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November 21, 2014

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Teen hockey star excels on national stage

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Courtesy of Tom Sorensen

Jason Zucker, who grew up in Las Vegas and attended Bonanza High School, has been a key player on the U.S. National Under-17 hockey team, and is the first Nevadan to play in the national program. At a recent tournament, Zucker was named the team’s player of the game in three of six contests, but he’s not letting his potential get the best of him: Instead of the NHL, he’s focusing on his coming college career.

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Jason Zucker, a former Bonanza High student, was part of the Team USA under-20 hockey team that won the world championship in December.

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Jason Zucker has put on many different hockey jerseys in his life, but none were more special than the one he's skating with this season.

That's because instead of representing one team, club or sponsor, Zucker's new sweater represents a nation.

The 17-year-old Peccole Ranch resident and former Bonanza student is the first player from Nevada to be selected for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.

"It's incredible putting on the jersey and knowing you're playing for your country," Zucker said. "Standing on the blue line every game and hearing the national anthem means so much more now. It's great knowing you're on not just any team — you're on the national team."

The program consists of two squads, including the under-17 team, which Zucker plays for, and an under-18 team. After each season, the under-17 team automatically becomes the next under-18 team.

Zucker's team plays its regular season against teams from the North American Hockey League, a Junior A Tier II league that has 19 teams throughout the East Coast and Midwest. Many players in the league are two or three years older than Zucker and his teammates.

The team will also play in three international tournaments this year. From Nov. 3 to 7, it competed in a four-team tournament in Switzerland, finishing second behind Russia.

"That was incredible," Zucker said. "I'd never been overseas before, so it was a lot of fun seeing what it was like over there. It was a great experience."

From Dec. 27 through Jan. 4, they played in the under-17 World Hockey Challenge in Vancouver Island, British Columbia. There, USA finished with a bronze medal in the 10-team tournament. Zucker's third and final international competition will be Feb. 2 to 5 in Slovakia.

Both development teams are based out of Ann Arbor, Mich., where Zucker has been staying since September. There, Zucker goes to a public school with his teammates until 1:30 p.m.

He then practices on the ice from 2 to 5 p.m., followed by weight lifting until 6 and then team meetings and homework.

"It's been hard on his younger brother and sister because they've missed him a lot, but we know he's doing it for a good reason," said Natalie Zucker, Jason's mother. "It's a sacrifice you have to make."

Jason Zucker was invited to play in Detroit after being seen playing for the Las Vegas Outlaws club team from 2005 to 2007, when he was a student at Bonanza.

He was invited as one of 40 players to try out for the USA Hockey team based on his performance last season with Detroit Compuware. Tryouts took place in March.

"It's been tough getting to where I am," Zucker said. "It hasn't been easy for me or any of the kids on the team. We're pretty lucky individuals to be where we're at."

Zucker is one of seven players on his team to hail from the West Coast, with five others from California and one from Arizona.

"I'd like him to take hockey as far as he'd like to go," Natalie Zucker said. "I know he'd like to go to the show, and hopefully that's where he'll end up."

Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].

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