The 22-year-old shares his recent experience at the Oilers development camp as well as some advice to current VJW’s.
After his first ever hockey practice at 8-years-old, Valley Jr. Warrior Alumni “JD Dudek came off the ice in tears, never wanting to play hockey again.
Inevitably, he got back out on the ice, time and time again until eventually his hate for the game developed into a love.
It was during his time with the Warriors that Dudek realized his potential and his ability to go somewhere with the sport.
“I played on a good line with Bobo Carpenter who’s now at BU and Nolan Redler who’s now at UMass Boston. We really started developing something there and went to these national tournaments and started doing well as a team,” said Dudek.
Dudek participated in his first national camp with the Warriors. These national camps helped giv
e him the stage he needed to get noticed. It was at a tournament in Chicago that he got invited to play for the West Coast Selects, and two of his teammates invited to play for Pro Canada. That summer he and two of his teammates went out to Europe to play on an international stage.
“I remember this so specifically, we were playing in the Nike Bauertournament in Chicago, we were playing the number one team in the country, we ended up losing 3-1 which shouldn’t be a memory, but this team was by far the best team in the country, bunch of NHLers right now who played on the team. We got out shot probably 70 to 10. My buddy Bo ended up standing in net making a ton of saves. Another kid Jonny ended up scoring our goal and that was where myself, Jonny and Bo got noticed.”
The now 22-year-old Auburn, NH native is just coming off his fourth development camp (three with the New Jersey Devil’s and now one with the Edmonton Oilers). Dudek shared what his experience in Edmonton was like.
“It’s kind of cliché but just being a sponge at the camp was great. These guys know so much and are so educated on the game I was just there learning. Being 22 and being one of the older guys at the camp, I still learned so much at this camp, the staff was great, guys were great, city was great. There
was no really down points to the camp at all,” said Dudek.
From work on flexibility, motion and power, stamina, stride work, 3-on-3 play to scrimmages, they were just about tested on it all.
One special part of this camp for Dudek was his interaction with hockey legend Paul Coffey. “He actually took me aside at one point during the 3-on-3 and just said ‘hey man I really like your game, it’s a game that I think can translate well to pro, just keep at it, everything about your game is good but you have room for improvement, you have that drive, I see how driven you are and how much you care about the sport and your career. It was such a great compliment to hear from a guy like that, to know that he sees a future for my game and how I worked so hard to get to where it is,” said Dudek.
It’s no surprise Dudek has made a name for himself in the realm of professional sports as he comes from a family of professional athletes. Both his mother and his father played sports professionally at one point. Having an ex pro football player as a father helped Dudek learn how to properly care for himself and his body.
Dudek spent two seasons with the Warriors and had the privilege of being coached by three former NHL players, Coach Carpenter, Coach Sweeney, and Coach Leech. He says that the expertise of his coaches helped him develop a love and knowledge of the game.
In fact, the jersey number Dudek wears to this day started out during his time as a Warrior. “When I came to the Valley Jr. Warriors Bob Sweeney just threw me a jersey, and I never really had a number that I stuck by but he threw me #15. It wasn’t a number I particularly liked, but I wore it and I wore it for my two years there honestly haven’t changed it since.
That number has since grown to have a deeper connection to his life as the years have gone by. He even wears it on his necklace each day.
Although he was only with the Warriors for two seasons, he says his time here was instrumental in helping him reach the level of hockey he has reached today. The age where he played with the Warriors (peewees and bantams) is a pivotal age where many players either decide to pursue the game more seriously or simply play for fun.
Dudek encourages current Valley Jr. Warrior players to enjoy their time with the program and stay there for as long as they can, “I wish I got started there earlier,” said Dudek.
Dudek shared some tips and pieces of advice to youth players today. “I remember I would be done practice and I would go home and just be shooting in my basement. It should never stop for you at that age, you have so much energy. If it’s fun for you then, it’s going to stay fun for you, you’ll never lose the love for the game. I think the biggest takeaway is: have fun with your time with the Valley Jr. Warriors and just know that it never stops there, work on your craft away from the rink as much as you can.”