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Kemps Becomes First Jr. Duck To Go Directly to USNTDP

By Chris Bayee, 05/09/24, 9:00AM PDT


The defenseman played for the 15U AAA team during the 2023-24 season.

Jr. Ducks 15U AAA defenseman Jonas Kemps

Jr. Ducks 15U AAA defenseman Jonas Kemps is headed to the prestigious U.S. National Development Team Program in August. Photo courtesy of the Kemps Family

Where to play AAA hockey for the 2023-24 season was a difficult decision for Jonas Kemps last spring. 

The Northern California native prioritized being close to his family.

"At the end of the day, I was 15, so it would be hard leaving home wherever you go," Kemps said. "To stay in state and be close to my family was a big positive.

"Coach Alex (Kim) is a well-known coach, a good coach. When we talked, we saw our paths aligned on what we wanted to accomplish." 

Having that aligned vision was especially important because who knew what hockey held? This month, the next two years were confirmed when Kemps was one of 23 players selected to be on the prestigious U.S. National Team Development Program.

"I'm very excited and honored to be selected," the defenseman said. 

He is the first Jr. Ducks player to go directly to the program and the second overall. Current Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Cam York went to the NTDP in 2017 after playing for the Jr. Ducks until 2015.

Kemps Made Leap from AA to AAA to NTDP in One Year

Kemps, who was one of three players with ties to the Jr. Ducks who attended the NTDP's evaluation camp in March, said he went in well-prepared despite the 2023-24 season being his first playing above AA. That in and of itself is an incredible feat. 

"All of the players were (at the evaluation camp) for the same reason, to make the team and compete at the highest level," Kemps said. "It was a fun week, but it was fast-paced, hard-hitting and quick." 

Kemps brought a solid foundation to the Jr. Ducks, but he said he took the next step this past season. 

"Going to Optimum (Hockey Academy) and being able to skate with Alex and Jeff Friesen, a Stanley Cup winner, every day and pick their brains was incredible," Kemps said. "All of the coaches with the Jr. Ducks and there helped, but those two were a big part of it.

"I wanted to work on my development to give myself a chance to make the national team."

Kemps' transition was made easier by his billet situation. He lived with teammate Austin Lord's family. 

"They're a great family," Kemps said. "They made me feel welcome right away. I have nothing but good things to say about them and how this all worked out."

Kemps Brings Massive Upside to NTDP

What will the national team get with Kemps? There is no question that the 2008 birth year brings a unique skill set. 

"When you see him, your eyes open wide," 15U co-coach David Walker said. "He's 6-foot-6, and most kids at that stature at that age tend to be uncoordinated. He's not. He skates extremely well for that size.

"Jonas has a good head for the game and a good sense of the offensive zone. His ability to get around the ice and use his reach to his advantage is probably why the NTDP was interested."

Kemps reiterated the approach that Kim and Walker took made a huge difference for him.

"They let me play with a lot of rope," Kemps said. "We had to figure out what works for me and how I would adjust. The coaches got on me at times, but that's what you need. They knew my game and how I liked to play. They helped me play that way to the best of my ability."

There was plenty of give and take, Walker added. 

"What is exciting is when you have a talented player like Jonas who is open to critiquing and having a coach help," said Walker, a longtime professional defenseman. "He's very humble and he works extremely hard. He was always open to feedback because he truly wants to get better, and he wants to play at the highest level possible.

"He's a good teammate, and we're happy for and proud of him."

Hockey's Growth in California Lured Kemps

Kemps, who began skating at age 5 at the rink Peanuts creator Charles Schultz built in Santa Rosa, said he fell in love with the game at a Try Hockey for Free Day.

"My grandpa played back in the day, but the sport wasn't big with my mom or dad," he said. "The rink offered a clinic for a couple of weeks. My dad asked me if I wanted to do it. I did, and I never looked back."

There's no way to predict if your 5-year-old will grow to love a sport and excel at it, but the lesson is hockey's growth throughout California and dedicated evangelists of it gave Kemps and countless others exposure to it. It took hold for him, and now he positioned himself to excel at its highest levels through his hard work.

"He didn't have to leave California to accomplish this," Kim said. "We are very proud of Jonas. All of his coaches deserve a lot of credit.

"We just let him explore and grow. We didn't put the reins on him. He put in the work.

"This is huge for California and huge for the Jr. Ducks."