By Warren Kozireski
“He obviously makes some young mistakes from time to time, but he understands the game and his upside is incredible.”
That is high praise from Rochester Stars head coach Tony Maksymiu about 1996 born defenseman Nathan Billitier.
The Spencerport native was seeing action on the power play and penalty kill for the Eastern Junior League Stars and was one of 17 players named to the U.S. Junior Olympic team where he played on the top defensive pair during the five-nation tournament in Austria in mid-January.
The tournament is the first time in history the International Olympic Committee has hosted a Youth Winter Olympics. The team was comprised of players under the age of 16 and was coached by Ben Smith, a four-time Olympic Coach having represented USA Hockey at the 1988 Olympics as an assistant coach on the Men’s team in Calgary. From 1996 through 2006 Smith led the USA Women’s National Program and was the Head Coach of the Gold Medal winning 1998 Olympic Champions.
The squad competed against squads from Canada, Russia, Finland and Austria.
Team USA finished the tournament 2-2 with victories over Finland and Austria, but lost the Bronze Medal game 7-5 to Canada despite a goal from Billitier, who played in the top defensive pair.
“It was a great experience,” said Billitier. “I got to meet a lot of great people and play with some great players. The competition was great and I couldn’t be happier. We only had two practices before our first game where other teams like Russia have been together for five years.”
Over 34 games this season in the EJHL, Billitier had two assists for the Stars, who finished
Billitier, the son of former SUNY Brockport football placekicker Rick Billitier, won the USA Hockey National Championships last season as a member of the Detroit (MI) Belle Tire Under-14 team in his second season of junior hockey in Michigan before returning home this season.
“I consider myself an offensive defenseman but I want to be a complete player so I’m working on all aspects of my game just trying to get better right now.
“I’m very happy with how this year has gone. It was a tough decision to step up and play juniors this year but I couldn’t be happier with my teammates and what they’ve taught me about the league and help me take my game to the next level. It’s been a challenge, but everything has been great. I’m really happy.”
Billitier will turn 16 this May and will be trying out for the U.S. National Development Team program based in Ann Arbor, Michigan the last weekend in February.
“That’s my main goal right now and if I can’t make that probably go to the OHL (Ontario Hockey League whose draft is April 1st). We have a week-long camp there with 40 kids and 20 come out of it.”
“I think he should (go to NDTP); I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t,” said Maksymiu. “You would hard pressed to find another ’96 that is playing at the level he is playing—most of them are playing Junior B or midget level. He is playing ahead and competing ahead of the curve.”*