August 21, 2014

Brothers bolster Junior Rangers

Derek and brother Brett Mecrones starred for the Boston Junior Rangers of Metropolitan Junior Hockey League last season and will step up to the EHL for 2014-15. Inset, working with Junior Rangers trainer Pat Gigante, center, the Mecrones twins got stronger and faster for the 2013-14 season, and the results were evident from their scoresheet impact.

By Charles O’Brien

Twins have an undeniable connection. While the “twin phenomenon” is not exactly bolstered by the scientific community, numerous stories exist about an uncanny connection between sets of twins, especially an identical set.

Brett and Derek Mecrones are attempting to show that this same twin connection off the ice can lead to Division 1 opportunities on it. In the process, the Boston Junior Rangers standouts are conquering significant hearing loss that could derail many athletes.

Born minutes apart in 1996 (Derek is the wing and is older while Brett is the younger and plays center), their father, Dan, introduced the pair to the sport of hockey and built a rink in the yard of their Medford, Mass., home.

“I think we started out in hockey a little bit later than most,” Brett said. “But the rink in our yard allowed us to quickly learn the game. Our dad always had ice for us, so we were able to skate all the time, allowing skating to ultimately become one of our strengths.”

Once they decided to literally leave their home rink, the pair called Medford’s Laconte Rink home, playing in house leagues before moving on to the Greater Boston Vipers youth program. “It seems like youth hockey moved so fast,” Derek reflected. “Some of those Viper teams were not the strongest teams, but we played with kids that had so much heart that it really developed a strong work ethic in both of us.”

That work ethic and plenty of skill, now has them in the spotlight on the Eastern junior hockey scene, with Brett earning Most Valuable Player accolades for the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League and both players lighting the lamp often, or setting up teammates at a voracious pace.

In spite of their recent successes on the ice, the pair is as close to normal off of it as you can get. They struggle to balance their academics with the demands of junior hockey, enjoy tennis and golf and love spending time at the Cape. The pair also enjoys playing baseball, where, naturally, they play second base and shortstop.

In fact, the only thing that might separate Brett and Derek from most junior hockey players, or teenagers in general, is that the pair does all of this while suffering from  hearing loss. The hearing loss is so significant that the brothers wear hearing aids, even during games.

“We were diagnosed with the hearing loss at the age of 4,” Brett said. “When we were younger, it bothered us a lot. Sure, it’s an obstacle, but our mom has always made sure that we have had what we needed over the years.”

“At times, it is hard to deal with off the ice,” Derek added. “But hockey has been a way that we are able to not feel different than anyone else.”

The American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association, founded in 1973 by Chicago businessman Irv Tiahnybik and Chicago Blackhawks player Stan Mikita, aims to instill confidence and self-esteem in deaf, or hearing impaired, hockey players and improve their play. Former NHL player Tony Granato is also actively involved with the organization. The Mecrones participated in the program at the youth level and were invited to participate in an upcoming elite tourney tryout.

“At times, one of us will have to give the other a battery if it dies during a game,” Brett said. “Hard checks can also cause the hearing aid to shut off, but once we are back at the bench, we are able to fix it.”

“For me, as a coach, it was a non-issue,” said their Junior Rangers coach, Rich DeCaprio. “I did not have to adjust my approach at all. They know when they make a mistake and rarely make the same mistake twice. So really, I just let them play and guide them when they return to the bench.”

DeCaprio’s team is reaping the benefits of the twins’ steady path to dominance. The pair spent one year playing varsity hockey for Medford High School, under the direction of coach Steve DeBenedictis. After making the Massachusetts state playoffs as freshmen, Brett and Derek made the difficult decision that faces so many players — to stop playing for their high school and join the Junior Rangers.

“Through our dad, we had a connection to (program president) Mario Martinello, and he thought we could come in and play right away,” Brett said. “It was hard to leave our teammates and coach, but we thought we would be able to play at the junior level and make an impact, so we joined the Junior Rangers.”

In their first season, the pair made the ascent from the fourth line to the second and saw time on the power play for DeCaprio’s squad.

“After they made the decision not to return to their high school team, they joined us in November, and I could tell right away that they were going to be good players,” DeCaprio said. “I had them playing third and fourth line to start because my team was a little older and they were new to the (junior) hockey world. Clearly they weren’t third- and fourth-line players. They have too much skill and creativity.”

In their rookie season, the pair combined for 29 points in 30 games, helping the Junior Rangers reach the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League’s Keegan Cup championship final, where the team fell short. The pair considered their introduction to junior hockey a success.

“Our first year was a year we could never forget,” Derek said. “Everyone treated us so well. Coach (DeCaprio) gave us such confidence, and the older guys looked out for us on the road and on the ice. We made it all the way to finals but lost to a better team. We will never forget how great our teammates were.”

Building off a strong finish to their first year, the pair saw their stock skyrocket in Year 2. “Once the 2012-2013 season was over, I knew they would be top-line players for me in ’13-14,” DeCaprio said. “But I didn’t know they would have such an offensive explosion. They were in the gym every day with our trainer, Pat Gigante, working on getting faster and stronger, and it truly paid off. They played in all situations and were truly fun to watch.”

An offensive explosion would be an understatement. After combining to average a point per game in Year 1, Derek’s output soared to 35 goals and 29 assists, and Brett tied for the MJHL’s scoring title with 84 points (26 goals, 58 assists) in 42 games in earning the league MVP honor. Both were selected for the MJHL’s Prospects Game, and Brett was selected to the MJHL’s All-MJHL first team.

“Brett and Derek were outstanding in helping the Junior Rangers again reach the Keegan Cup championship game,” said MJHL director of hockey operations Paul Maciejewski. “They had such an undeniable natural chemistry on the ice and were so productive. Their play was good for both the Junior Rangers and the MJHL.”

“Being named the league’s Most Valuable Player was rewarding,” Brett said. “I worked very hard and am grateful for the honor, but Derek was such a part of my success. We have been on the same line since we were 7 years old, and I don’t think I could have had the chemistry that led to so many points with anyone else.”

As the dynamic duo makes the move to the Eastern Hockey League for the upcoming season, they have used their on- and off-ice chemistry to garner interest from several Hockey East schools. For the Mecrones to continue their development, there is plenty to work on.

“We are definitely late bloomers, and our chemistry just keeps getting better and better,” Derek said. “We love playing together, and every year it gets easier to play with one another. We have been around professionals at the Breakaway Ice Center and we see their commitment to the game, so that is something we strive for. It is going to be a big step up for us, going to the EHL, but we are excited about it.”

“They will have to adjust to the speed and strength of the league,” DeCaprio said. “I think, overall, that they will make the adjustments they need to and be productive this year. I think schools will really notice them this year.”

Asked whether or not the pair should ever be split up to boost their development, DeCaprio kept his answer short and sweet: “They’ve been playing together since they started,” he said. “Would you split up the Sedins?”

This article originally appeared in the August edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to read the digital edition for free.