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Westport Teen Skates Great in U.S. Hockey Program

Michael Paliotta made the difficult decision to leave Westport and further his sports career by playing for the U.S.A. Hockey National Team Development Program in Michigan. With 16 months of hindsight and perspective, the defenseman believes he made the right choice.

"It has been an unbelievable experience,'' says Michael, whose teammates include Stamford's Ryan Haggerty , a former Trinity Catholic star and a former teammate on the Mid-Fairfield club teams. "I'm thrilled that I made the decision to go there."

Paliotta picked up hockey as a student at Fairfield Country Day School and played youth hockey primarily in the Mid-Fairfield club. He skated for two years at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford before joining the developmental team. "I was already away from my family at Choate, but living with another family in Ann Arbor is a lot different than living in a dorm room,'' Michael said. "The biggest thing was making sure that I really wanted to do this. If I wanted to play at a top college and in the NHL, this is something that I had to do."

Paliotta believes his skills have improved, especially in playing a more well-rounded game. "The other thing is the off-ice training and getting a lot stronger,'' he said. "The amount of work you have to do to make sure you're ready for games is amazing. It's a long season, and you really have to prepare yourself for games after bus rides that can be 10 hours long. Everything we do is about preparing us for the next level."

Next fall, Paliotta will attend the University of Vermont, long regarded as one of the elite college teams. "It has a great history,'' he said. "I wanted to come back to the East Coast. It's a chance to be close to home. I loved the coaching staff there, that was the biggest thing." He also considered Michigan and Harvard.

Before his college career game begins, however, he has nearly four months remaining with the development team. He returns to Connecticut on Jan. 22 to play at Quinnipiac, and the U.S. team meets Providence on Jan. 23. The U.S. is the two-time defending champion in the International Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championships, which will be played April in Germany.

"That's kind of the big goal for everybody,'' Michael said. "Everybody wants to win the gold medal overseas. We're going in there with high expectations. Hopefully we can make it three years in a row."

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