,” said Hillebrandt, whose family moved to Florida just before the pandemic when his dad’s work transferred him there.
“Everybody wants to represent that flag on their chest and be able to play for their country, and hopefully win a medal for them.”
Hillebrandt attended the US National Goaltending Camp this past May in Plymouth, MI and while the news of his selection didn’t come as a total surprise, it was something he was definitely shooting for when he took to the ice this season.
“In the back of my mind it’s always a goal starting the season that you want to be on that team or in the talk of being on the team,” said the American, who was named the OHL Goaltender of the Week on Oct. 30 after posting a 1.00 GAA and .971 SV% in two wins. “Once it came closer and closer to them announcing, or even starting to call players, you just kind of take care the rest of the work.
“If you’re doing your job on the ice, then it’s in their hands at that point.”
Taking to the crease with Hillebrand at the final U.S. camp will be Detroit Red Wings prospect and Michigan State returnee Trey Augustine and Boston College and Montreal Canadiens prospect Jacob Fowler.
While Augustine and Fowler are expected to carry the load at the upcoming IIHF World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden beginning on Dec. 26, the Colts goaltender is aiming to change that at camp.
“In my mind, my main goal is to just go there and win that No. 1 job,” said Hillebrandt, who along with his American teammates will head over to Sweden on Dec. 17.
Hillebrandt’s road here has been one of hard work and a fiery determination to put himself on the radar. A free agent signee of the Colts, he spent a chunk of last season playing Jr. C hockey and got into just three games with the OHL club.
Expected to play a backup role for the Colts this season, Hillebrandt has carried the load in the crease, starting 15 of the team’s 24 games.
“Going from minor hockey to the juniors is definitely a huge jump,” he said. “Even last year, just practicing with the team as much as I did, I felt like it made my game progress a whole bunch.”
“I’m sure people don’t hear about it often,” he added of playing Jr. C hockey one year to suiting up at the world juniors. “I just want to thank all my coaches and staff, and parents, for teaching me and pushing me every single day to become the best hockey player I can possibly be.”
Hillebrandt is the first Barrie player to be named to the U.S. national junior team since former defenceman Erik Reitz played in 2002.
He is one of only three OHL members (Gavin Hayes, Flint and Carey Terrance, Erie) to be selected among the 29 invitees battling for 25 roster spots.
Hillebrandt lists Miracle On Ice among his favourite movies and he just might find the time to pop it in for a little inspiration.
“To this day, I’ll occasionally sit down and watch the movie when I have time,” he said.
Banner image: Terry Wilson/OHL Images