November 21, 2009

Tufts' Derosa takes long way home

by Chris Carlson

Tom Derosa (photo: SportsPix/Mike Broglio)

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

For a weekend, Tom Derosa looked lost. For the rest of the season, the Tufts forward was the ultimate find.

Derosa, a junior from Charlestown, Mass., transferred to Division 3 Tufts from Division 1 Merrimack before last season and helped the Jumbos to one of their better seasons in some time, earning second-team All-NESCAC honors as a sophomore.

"The first few games I was skating around the ice, and I was a little bit lost," Derosa said. "I really had a slow start. Hopefully this year I can get off to a better start."

Derosa had played just five games for Merrimack before transferring down, and it took him a little while to get acclimated -- to both game intensity and his third system in three seasons.

The dynamic that is NESCAC hockey didn’t help. Practices in the league start later than anywhere else, and the season is every bit as condensed, with as few games as any league in the county.

"At our level, there are so few games compared to junior hockey, and you have no scrimmages," said Derosa’s teammate, Dylan Cooper. "You go in with no game experience. That has to be frustrating."

Derosa, who played high school at Boston Latin and juniors with the Northern Massachusetts Cyclones, didn’t score in Tufts’ first two games. Worse yet, he wasn’t putting together many opportunities. The Jumbos fell to Williams and Middlebury in those contests, losing by a combined score of 13-2.

Still, thanks to some foresight, neither Derosa nor the Tufts coaching staff looked at the early results as a disaster.

"I think he thought he’d be able to come and jump in a little more than he did," Tufts coach Brian Murphy said. "We tried to talk about that beforehand. Our practices just aren’t as they are at Merrimack and, no matter how much you practice, it’s not going to be like a game."

Derosa spent a year at Merrimack, struggling to get ice time as a young, offensive-minded winger in a defense-first system. He and Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy (Dorchester, Mass.) talked about the realities of being a young player with the Warriors and Derosa said there was no ill will in his departure.

The combination of playing time, the amount of work it took to play Division 1 hockey, the opportunity for a Tufts education and playing games 10 minutes from his childhood home all added up to a better situation.

"I basically had to make one of the first two lines as a freshman to play," Derosa said. "The third and fourth lines were defensive lines.

“When I went to Merrimack, I always knew I could move down and not sit out a year. If I could play Division 1, I had to try it. Things worked out and I’m much happier here. Division 1 was fun, but it was a lot of work. It was time to make a grown-up decision."

Derosa’s decision also helped Tufts go 11-12-2 (7-10-2 NESCAC/ECAC East) and return to the NESCAC playoffs for the first time in four years as the eighth and final seed. The previous two seasons, the Jumbos had finished last in NESCAC.

He eventually wound up paired with Cooper and another goal-scoring winger in Nick Resor (Westwood, Mass.). Derosa finished the season with 15 goals and 13 assists, sixth in the conference in points, and potted the game-winner in nearly half of Tufts’ wins. His five game-winning goals matched Middlebury’s Jamie McKenna for best in the conference.

"In the second half of the season, I thought he was one of the best players in the league," Murphy said. "There were games that he just took over. He didn’t score a ton of points, but I think the coaches recognized the timing of the goals."

Against Salem State, Derosa scored with one one-thousandth of a second on the clock to secure a win. Against Bowdoin, with Tufts trailing 4-3 n the third period, he scored twice – almost single-handedly -- for a win.

"I remember our line clicking really well," Derosa said. "We were really working well that game."

"I think that’s just him being humble," Cooper said. "From what I remember, he took a couple of guys 1-on-1."

Despite finding more success than recent seasons, many of the wins weren’t really how Murphy preferred. One came on an empty-netter, because Babson needed two points and not one. Tufts won others because of the goaltending of Scott Barchard (Reading, Mass.), along with a defense that persisted despite spending much of the game chipping the puck out of its own end or blocking 15 shots, efforts that can’t be duplicated every night during the season.

With just three seniors graduated, along with Resor’s departure to Middlebury as a transfer, Derosa is leading Tufts into what could be a swing season for the program.

"Making the playoffs was a huge accomplishment for us last year," Derosa said. "We always want to try to take that next step. The most realistic goal is to try to get a home playoff game and then get that first playoff win."

Chris Carlson can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.