September 18, 2012

Juniors Journal: Should I stay or should I go?

By Shawn Hutcheon

Ask any youngster who aims to play at hockey’s highest level where he plans on playing during his high school years and a majority will tell you the same thing: prep school, not their local public high school. 

Chris Calnan was selected 79th overall by the Blackhawks. (Getty Images)

Some of those young hopefuls fulfill their goal of being recruited by a Division I college. While most of those who are recruited will have the good fortune of accepting a scholarship offer, they are often told to spend an additional year or two playing junior hockey.

Junior hockey has become the final stepping stone to a four-year college career and, while it appears that the future is nicely mapped out for the elite players, some will decide to forego their senior year of prep school hockey and make the jump to juniors. One such player is Chris Calnan (Marshfield, Mass.) who enjoyed a standout prep career at Thayer Academy, followed by a season at Noble and Greenough School.

This past June, Calnan, who has committed to play for Boston College in 2013, was chosen in the third round of the National Hockey League Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. After his selection, Calnan began to sort out his options, which consisted of remaining a member of the Noble and Greenough team, moving on to the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s South Shore Kings or the Waterloo Blackhawks of the United States Hockey League.

“Chicago wanted me to go to Waterloo but I told them that with my family situation, the best thing for me was to play in the Eastern Junior Hockey League. They understood and they’re excited to see what I do this year,” Calnan said.

Calnan revealed why he chose the junior route instead of playing one more year at his school.

“Looking at the Eastern Junior Hockey League and prep hockey, there is a big difference,” he said. “There are a lot more games (in junior), a lot more touches on the ice and that really matters in trying to get to the next level and prepare myself for BC. I just needed more to step up my game and give myself more of a challenge this year.”

The winger has seen how the brand of hockey differs between the prep ranks and junior, where the players can be play until the age of 20.

“The kids are a lot older and stronger and of course, they are faster,” Calnan said. “There is definitely a difference. I’m trying to adjust to it now but it should be good.”

Former NHL player (St. Louis Blues) and current South Shore head coach, Scott Harlow (East Bridgewater, Mass.), agrees that for some players, leaving prep school hockey for junior is the best thing for them.

“I’m a big prep school fan, but I think kids have to work harder here (at the junior level) because they will play against older, bigger, faster, stronger kids,” said Harlow. “They’ll see that they can’t do the same things out here that they can at the prep school level and that will help them adapt faster which will help them make a faster transition (to the college game).”

Valley Jr. Warriors coach Andy Heinze (N. Andover, Mass.) summed up the determining factor for a young man trying to make the decision to move up the ladder to the junior level as opposed to finishing his prep career,

“For us, we don’t go after kids. We think it’s important for them to finish things out,” Heinze said. “But by the same token, some kids are just ready to move on.”      

GAME OF THE WEEK

The weekend of September 21-23 will see the Boston Junior Bruins Shootout take place at the New England Sports Center in Marlboro, Mass. All of the teams in the Eastern Junior Hockey League will be in action for a total of 18 games between Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

NHL, college Division I and III scouts from far and wide will be in attendance for each contest, but the one game that will see the stands filled with talent evaluators will feature league leading Valley Jr. Warriors facing off against the Jersey Hitmen at 9:10 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Both clubs are full of talented NHL draft eligible players.

The Warriors will be looking to remain undefeated and will be backed up by goaltender Brendan Leahy (Reading, Mass). Leahy has a 2-0-0 record on the young season. His goals-against average stands at 2.00 while his save percentage average is an eye-popping .951. Defenseman Gus Harms leads the club with four points on one goal and three assists, followed by first-year players Ryan Fitzgerald (N. Reading, Mass) and Devin Tringale (Medford, Mass). The linemates each racked up three points last weekend.

The Hitmen lost in the EJHL’s finals last spring and are motivated to not only return to the championship round but win the franchise’s third Dineen Cup in six years. Coach Toby Harris’ squad will be led by the highly-skilled Andrew Black. The forward, who was born in 1992, was Jersey’s leading goal scorer last season with 21 lamplighters. College scouts have taken notice; Black has fielded scholarship offers from 10 schools. One other Jersey skater who is sure to garner attention is defenseman Will Hoeft. 6-foot-7, 245-pound Pittsburgh native will be hard to play against in his own zone.

POWER RANKINGS

To read Shawn Hutcheon’s analysis of each team in the top 15, head over to our junior power rankings page.

1) Valley Jr. Warriors (2-0-0)
2) South Shore Kings (1-1-0)
3) Boston Jr. Bruins (0-0-0)
4) Islanders Hockey Club (0-0-0)
5) Walpole Express (0-0-0)

6) New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (0-0-0)
7) Bay State Breakers (0-1-0)
8) Boston Bandits (1-1-0)
9) Northern Cyclones (0-0-0)
10) Springfield Jr. Pics (0-1-0)

11) Boston Jr. Rangers (0-0-0)
12) Portland Pirates (0-0-0)
13) Connecticut Oilers (0-0-0)
14) Connecticut Wolfpack (0-0-0)
15) Laconia Leafs (0-0-0)

Shawn Hutcheon can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.