Ryan Hartman is no stranger to discipline and hard work, but this coming year should be the most demanding of his young life.
Ryan, a 16-year-old hockey phenom from West Dundee, was recruited last year to play for USA Hockey's national team development program, which features many of the top young players in the country on under-17 and under-18 teams. The program is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the players live -- most with host families -- and attend high school.
Ryan HartmanAge: 16
Hometown: West Dundee
School: Pioneer High School, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Who inspires you? Jonathan Toews, captain of the Chicago Blackhawks
What book are you reading? "Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge," by Bob Probert
What's on your iPod? Everything from country to rap to rock.
The three words that best describe you: Hardworking. Competitive. Trustworthy.
Ryan, a forward, led the U-17 team in scoring last season and this year will play for the U-18 team. The rigorous training program consists of workouts and hockey practice for up to five hours daily after school, plus contests against teams from the United States Hockey League and college programs, as well as international tournaments where they compete against the best players from around the world.
"It's a tough program. With training and practice, it's very intense," said Danton Cole, head coach for the U.S. national team development program's U-18 team. "But it's a candy store for hockey players."
With little time to spare in an already packed schedule, this year Ryan also will take extra classes to graduate high school a year early. If he doesn't do that, he'll lose a full scholarship offer from Miami University in Ohio.
"It's going to be tough, but it's worth it," Ryan said. "They are a powerhouse school for hockey. Three hours before games, students are lined up outside the rink. That's the kind of environment I want to play in."
His ultimate goal is to play in the National Hockey League, and those who know him say he has a good shot at making that happen.
About 20 percent to 25 percent of development team players make it to the NHL. Three players from the program were selected in the first round of each of the past two NHL drafts.
Ryan is definitely a pro prospect, said Cole, who ought to know. He spent parts of seven seasons in the NHL, including a brief stay with the Chicago Blackhawks.
"(Ryan) is a guy that's going to be playing hockey probably for a long time," he said. "Obviously he's an excellent player. He has a prostyle game, he understands offense and defense, and how to move around the ice."
Ryan also plays the physical game needed to make it in the big leagues, Cole added.
"I think we're just scratching the surface on his abilities," he said. "He's one of our go-to guys. When the game is on the line, he's the kind of guy who can score a goal."
Ryan said he can't remember a time when hockey wasn't part of his life.
He first put on skates around age 3, and as a 6-year-old he was eager to be at practice by 5:30 or 6 a.m., he said.
"It was at that time when you didn't want to get off the ice and can't wait to play," he said of playing for the Schaumburg Kings, a team then coached by his father, Craig Hartman.
Ryan also played for the Crystal Lake Leafs, the Chicago Mission in Addison, and Team Illinois in Bensenville. He then rejoined the Chicago Mission, with whom he played for four years and won several state championships.
"I worked pretty hard, I would skate whenever I could," he said. "Whenever practice would be canceled, for example during a snowstorm, me and my dad were always there."
His competitive nature, Ryan admits, makes it hard to concede victory, even if just to humor his little brother Tanner, 9.
"I can't lose, I hate losing. I had to, but it was painful for me to watch him win," Ryan said with a slight smile.
The Hartman family has made great sacrifices while Ryan pursues his dream. Last year, his mother, Kim Hartman, moved to Ann Arbor with her two sons, while his father stayed behind in Illinois.
"Tanner really didn't want his brother to leave, he asked if he could go with," said Craig Hartman, who spends about three days a week in Ann Arbor. "My wife wanted to keep the family together; it was important for the boys to build a foundation."
The family also went through a harrowing time when Ryan's mom was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after moving to Ann Arbor.
"That was a little challenging," said Kim Hartman, who underwent successful surgery. "But it turned out a great thing because Ryan could see that I was OK."
While his mother was fighting breast cancer, the Hartmans told Ryan's coaches not to be lenient on their son because of it.
"Family comes first, but we asked for no special treatment for my son. We didn't want any special favors," Craig Hartman said. "He's a pretty tough kid."
Kim Hartman said her son has worked indefatigably at his dream to make it to the NHL.
"He sacrificed a lot, he didn't go to parties, his best friends were always his teammates," she said. "From day one, he knew what he wanted."
Ryan will be draft-eligible in 2013. If he doesn't manage to graduate high school early next year, he could play in the Canadian junior leagues or back in the USHL, where he's already spent two seasons.
But Ryan believes his only true choice is to hunker down and put in the effort to graduate early.
As for being under the watchful eye of scouts -- as all USA hockey development team players are -- all you can do is to try to ignore all the pressure, Ryan said.
"When you're playing you don't really want to think about it," he said. "You just do what you do."
• Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl are always looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org.