Michael Doherty might seem undersized to the average hockey fan as he’s buzzing around ECAC Hockey rinks for the defending national champion Yale Bulldogs, but the 5-foot-11, 170-pound freshman forward doesn’t feel that way.
Doherty (Reading, Mass.) knows what it’s like to be Undersized, with a capital U.
Always a skilled stick-handler, Doherty earned a spot on the Groton School varsity as an eighth-grader in 2007-08. At the time, Doherty stood 5-foot-1 and 105 pounds.
“I was always a pretty good skater,” Doherty said. “But I got pushed around a little bit in the corners. I wasn’t used to playing with the older guys, and they wanted to slow me down. I had a concussion at some point when I took a big hit. I think I was a little bit timid that year.”
Doherty is no longer timid playing against bigger foes, evidenced by his emergence as a key scorer for Yale in the month of November. Doherty notched two goals in the first three weekends of action, the most important of which served as a game-tying goal in a 3-3 draw with Quinnipiac in a rematch of last year’s national championship game.
“Michael has fit in quite nicely so far,” said Yale coach Keith Allain (Worcester, Mass.). “He has earned the respect of both his teammates and coaches and is playing significant minutes. He has started to produce some offense. He has had a promising start to what I believe will be an outstanding career here at Yale.”
Doherty’s promising hockey career started in Charlestown, Mass., where his family lived until he was 4 years old. He skated for the first time with 2012 NHL draftees Matt Grzelcyk (Boston University), Jimmy Vesey (Harvard University) and Brendan Collier (Boston University). When his family moved to Reading, he played in-town hockey before joining Top Gun Youth Hockey Organization in Salem, N.H.
Vesey was always one of the best players in his age group, albeit one of the smallest. When his parents decided to send him to Groton in 2007, Doherty felt it was best for him to repeat his eighth-grade year so he would have more time to develop on and off the ice.
The Groton coaches saw Doherty’s speed and stick skills at open tryouts and couldn’t resist the temptation to play him right away. Doherty struggled to match the physicality of the game but made more of an impact each season. He became one of the Independent School League’s top scorers — and an All-ISL selection — as a sophomore. That summer, he attended the Road to College Hockey Admissions Showcase in Milton, Mass., and accepted a scholarship offer from Yale that week.
“Mike first appeared on our radar screen while he was a student-athlete at Groton,” Allain said. “He was a very good player in that program, and my assistant coaches saw great potential in him as a future college player.”
Doherty didn’t take his foot off the gas after making his commitment to Yale. Over his five-year career at Groton, he finished with 81 goals and a school-record 161 points. As a junior, he led all New England players in points per game, earning ISL MVP honors. He earned his third straight All-ISL selection as a senior.
Looking to add size and experience after high school, Doherty signed with the Middlesex Islanders of the EJHL. In one season playing alongside Yale teammate Chris Izmirlian, he was second in the league in scoring with 31 goals and 76 points in 47 games.
“It was a lot different hockey in the EJHL,” Doherty said. “Groton was a hard school to get into, so it was tough to get a lot of good hockey players. The level of competition in juniors is so much higher. Things are quicker, people are bigger and stronger. It was good to get a jump before playing hockey.”
Doherty added muscle over the year in the EJHL, but he said the biggest improvement came in the form of his ability to distribute the puck.
“My hockey sense has gotten a lot better,” Doherty continued. “The more comfortable I got, the more the game slowed down. I think I have good vision, and I can make the tough pass. I’m a playmaker who can also score goals.”
The one downside of playing juniors for a year was that Doherty couldn’t be a part of Yale’s surprise national championship season. He entered a hockey pool with his friends, and he was the only one to pick Yale to win a single game — let alone a national championship.
“It was awesome to watch,” Doherty said. “Obviously, I was tuned in the whole way. My whole family has always watched the national championship game together. We were all really pumped.”