He was 6, playing in an in-town beginners league in Charlestown, Mass. His hockey career was only a few games old, but for the son of former Boston Bruins forward Jim Vesey, the all-time leading scorer in Merrimack College history, it felt like an eternity because he had yet to continue the family tradition of goal scoring.
“I remember it didn’t come easy,” said Vesey, a Harvard sophomore and reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year. “It took a while to get that first goal. It was a big thing for me. Once I got that, I got more confidence. That’s when things started to develop. I knew it was the best feeling in the world.”
Although they possess a shared knack for goal scoring, Vesey and his father are different in many ways. The father grew up in Charlestown and developed a blue-collar approach to hockey as a prototypical power forward. He wasn’t the best skater, didn’t score the prettiest goals, but he put up numbers through will and work ethic.
The son, Jimmy Vesey, developed plenty of finesse in his game while growing up in North Reading, Mass. He played high school hockey at Belmont Hill School before committing to Harvard before his senior season. He is nearly fluent in Mandarin and has experience traveling the world as a member of the USA squad for the 2013 World Junior Championship.
“I think it’s a special thing to be a freshman at Harvard,” said Jim Vesey about his son. “Jimmy is more laid-back than I was. He doesn’t beat himself up after bad games. He always wanted to go to Belmont Hill, and he always wanted to go to Harvard.”
Vesey’s interest in Belmont Hill developed when he was a member of the Middlesex Islanders from age 7 to 13, playing many games at the Belmont Hill rink. The team was coached by Boston University legend Mark Fidler (Charlestown, Mass.) and Jim Vesey. A handful of players from that team are currently playing Division 1 college hockey.
“Those teams beat everyone in Massachusetts, everyone in New England,” Jim Vesey said. “The core guys made it to D1 schools or got drafted. Jimmy kept producing all the way until he was 12 or 13, then he had a bump in the road. He didn’t get big right away. I knew he’d be all right because he loved the game. When he got bigger, I could see him really take off.”
After growing to 6 feet — within a couple of inches of his father — as a sophomore at Belmont Hill, Jimmy made the varsity team. His scoring touch translated to New England prep school hockey, and he earned All-New England honors after scoring 13 goals with 17 assists in 31 games. The next year, he tallied 23 goals and 12 assists, earning an offer from Harvard coach Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.), who was a member of the Bruins at the same time as his father.
“Once Harvard was on him, that’s where he wanted to go,” Jim Vesey said. “I didn’t want him to go to Merrimack and think he had to produce like I did. Wherever he went, I wanted him to be himself.”
After committing to Harvard, Jimmy transferred to North Reading High and continued his hockey career with the South Shore Kings of the EJHL. In his one season, he set the club’s single-season record for goals (48) in 45 games.
“He exploded in his one year in the EJHL,” Donato said. “I think we would have been comfortable with him coming straight from Belmont Hill, but this sold everyone. Jimmy was a guy who could always generate offense, score goals and make plays. He’s a little bit of a late bloomer in the sense that he was continuing to grow and put on size, strength and speed all the way through grades 11 and 12.”
Vesey’s decision to leave Belmont Hill for the EJHL was predicated on his desire to make a smooth transition to ECAC Hockey.
“Part of the reason I went to the Kings was to play against older, stronger guys to help the transition to college,” Vesey said. “I think it had benefits. I gained confidence that year, I developed on the ice, and I felt I could definitely make the jump.”
NHL scouts took note of Vesey’s EJHL dominance, and he was selected in the third round of the 2012 amateur draft by the Nashville Predators. Later that summer, he was selected to the USA squad for the 2013 World Junior Championship in Russia.
It didn’t take long for Vesey to find the net at Harvard. He provided an immediate scoring lift, earning ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week twice in the opening month of the season. During winter break, he went to Russia for the World Junior Championship, playing on the top line on the gold-medal-winning American team.
“He was able to be an impact player for us right away,” Donato said. “Then, he earned the opportunity to play in world juniors, and he had a great experience representing the U.S. team. He was a valuable member of a team that won a gold medal. But it was a grueling schedule with a lot of travel. When he got back to us, it was a lot for a freshman to deal with.”
Vesey struggled with a knee injury during the second semester as the Crimson spiraled into last place in the ECAC Hockey standings. He still tied for tops on the team with 11 goals, earning ECAC All-Rookie team honors. With an entire season on the Harvard campus, Donato believes Vesey can make the jump to first team All-ECAC Hockey honors.
Always the measured member of the Vesey family, Jimmy takes a minute before agreeing with his coach.
“Definitely, I can make a jump,” Vesey said. “I had a solid freshman year, but I came back this year a lot stronger, and in a lot better shape. That will help a lot. I’m focused on being a more complete player, doing the little things to help the team win.”