The hockey education of Tory Dello is constant. Every time he steps on the ice, watches a game on TV, gets to play against or with a new player or works with a different coach, Dello’s looking for ways to get better.
So when Dello was selected as one of 42 players to play in the upcoming CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game — reserved for only the top U.S. players eligible for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft — he was both honored and excited.
It will be like stepping into another Advanced Hockey classroom.
“You can just take out of it what you need to work on,” he said. “You can learn a lot from other players there who are extremely talented, and you can learn a lot from the coaching staff.”
Dello is a 17-year-old defenseman and high school senior going into his second full season for the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League. This year already has been full of hockey lessons. The All-American Prospects Game that will be played Sept. 25 in Buffalo, N.Y., will just be a nice topper.
In August, Dello was part of the U.S. Under-18 Select Team that placed third at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup played in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Dello said the level of hockey he experienced this summer was even far above what he was a part of last year as a member of the U.S. Under-17 Select Team that won the Five Nations Cup in Slovakia.
Winning the 2013 Five Nations Cup was great, but he says he had to raise his level of play even higher in the Hlinka tournament.
“The group of guys that we had was just unbelievable,” he said. “And the talent that we played against this year was much tougher than the year before, so it was better hockey overall.”
Over five games, Dello and his teammates went up against the Czechs, Russians, Finns, Canadians and Swedes. The U.S. pulled out a 5-4 victory in overtime against Sweden to get third place, rebounding from an 11-5 loss to Canada in the semifinals.
It was a chance for Dello to measure himself against the “best of the best” of other countries and see the different playing styles they offer.
“You get to see what other countries around the world offer for your age group,” he said.
Dello played all five games and had two points, a pair of assists.
He came out of that tournament intent on continuing to improve his all-around game. U.S. coaches reinforced the idea that he can be more offensive-minded. It’s something he’s taking to heart as he approaches this season for the Storm.
In 46 games last season, the 6-foot-1, 188-pound defenseman was solid for Tri-City but scored just two goals with five assists.
When he talks about his strengths, he notes his speed, vision, passing and his ability to play tough in the corners and in front of the net. But he admits his offensive game needs work.
“I’m more of a defensive player, but I have offensive ability,” he said. “That’s the one thing we’re trying to develop this season to make my game more complete.”
This season, he hopes to be quicker about jumping up into the offensive zone. As the fourth player going forward, “the forwards can just drop it [the puck] right back to me, and I can look for a pass or look for a shot,” he said.
Dello has been focused on defense as his priority since his first days of youth hockey, when the coach of his team — a next-door neighbor — happened to pair up his defenseman son with Dello.
“I guess it just kind of stuck,” he said.
Yet, playing defense suits him. He likes the view from the back and the way he can see plays unfold, and he likes doing the little things that can help teammates and his team succeed.
Playing in the USHL, too, has helped him become a much better defenseman. It’s a strong league with some of the country’s best talent. It’s sink or swim.
“Just learning from older, more mature players,” he said of the constant tests in practice and games. “Because it’s not minors anymore. You’ve got 19- and 20-year-olds who are fighting for a spot against 16-, 17-year-olds, so you mature a lot quicker and you learn a lot from them.”
Dello, who grew up in Illinois and played in the Chicago Mission program, committed to the University of Notre Dame during his freshman season of high school, and hasn’t regretted it. He loves the school and the program, and he says committing so soon took away the pressure. He’s just been able to focus on improving his game. He’s scheduled to begin at Notre Dame in the fall of 2015.
But of course, it’s likely that Dello could be taken high in the NHL draft. Then, he’d have to make a choice.
Even then, his decision will come down to education: Which path will take him to a higher level?
“I’d just talk to the team and see what they had to say,” he said. “Then we can just put our heads together to come up with the best development plan for me.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.