December 20, 2010

High schools: Malden Catholic's stay-at-home forward

Mike Vecchione content to finish high school career where it started

by Roger Brown

Malden Catholic senior Mike Vecchione committed to the University of New Hampshire.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Malden Catholic coach Chris Serino will tell you that Mike Vecchione is the poster boy for high school hockey. He’ll also give you a list of reasons to back up that statement.

At the top of that list is the fact that Vecchione, a right winger, spurned all offers to play prep school and junior hockey, and chose to remain at Malden Catholic for four years.

“It seemed like every prep school in America tried to get him to leave,” Serino said. “Every junior team tried to get him to leave.

“He’s shown other kids that you don’t have to leave your high school (to further your hockey career). He decided that he was going to graduate from Malden Catholic and whatever comes next, comes next.”

Vecchione, a senior who has committed to the University of New Hampshire, said one of the main reasons he decided to attend Malden Catholic is also what kept him there: Serino.

Like Vecchione, Serino lives in Saugus, Mass. He’s friends with the Vecchione family and also has extensive experience in college hockey, first as an assistant coach at UNH and later as the head coach at Merrimack College.

“Once he became the coach (at Malden Catholic), I started thinking about going there,” Vecchione said. “It’s a great school with a great hockey program and a great coach.

“I did have a lot of prep school offers and everybody was telling me to leave. I thought about leaving, but I just didn’t think (prep school hockey) was that big of a jump. Since Coach Serino has been a college coach, I thought I’d be a better player coming out of Malden Catholic for four years than I would have been coming out of prep school for one or two years.

“I wanted to stay all four years and try to win a Super 8 title.”

That seems like a realistic goal. If Malden Catholic isn’t the best high school hockey team in Massachusetts this season, it’s certainly in the conversation.

It all starts with Vecchione, who led the Catholic Conference in scoring with 56 points last season. Vecchione and St. John’s Prep center Colin Blackwell are the only current MIAA players on the Central Scouting Bureau’s preliminary rankings for the 2011 NHL Draft. Blackwell has committed to Harvard.

Vecchione, 17, led Malden Catholic to the Super 8 tournament’s semifinals last season, when the Lancers lost to eventual champion Hingham in overtime. He collected six points in his team’s four Super 8 games.

“He’s the best player in the state,” Serino said. “Ask any coach, and they’ll tell you that.

“The way he skates — that’s really what separates him from everybody. He’s really quick. He’s a very good scorer right now, but he has to continue to improve on finishing. It’s tougher to finish at the next level than at this level. He’s certainly going to get his scoring chances with his speed.”

Vecchione makes up one-third of what may be the best line in Massachusetts this season. He skates with center Ryan Fitzgerald and left winger Brendan Collier. That trio accounted for 61 of the 109 goals Malden Catholic scored last season.

“Brendan is very tough to play against,” Vecchione said. He never loses a battle in the corner, and he’s an exceptional passer. Ryan is a very skilled player with great hands. We benefit from playing with each other.”

Vecchione also skates for the Greater Boston Junior Bruins, a Tier 1 team that earned a trip to the national championships in April by winning the state tournament in mid-November.

“He’s a dangerous player on the ice,” said BC High coach John Flaherty (South Boston, Mass.), who also coaches the Junior Bruins. “He’s got another gear. He can scoot and he can finish. He’s an opposing coach’s nightmare.”

Vecchione’s recruiting process ended soon after it began. Serino said UNH, Boston College, Providence, Harvard and Massachusetts were among the schools that showed strong interest in Vecchione, who selected UNH in March.

“The UNH staff did a great job with him. The day I took him to a game there, the fans did a great job with him, too. I told Richie (UNH coach Dick Umile) that he could play a finesse game on one of your top two lines, or he could grind on the third or fourth line. He’ll adapt to anything you need him to do.”

Vecchione, who is 5-foot-11, 182 pounds, said he’ll likely spend a year in the United States Hockey League before he enrolls at UNH.

“I felt UNH would be the best fit for me, but I don’t see myself going up there next year,” Vecchione said. “Coach Umile was straightforward with me. He told me he’d like to see me get bigger, stronger and faster, and asked me if I’d be willing to do an extra year in the USHL.”

First, Vecchione has some unfinished business at Malden Catholic.

“This year, we’ll be a much more mature team,” he said. “I don’t want to put this in the guys’ heads because we need to focus on things game by game, but we could definitely win the Super 8.”

Roger Brown can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com