Persistence definitely pays off.
In his fourth Tier-2 junior season, and in his second season in the National Collegiate Development Conference, the tuition-free division of the USPHL, Brett Callahan has accomplished the goal he has worked so hard for.
On Thursday, Dec. 13, Callahan - the captain of the NCDC’s leading New Jersey Hitmen - committed to American International College, an NCAA Division 1 institution playing in the Atlantic Hockey Association.
“It’s an honor, first and foremost, for them to want me there. They’ve seen me play the last couple of years, after they brought in a new coaching staff,” said Callahan, a native of Westmont, Ill. “They’ve been turning that program around, each year showing improvement. I saw them practice, and it’s exciting to be a part of that, carry the momentum forward and keep that winning culture going.”
A winning culture is something with which Callahan is very familiar, as the Hitmen have won 57 of the 77 games they’ve played in the NCDC in a year and a half. Prior to the formation of the NCDC in 2017, the Hitmen won the Dineen Cup championship as members of the USPHL Premier, then the highest level of USPHL junior hockey.
“I owe a lot to the Hitmen. I came out here a couple years ago, and didn’t know much about the East Coast, but I knew that this program was one of the top teams to play with out here,” said Callahan. “We have a great strength and conditioning coach, amazing facilities, and the coaches have been great. They’ve helped me work a lot on the little things I need to work on. We have so much at our disposal with the Hitmen. We train for winning, work for winning - that’s the atmosphere.”
“We are so happy for Brett and his family. He trusted the process, trusted our staff, trusted that he could achieve his dream of a Division 1 commitment in the NCDC,” said Hitmen head coach Toby Harris. “He worked his butt off to make it happen. He is a true 200-foot defenseman. Skilled. Tough. Extremely mobile and shoots the puck well. AIC is getting a leader both on and off the ice.”
Callahan’s leadership is codified in the “C” on his chest, a lofty honor in such an accomplished organization.
“It’s very exciting. It’s helped me become a better person, a better player, in terms of communicating with players and coaches, and making sure everyone’s on the same page,” said Callahan. “It’s a bigger responsibility, and I feel like it’s helped my game. [Being a captain] shows me a lot more detail, making sure everything is going smoothly for everyone. I talk with each player, letting them talk and hearing their side. If something needs to happen, I can help. It’s been an honor, and made me a better person. I want to help each of these guys become better players.”
Callahan includes himself in this statement. He’s been a consistent player the last two years on both ends of the ice, scoring 15 points in 27 games, after posting 27 points in 45 games last season.
“I like the way I’m playing right now, and I’m seeing the ice and I’m able to make plays,” Callahan added. “All of my teammates have helped me improve. There’s some stuff I have to work on and get better at defensively, and I have to get stronger. At the next level, guys will be bigger, stronger and faster. There’s a lot of work I have to do physically. I want to get up on the offense, and it’s much more difficult to do that at the NCAA level, so I have to focus a lot on my strength training and taking my off-ice development very seriously.”
Also when he’s at AIC, he will of course have to focus on his studies. He is currently looking into their business and finance program.
“I’m very interested in business, finance and stocks,” said Callahan. “I’m hoping to learn about that and how it all works in the business world."