Don’t tell Drew DeRidder that he’s not big enough to stop the puck. The “undersized” goalie has accomplished more as a sixteen-year-old than most youth players do in their whole career. Hockey is a way of life in the DeRidder household as both his father and grandfather played and coached the game. For Drew, it all started at “learn to skate” as a three-year-old in the small town of Fenton, MI just south of Flint. By the age of four he was in full equipment and playing on the Flint Icelanders, the local youth team. His career wouldn’t begin in the net however. He started as a winger and then moved to defense for his first few years until he reached mites.
“I played goalie once in a while in practice as a mini-mite and loved it. Finally, in mite hockey, my team didn’t have a goalie, so my dad asked if I wanted to try goalie full-time. I jumped at the chance. I think I had also set the record for penalty minutes as a mini-mite, so my parents joke that I had to play goalie and stay in the crease for the safety of the other players on the ice. I’ve been in net ever since.”
After Mite hockey with the Flint Icelanders, DeRidder moved to the Midland Northstars and captured back to back Michigan Tier II State Championships. He then decided to take his game to the next level and try out for one of the top AAA programs in the state of Michigan, Belle Tire. Drew made the team and played for Belle Tire for two years of pewees before moving to the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies for bantams.
“Playing for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies organization has been great. I took a spot with the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies as a Bantam Minor and instantly felt at home. I’ve had great teammates, great coaches, great leadership, and we play in a great facility. The Grizzlies had just started their AAA program, so it was good for me to be part of a building program. We have improved every year. I have seen tons of shots and lots of action around the crease. It has helped me improve as a goaltender.”
After his Bantam Major season, he was invited to the USA Select 15 National Development Camp in Buffalo, NY. It was here that DeRidder went from a regional standout to being on the national stage. His performance earned him a spot on the Team USA Youth Olympics roster; the highest accomplishment for a player of that age in the US.
“This has been a very special year for me and the Youth Olympics was the greatest hockey experience I’ve had, so far. I was fortunate to have a very strong Bantam Major season with the Grizzlies in a year where I really stepped up my commitment to the game. I made it through the MAHA PDC camps and was invited to attend the USA Hockey Select 15 Camp in Buffalo. I had a solid performance leading to the eventual invite to be part of Team USA. The trip over to Norway was my first time traveling and playing outside of North America, so everything about the Youth Olympic Games was new and exciting. I remember meeting everyone in Newark, NJ and I could see right then that this was a very special group. We formed an instant connection and bond quicker than any other team I had played on. I think that’s what allowed us to play so well. We came together so quickly as a team and eventually won the Gold. It was my first experience playing for USA and I never felt so much pride in my life as I did in those two weeks, especially when the clock ran out in the championship game and we had beaten Canada and I found myself at the bottom of the celebration pile.”
After the Youth Olympic Games, he returned to the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies U16 team where he was the starter despite being one of the youngest players on his team. He put up big numbers with a 2.08 GAA and .928 SV%. It was expected that after his strong performance leading Team USA to gold and a stellar U16 Tier 1 season that he would find a spot on the US NTDP team. However, in hockey, as in life, things don’t always go according to plan.
“Being selected to attend the NTDP Evaluation Camp was an honor in itself. With that being said, not being selected to the final team hurt a lot. Making that team was one of my goals and to come down to the final three goalies, then to be told that they need a few more days to review video and consult amongst the staff before deciding, then to get the call 3-4 days later at 10pm learning that I was not selected was tough. I know there are other avenues to get where I want to go in this sport, but I had formed a special bond and was looking forward to playing with those elite players. However, I was able to turn disappointment into motivation and continued training. I also went almost immediately up to Oshawa for the OHL Combine where I was able to put things behind me, refocus, and come out even stronger.”
The next step for DeRidder would be the OHL and USHL Drafts. In both cases he’d hear his name called early. He was selected in the sixth round of the OHL Priority Draft by Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds and in the third round of the USHL Futures Draft by Cedar Rapids.
“The OHL and USHL Drafts were a different and unique experience. The drafts brought to light the realization of what my parents and coaches had been saying for years, “People are watching!” I spoke with 12 OHL teams and 10 USHL team prior to the draft. While I chose the NCAA, we seriously considered the OHL route. In fact, after being drafted, my parents and I drove to Soo to watch their last playoff game to get a sense of what it was like.”
After being drafted, Drew attended Cedar Rapids training camp. He didn’t attend the Soo Greyhounds camp because it would have violated his NCAA eligibility. While USHL camps can be daunting for any sixteen-year-old, it was less so for DeRidder as he had attended Omaha’s camp the year before and had an idea of what to expect.
“I love competing with older and elite players. The game is faster and the players are smarter which increases the challenge for me and makes the game more fun. I was very happy with my performance at camp and hope to have a chance to spend some time with the team and play some games in a Rough Rider uniform this season.”
While the USHL Training Camp was a summer highlight, it was the National Development Camp in Buffalo, NY that the young goalie proved to hundreds of scouts in attendance that he was the real deal. He went to the camp with something to prove after being cut from the USNTDP. Last year, at the Select 15’s Drew was the top goalie heading into the final day but let up some goals in the last game and dropped to fifth. That didn’t happen this year. Drew was the top goalie from start to finish and ended the camp with an impressive 1.20 GAA and .960 SV%. He was promptly promoted from a 3.5 to a 4.0 star in our Neutral Zone player ratings.
After his performance in Buffalo, DeRidder was selected to the USA Under 17 team for the Five Nations Tournament.
“Like the Youth Olympic Games, it’s an honor to wear the Red, White, and Blue and to be able to measure yourself against the best kids in the world. We arrived in TX early and began the team bonding exercises immediately. The staff knows how to bring us together as teammates and brothers very quickly and that chemistry translates directly to the ice. We were able to defend our home turf and bring USA another gold medal.”
The US won every game bringing DeRidder’s record to 7-0 in international play.
After his stellar play at the Select 16’s and again at the Five Nations Tournament his college interest exploded. He had been touring college campuses since he was 14 as his parents took advantage of the away tournaments as an opportunity to look at different schools.
“I was most interested in playing for a Big 10 school and have always considered Michigan and Michigan State a priority because I grew up cheering for them. Over the years, I was able to visit many other campuses like Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, BU, BC, Harvard, Western, Ferris, LSSU, etc…These visits and interest from other schools really opened my eyes and made me realize that I had to focus on three key areas. 1. The hockey program 2. The academic opportunity 3. The area or location. In the end, Michigan State offered me the most opportunity in those three areas and was the best overall fit.”
Drew is no stranger to the fact that the Michigan State program has not been its best the past few seasons, but it is the challenge of returning the Spartans back to competing for National Championships that got DeRidder excited about his future there.
This season he will play for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies U18 team and try to get some games with Cedar Rapids (USHL). Despite having his college commitment out of the way, he knows he still has a lot left to prove.
“I’ll admit that I’m tired of hearing about the undersized goalie thing. I’ve played with and against goalies in the so-called desired size range for years and I’ve outplayed every one of them. Unfortunately, not many people know much about goaltending except that they blame the guy between the pipes if the puck goes in. So many people simply think bigger is better and they are wrong. The size of the goalie’s heart, his accomplishments, his work ethic and character should weigh into the decisions teams and scouts make, not simply size. I guess I will have to continue to prove that through my entire career.”
DeRidder is well known as a quick, mobile, high compete netminder who can make every save. He isn’t afraid to come out of his crease and challenge the shooter. He plays his angles well and controls rebounds. He deflects pucks away with purpose. Between now and his freshman year at Michigan State, he hopes to get bigger and improve his puck playing ability and the goaltenders “sixth sense.”
While most of the attention this summer has been on the impressive recruiting start for the new Wisconsin staff or the highly talented freshman class at Michigan (currently ranked #2 in the NCAA), Michigan State has been quietly collecting talent as well. Michigan State has a Top 10 recruiting class in our rankings as well a verbal commitment from one of the top goalies in the country in DeRidder. The Spartans continue to prove they can get top tier talent.
DeRidder is a 4-star prospect who is being added to the 2018 Recruiting Class Rankings which will propel Michigan State into a Top 20 Ranking.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images
Given the length of our article we had to leave some of the interview out but we wanted to mention a quote where Drew recognized Red Hartwig who the Michigan hockey world lost to cancer this past year.
“I’ve had many positive influences in my life that have helped me along the way including a great family. I have learned a lot (good and bad) from every coach I’ve ever had and it’s all shaped me into who I am today. I owe the most to a few individuals: Coach Red Hartwig, who we lost to cancer last year, was my first goalie coach and one of the greatest guys in the world. He taught me the basics of being a “goaler” and how to have fun with this game even when things got tough. Whenever I struggled, I’d go see Coach Red and he’d get my game centered and back on track in no time. My school, TPH Center of Excellence is another huge influence on my success. I’m entering my 3rd year with the school and definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without the help and extra training from Brandon Naurato, Sean Perkins, Erik Schardt and the rest of the staff. I also want to thank goalie coaches Jeremy Kaleniecki, Manny Legace, and AJ Walczak for years of continuous advanced high level training. Many other coaches have helped and believed in me along the way including: Jason Woolley, Todd Bertuzzi, Paul Cavallini, Dan Venet, Coach Kisch, Jabar Askerov, Art Mnatsakanov, Kevin Fairbanks and current coaches Dwayne Norris, Sean Clark, and Dan Riedel.”