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Carson Gicewicz turned 16 on March 4 but the birthday was anything but sweet.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward for Nichols was lying in a hospital bed that day recovering from a lacerated spleen, wondering why did this have to happen now of all times?

Gicewicz suffered his first serious on-ice injury while delivering a hockey hit two days earlier in a playoff game in Aurora, Ont. One would think he was bumming just because he got hurt at the most important time of the year to any player, but that’s only the half of it.

The injury also occurred a few weeks before the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-17 Team 40-man tryout camp. He was one of the select few in the country to earn an invitation to the prestigious camp, which is an opportunity of a lifetime for any American hockey player let alone one with hopes of going places in the sport and following in the footsteps of his older brother R.J., who has twice represented Old Glory at international tournaments and will likely be drafted by an NHL team next year.

“We thought when it happened it was just a bruise and it would be a two or three-week thing and the camp would be an option,” recalled Carson earlier this month.

It turned out to be more than just a bruise as his physician gave him a prescription of three months of rest and no strenuous hockey activity.

In other words, bye-bye tryout.

“That was a blow. … I was pretty rattled,” Carson said.

He’s back rattling opponents’ hockey cages now as he returned to the ice earlier this month, and he has a second chance at earning an opportunity of a lifetime. Gicewicz received a special tryout invitation and will be among the 150 participants in the Team USA Evaluation Camp for 16-and-under players July 7-13 at Northtown Center in Amherst.

That will be the second of three camps taking place over consecutive seven-day periods at the multi-rink facility in Williamsville which has hosted many USA Hockey tournaments the past decade but will be serving as the evaluation camps’ site for the first time. The 17-and-under camp, which will feature closer to 140 candidates, begins Thursday. The 15-and-under camp runs July 14-20 and should feature 180 prospects.

Including camp alternates (those who may be asked to attend on short notice due to player injuries or for other reasons), Western New York (not including Rochester) will have a total of 33 players attending the three camps.

Select individuals who stand out at these camps will be invited to participate in prospects camps/tournaments later this summer. Those who standout in those events will be considered for the few remaining roster spots in the U.S. National Team Development Program’s 17-under and 18-under teams for the 2013-14 season in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The last Buffalo-area player to earn a spot in the National Team Development Program was West Seneca’s Sean Malone, a former Nichols standout who will take his talents to Harvard. He played on the Under-18 team last season and has a good chance of being selected Sunday in the NHL Draft.

Obviously being talented is a good way to catch USA Hockey officials’ eyes at these camp, but that’s only part of it, according to R.J. Gicewicz, the 6-1, 185-pound defenseman who will play juniors in the USHL at Green Bay before moving on to St. Lawrence in fall 2014.

According to Gicewicz, attitude matters as USA Hockey looks for players who carry themselves with class and know how to respect others. Class and respect lead to a positive atmosphere, which makes it easier for players to bond thus increasing chances for team success.

“Getting to know your coaches is really important because every night at the camp, all the coaches have a meeting,” R.J. said. “They put names up on the board and then the coach of the USA team who is scouting all the kids at the camp asks each coach what they think about a certain kid. If the coaches might say the kid is a punk and we don’t like him because he has a bad attitude then the coaches will toss his name right off the board. But if the coaches are ‘I had a good conversation with him. Looks like he’s been working really hard this summer,’ then the coach will keep him on the board and possibly give him a shot.’ “

Carson’s not only been briefed by R.J., but went through the camp experience last year as a 15-year-old.

Carson’s injury happened on the first shift of the best-of-three Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association championship series between the Vikings and St. Andrews College (St. Andrews won in three games). Gicewicz said either he took an elbow or a stick low in the spleen area while hitting a guy bigger than him. At first, he didn’t think the lingering pain was all that serious, until it wouldn’t go away.

“They said right away if I had let it go … if I got hit again it could escalate so quickly,” said Carson of his talk with doctors at the hospital.

Gicewicz admits it was frustrating at times waiting for the healing process to run its course.

“That was the worst part about it,” said Gicewicz, who recorded 13 goals and 23 points in 63 games last winter. “When I wasn’t feeling pain and I was feeling fine but not being able to do anything and risking reinjuring it.

“I hope this summer is a time I can shine at the evaluation camp.”

He helped a local Under-16 all-star squad win the North American Prospects Spring Tournament in his return earlier this month. He also participated in a prospects camp with the Youngstown Phantoms’ Junior A team for six days.He’s also worked out on-ice with his brother R.J., who was his teammate for the first time last season with Nichols.

Carson made a good enough impression at the 15-and-under camp last year to get on the USA Hockey map. Another good showing could lead to the ultimate breakthrough.

“Socially, I’m pretty capable,” he said. “I got invited to the camp for a reason. If they didn’t want me to play with them, they wouldn’t have invited me.”

Camping they’ll go

Here are the Buffalo-area boys who survived regional camps to earn invitations to USA Hockey Evaluation Camps, including alternates who could also receive a last-second call to attend one of the camps.

17-and-under: Eric Benshadle (Regals/Jr. Sabres), Michael Ederer (Nichols), Joshua Gabriel (Regals/Jr. Sabres), Charles Manley (South Kent Prep School, Conn.), Anthony Tirabassi (Nichols). Alternates: Christian Zimmerman (Regals/Jr. Sabres), Dennis Gilbert (St. Joe’s).

16-and-under: Joshua Biasillo (Regals/Jr. Sabres), Harrison Oates (Nichols), Nicholas Passafiume (Nichols), Collin Rutherford (Regals/Jr. Sabres), Carson Gicewicz (Nichols), Michael Bevilacqua (Regals/Jr. Sabres), Joseph Cecconi (Regals/Jr. Sabres), Aaron Fanti (Nichols). Alternates: Owen Green (Williamsville), Brendan Miller (Regals/Jr. Sabres), Dante Todaro (Nichols), Zacarey Herrmann (Nichols) and Trevor Micucci (Regals/Jr. Sabres).

15-and-under: Nicholas Alfieri (Regals), Justin Cmunt (Regals), Matthew Jakubowski (Hamburg Hawks), Griffin Loughran (Hamburg Hawks), Michael Faso (Regals), Alex Camarre (Hamburg Hawks), Stephen Dhillon Regals). Alternates: Chris Berger (Regals), Nicholas Carbone (Regals), Matthew Novo (Regals), David Kompson (Regals), Alexander Randaccio (Regals), Tyler Johnson (Regals).

Girls earn invites

What about the girls, you ask? Fourteen Western New Yorkers will take their talents to the 14-under, 15-and-under and 18-under USA Evaluation Camps in July at St. Cloud, Minn.

They are: Allison Gasuik (Buffalo Bisons), Mikaela Ditonto (Bisons), Annika Zalewski (Bisons), Madison Sansone (Bisons), Brandy Streeter (Bisons), Julianna Iafallo (Bisons), Olivia Zafuto (Bisons), Abby Cleary (Shattuck St. Mary’s), Rachel dePerio (Bisons), Bailey Lewczyk (North American Hockey Academy), Ava Simoncelli (Bisons), Lila Toczak (Bisons), Abby Welch (Bisons), Maureen Murphy (Bisons) and Taylor Pietrowski (Regals).

email: mrodriguez@buffnews.com