Atlantan is Second Southerner on 17-under National Development Team

Sixteen year-old Vinny Saponari of suburban Atlanta is following in the skate carvings of Nashville’s Blake Geoffreon as a member of USA Hockey’s national team development program (NTDP) in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Saponari, who has competed on a club team in Atlanta coached by former NHL player Uwe Krupp, earned a spot on the NTDP under-17 team that Geoffreon played on last winter. Saponari, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound right wing, joined another Southerner on the squad, goalie Michael Clemente of Washington, D.C.

Geoffreon, who has since signed a letter of intent to play hockey at the University of Wisconsin, was selected by the Nashville Predators in the second round of this year’s NHL entry draft.


Saponari recorded a goal and two assists as the 17-under team won its opener, then dropped its next three games. Clemente made two starts during the stretch, stopping 32 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Traverse City North Stars and making 20 saves in an 8-6 loss to the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.

Having spent his freshman year at Harrison High School, just outside Atlanta, Saponari left home last fall to play at Culver Academy in Indiana, where he led the team in scoring. Geoffreon also played at Culver.

The NTDP assignment, which virtually guarantees each player a college scholarship, has been a route to the NHL for eight members of the program, including New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro and this year’s No. 1 pick overall, Erik Johnson, who will play college hockey at Minnesota. All told, the NTDP has produced 124 players who were drafted by NHL clubs.



As members of the NTDP, Saponari, Clemente and the other 21 members of the under-17 team live with local families and attend one of two public high schools in Ann Arbor.

Outside the classroom, they are receiving high-caliber coaching and training to hasten their development on the ice. The 17-under team will play a 47-game schedule as an entry in the North American Hockey League and compete in the Four Nations Tournament in Ann Arbor this season.




Copyright © 2006 All Rights Reserved