Some hockey players pick their position because of the skill sets associated with their body, or because they want to emulate the NHL players they idolize.
When McLean native Jay Williams, 18, started playing hockey at age 8 for the Reston Raiders, the goalie position caught his eye purely for style reasons.
"To be completely honest, I thought the pads were really cool," he said. "That's all it really was."
Fortunately for Williams, he didn't just look good in the bulky pads; he played well in them, too. Well enough to be named one of two goalies on the U-18 United States National Men's Hockey team.
At the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington on Aug. 3, Williams and the U-18 national team prepared for the upcoming Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Breclav, Czech Republic, and Piestany, Slovakia. The tournament was scheduled to begin Monday and will end Thursday.
Named for the former Czech ice hockey legend and former Pittsburgh Penguins coach, the tournament features the top U-18 players from around the world.
Hockey powerhouses such as Canada, Russia, Finland and Sweden are among the teams competing.
"You get to see how you stack up against the best players in the world," Williams said. "All the best, big-time hockey countries are sending their guys there and it will be great to get that experience."
NHL talent scouts frequent the tournament because of the high level of play, and many of the players from each nation could eventually join their respective World Junior Championship team rosters.
For now, Williams is focusing on the upcoming tournament, not the NHL scouts or future national team appearances.
"It's such a great honor to have the opportunity to represent your country overseas," Williams said. "You grow up dreaming about it, and I'm a bit nervous, but I'm excited to go there."
Williams is the only player from Virginia -- a state that isn't known for producing elite hockey players -- on the squad.
While growing up, Williams played for various local hockey clubs before attending The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn.
When the team opted to host its final practice in the U.S. at the Capitals' practice facility, Williams said it helped remind him of how far he has come in his hockey career.
"It's pretty special to be skating here," he said. "I grew up playing hockey around here and all my friends came out to see me. It's not something everyone gets to do."
Williams, who was a member of the U-17 national team in 2009, was selected to the U-18 team after a strong showing at the U-18 Development Camp in July in Rochester, N.Y.
"I had a good camp and it was enough to make the team," Williams said.
U-18 head coach Tim Army, a former assistant coach for the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks, said Williams won his spot on the team with his consistent play in net.
"He's one of the most important guys we have, and I really like his game," he said. "I saw him play at Hotchkiss and he's got a real good presence about him. He was consistent at a camp and was good every day."
Army said given the short time period the team will play together, Williams' consistency will be a major cornerstone for the U.S. team. He also noted the McLean native has a skill commonly seen in NHL-caliber goaltenders: composure.
"He doesn't get rattled," he said. "He's the same way all the time. You can rely on his athleticism, but his best attribute is his composure and focus."
Following the tournament, Williams will compete in the United States Hockey League for the Waterloo Black Hawks, and he has accepted an offer to play hockey at the University of Miami (Ohio) in 2011.
But for now, the goaltender has two goals he wants to accomplish at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
"I want to get some experience while I'm there," he said. "But I really just want to bring home the gold."