United States Hockey League (USHL)

2023 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup: Team USA Roster, Analysis

2023 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup: Team USA Roster, Analysis

The U.S. Under-18 Select Team is set to take on the world at the 2023 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, one of the early evaluation events for the 2024 NHL Draft.

Jul 24, 2023 by Chris Peters
2023 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup: Team USA Roster, Analysis

USA Hockey announced its roster for the 2023 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup tournament. The event, which features under-18 teams from eight different countries including the U.S. and Canada, begins in Breclav, Czechia, and Trencin, Slovakia, July 31.

The U.S. Men’s Under-18 Select Team will be comprised of 2006-born players from outside of the National Team Development Program and will be led by some USHL All-Rookie Selections from last season including Will Felicio of the Madison Capitols, Mac Swanson of the Fargo Force and Trevor Connelly of the Tri-City Storm.

The Americans will open their tournament against host Czechia July 31. They’ll also play games against Sweden and Germany in the round-robin portion of the tournament. 

The top two teams from each group will advance to the semifinals. The third-place and championship games will be played Aug. 5.

Team USA will be led by head coach Luke Strand, who is about to enter his first season as a head coach in the NCAA as he takes the reins of Minnesota State University’s men’s hockey team. Strand also won the USHL’s Clark Cup as head coach with the Sioux City Musketeers in 2022.

ALSO READ: 2023 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup Team Canada Roster, Analysis

Here are the players Strand will be leading into one of the first major events of the 2024 NHL Draft evaluation season.

Home states in parenthesis


Thatcher Bernstein (MA), Caleb Heil (MN), Kam Hendrickson (AZ)


Alex Bales (NY), Will Felicio (MA), Tanner Henricks (CA), Owen Keefe (MA), Adam Kleber (MN), Finn McLaughlin (IL), Tory Pitner (CA)


Eero Butella (IL), Trevor Connelly (CA), Colin Frank (CA), Callum Hughes (NJ), Ryker Lee (IL), John McNelis (MD), JJ Monteiro (MA), Aidan Park (CA), AJ Spellacy (OH), Chase Stefanek (CA), Mac Swanson (AK), Grant Young (CO), Will Zellers (MN)

Team USA’s roster has the benefit of a good number of players with previous junior experience to intersperse with those that spent last season in prep, high school or U18 AAA programs. 

The jump from those levels to the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup is massive in terms of pace and quality of play. Having those like Swanson, Connelly and Felicio who played at a high level for their respective teams last season, getting meaningful minutes, will make them important players going forward.

Swanson also has additional international experience as he was the youngest player on last year’s U.S. squad at the World Junior A Challenge. Swanson had five points over six games as Team USA, which was the fourth most in that tournament’s history for a U17 player. He’s also the third U17 player ever to crack that roster. Having that experience should serve the undersized, but skilled forward especially well in this tournament against his age peers. He’ll be one of USA’s most important players in the event.

There are 12 players who appeared in USHL games last year that will be part of Team USA. In addition to Swanson, Connelly and Felicio, Caleb Heil (Sioux Falls Stampede), Owen Keefe (Muskegon Lumberjacks), Adam Kleber (Lincoln Stars) and Tory Pitner (Youngstown Phantoms) are among those that saw the most USHL action in 2023-24. Pitner helped the Phantoms claim the Clark Cup last year, appearing in nine playoff contests.

Another player scouts are interested in tracking at this event is AJ Spellacy, a big forward from Westlake, Ohio, who appeared in 47 games for the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League before his season was cut short by injury. He had 17 points and was just starting to heat up a bit before his season came to an early end.

Shattuck St. Mary’s standout Aidan Park is another forward to watch. The California native posted 82 points in 53 games with the vaunted Minnesota-based prep school. He also saw time with the Green Bay Gamblers at the end of his season, appearing in three Clark Cup playoff games. He is committed to the University of Michigan.

USA’s blue line has a good mix of size and puck-moving abilities. Felicio set the USHL’s record for most points by a U17 defenseman last season with 28 in 55 games for Madison and will likely have a role on USA’s power play with some substantial minutes. Defensively, Owen Keefe and Adam Kleber are among the most experienced and played stout defense in the USHL. Keep an eye on Finn McLaughlin as well, who is a dual U.S./Canadian citizen and had some success with the Canmore Eagles in the AJHL last season. 

In net, the U.S. has some good options with Thatcher Bernstein being one of the top goalies in prep hockey last year, Kam Hendrickson coming off of a great high school season with Chanhassen and Caleb Heil getting his first taste of USHL hockey last year. 

Team USA will be heading overseas soon as they’ll play their first and only pre-tournament contest against co-host Slovakia on July 29.