June 10, 2012

From NEHJ: Pecararo's promise points to USHL

By Bill Keefe

When Liam Pecararo was 14 years old, a number of Division 1 programs saw enough promise to pursue him. Ultimately, it was the University of Maine that landed a commitment from the skilled, playmaking center out of Canton, Mass. 

Liam Pecararo (Canton, Mass.) led the Boston Advantage U-18s with 41 assists and 52 points in 40 games this season.

On May 1, that promise continued its progress toward realization when Pecararo was selected second overall by the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL Futures Draft for 1996-born players. Considering the vast majority of players selected hail from the Midwest, a New Englander going at No. 2 is even more significant.

“We really like his hockey IQ,” said Peter Arnold, a regional scout for Waterloo. “He has good skill and good hands. He has breakaway speed. He’s a very good playmaker. We’d like to see him on the power play or as that extra guy when you need good hands and some scoring.”

Playing in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League against the likes of Belle Tire and Victory Honda, Pecararo led the Boston Advantage Under-18s (midget major) as a 15-year-old with 41 assists and 52 points in 40 games this season. Prior to the Futures Draft, he had participated in the U.S. National Team Development Program Final 40 Camp to compete for a spot on the Under-17 team.

It was another year where Pecararo played up against older and stronger competition. While he has enjoyed success and received recognition, Pecararo has long been aware of some naysayers and their four-letter word: size.

Barring a growth spurt, at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, Pecararo probably will never be big. But he is committed to working hard on his strength. The doubters only fuel the fire.

“If he was 6 feet or 6-1, in my opinion, and you can ask a lot of people, NHL people are all over him,” Advantage assistant coach Joe Bracken said. “He is constantly driving himself to be the best to prove those being wrong.”

Obviously, there is a lot Pecararo does well to be in the position he’s in. Some of his skills already were mentioned, but a lot of what Pecararo does can’t be taught.

“It’s like chess for Liam,” Bracken said. “He’s thinking two plays down the line. He has that ability you don’t see a lot in a younger kid. He has an elite mind.

“He can play the point, the half wall or the goal line or the power play. You can move him anywhere. One thing I’ve learned from Tim and Joe Lovell is good, smart players can play anywhere — left wing, center, right wing, left defense, right defense — because they make good decisions.

“He’s a great team kid and he likes to make the kids around him better.”

For the cherry on top, contrary to the stereotype about some smaller, skilled offensive players, Pecararo works hard on defense and playing without the puck, Bracken and Arnold said.

But Pecararo is not putting his feet up any time soon.

“I can always get stronger and faster,” he said. “My whole game can get better. My shot can get better. I can still work on everything.”

Pecararo’s selection was a mild surprise because Sioux City had ongoing discussions with Pecararo and was planning to sign him to a tender, the equivalent of an amateur contract. Pecararo had indicated that he was thinking of starting the season with the midget majors of the Boston Advantage, the program he has grown up with, in order to focus on SATs and academics in his junior year of high school.

Rather than risking the valuable tender — and forfeiting a draft pick — on a player it may not get full use of, Sioux City figured to draft Pecararo at No. 4. But then Waterloo swooped in to take him at No. 2.

“I’m very excited,” Pecararo said. “Every team is a great team in the league. There is no bad place to play.”

Eastern Junior Hockey League teams have tried to make a pitch in that fashion for Pecararo’s services. For now, until the shift to Waterloo becomes a reality, he is happy with the plan to return to the Advantage, a program he has been a part of as long as he has played hockey.

“I talked to a couple of teams, but why would I jump to a team I didn’t know as much,” Pecararo said. “I’ve been with Timmy (Lovell) all my life. I know I will get better with him.

“Their skills and practices have helped me so much in my skating stride, especially as a kid, that’s what we worked on the most. As I got older, they would develop other parts of the game. They know what they’re talking about.”

Meanwhile, Pecararo is on the central scouting list for the QMJHL draft this month. Fans in both Waterloo and Orono can exhale.

“I haven’t talked about it,” Pecararo said. “College hockey is the best route for me. You’re coming out older and stronger and there’s more time for development.”

Pecararo just turned 16 in April, so developing is exactly what he continues to do as he realizes that promise that Maine saw in him back when he could have been carded for PG-13 movies.

“What he needs to do is important to all young kids who have an opportunity and that is keep working hard on and off the ice,” Arnold said. “Liam has a lot of upside.”

Around juniors

Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) was named playoff MVP for leading the Saint John Sea Dogs on a 16-1 run to the QMJHL President’s Cup. Coyle tied for the playoff lead in scoring with 34 points on 15 goals and 19 assists in 17 games. Coyle registered a point in 16 of 17 playoff games and in 21 of 23 regular-season games.

He had an assist in a loss to OHL champion London in the Memorial Cup opener. Edmonton was the WHL representative and Shawinigan as the host rounded out the four-team tournament that wrapped up after press time. …

The QMJHL draft is June 9 in Quebec. …

Brown-committed forward Mark Naclerio (Milford, Conn.) took his USHL season as far as it could go, playing a fifth and deciding game for the Clark Cup with the Waterloo Black Hawks. Entering the last game, two of Naclerio’s three playoff goals were game-winners. He had eight points in 14 playoff games and had 14-28-42 numbers in the regular season.

Among his Waterloo teammates are a pair of UNH recruits in defenseman Matias Cleland and forward Jamie Hill (8-6-14 playoffs), Quinnipiac-committed defenseman Alex Barron, and Yale-bound blueliner Mitch Witek (4-9-13 playoffs). Defenseman Brandon Kirk, headed to Dartmouth next year, suited up in the final for Green Bay. …

Brown-committed forward Kevin Roy was named USHL Forward of the Year after his 54-50-104 numbers in 59 games. …

The North American Hockey League named UConn recruit Joe Kalisz of the St. Louis Bandits its MVP and Forward of the Year after leading the league with 91 points and tying for the league lead with 40 goals.

The Wenatchee Wild’s Robert Nichols and the Odessa Jackalopes’ Connor Hellebucyk shared both Goaltender of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors and both are New England-bound. Like Kalisz, Nichols is committed to UConn, while Hellebucyk will join UMass-Lowell.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

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