December 15, 2012

Generation Next: The new faces of New England preps

By Mike Zhe

Even during day games last year, the stars were out in the Independent School League. 

St. Seb's blueliner Noah Hanifin has already committed to Boston College. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

Whether it was Devin Tringale leading Lawrence Academy to a heart-stopping New England championship, or Noble and Greenough standouts Adam Gilmour and Chris Calnan later getting snapped up in the NHL Entry Draft, the star power in the ISL was second to none.

It all culminated on a Sunday at the Icenter in Salem, N.H., in early March. In the finals of the Martin/Earl (large school) tournament, senior standout Danny O’Regan of St. Sebastian’s led his team back from a two-goal deficith against Berkshire School, ultimately falling in overtime.

In the Stuart/Corkery (elite) final, Lawrence trailed 2-1 late in the second period before flipping the score. In a five-minute span, Tringale set up teammate Tyler Whitney for the tying goal, then took a pass from Whitney and buried what would ultimately stand as the game-winner in a 3-2 win.

It was a fitting end to some great careers.

“A lot of teams had some very good players,” said St. Seb’s coach Sean McCann. “Lawrence was loaded with older kids, a ton of seniors. Nobles had two or three elite players, kind of like we did. Those top-end players from every program have moved on.”

And now it’s time for a new generation of stars to shine.

Many ISL teams opened new seasons Thanksgiving weekend. Some perennial contenders, like Belmont Hill and Governor’s, are returning several players from teams that were good a year ago. Others, like Lawrence, Nobles and St. Seb’s, are trying to replace some of the region’s top prospects.

“That’s where you have the questions,” said McCann. “Can a Colin White, as a sophomore, lead Nobles offensively?”

White, who’ll turn 16 in January and has verbally committed to Boston College, was superb for Nobles last year. Skating with older, talented linemates, he finished with 16 goals and 44 points in 29 games. He was strong at USA Hockey’s Select 15 Development Camp for 1997 birth years over the summer in Rochester, N.Y.

“You don’t expect eighth-graders to have that kind of impact, but it didn’t surprise me,” said Nobles coach Brian Day. “He’s a very intelligent hockey player and a very good athlete.”

It’s that overall athleticism, said Day, that’s benefited his game. White plays football in the fall and baseball in the spring. He also has the package of intelligence, hockey sense and vision that’s often a rarity.

“Especially on the defensive side,” said Day. “He’d recognize where we were vulnerable before anybody else.”

Even without Calnan and Gilmour, Nobles doesn’t look especially vulnerable. Defensemen Tyler Wood and J.C. Brassard are strong in front of returning goalie Conor Maher, and there’s enough back up front to make opposing coaches nervous.

At St. Seb’s, defenseman Noah Hanifin is a shining young star on the blueline. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he had the size to hold his own backpedaling as a freshman, and the skills to create things in transition.

“His ability to read the play and have the vision to get himself out of trouble is above his age group,” said McCann. “He’s a big, physical kid, but he needed to have those tools.” 

Colin White is a multisport standout at Nobles. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

At St. Seb’s, McCann has developed a host of players from a young age. As an eighth-grader two years ago, Hanifin, who turns 16 in January and has also committed to BC, saw enough action to contribute 11 points. Last year, teammate Cam Askew made an impact as an eighth-grader.

Askew’s moved on to Cushing, but Hanifin’s supporting cast — young and old — looks strong. Seniors Tommy Kelley (Boston University), John Doherty and Jake McLaughlin (Northeastern) and junior Corey Ronan will be counted on to produce, while defensemen Dalton MacAfee (Boston University) and Jake McCarthy are back on the blueline.

“I think the team with the most depth is going to excel in the ISL this year,” said McCann.

But there’s no denying the impact of stars.

Tringale, Calnan and Gilmour have all moved on to junior hockey. O’Regan is a freshman at Boston University. Milton Academy defenseman Rob O’Gara is at Yale. Belmont Hill goalie David Cunningham, an All-New England selection, is playing at Amherst College.

It all makes for a very interesting year. But will it be as collectively successful?

In all, seven ISL teams reached New England tournaments last season: Lawrence, Nobles and Belmont Hill in the elite; St. Seb’s and St. Paul’s in the large-school; and Brooks and St. Mark’s in the small-school. In all, nearly half the league advanced to the postseason, something coaches don’t see changing.

“The ISL should continue to be extremely competitive, top to bottom,” said Belmont Hill coach Jeremiah McCarthy.

Not that the star power strictly belongs to the young. Belmont Hill senior Carl Hesler is coming off a 12-goal, 30-point season that helped his team go 22-6-3. He’s committed to Dartmouth.

Governor’s boasts senior forward Nathan Ferriero, who put up 7-19-26 totals last year. The 18-year-old right wing is heading to Northeastern, where he’ll team up with older brother Cody.

Milton, the New England champion two years ago, should be in better shape with its post-title cycle of players now in its second year together.

And Lawrence, which was the most senior-heavy of last year’s ISL contenders, has restocked with an incoming class that includes touted goalie Drew Michals, who went 11-1-1 with a 2.82 GAA and .902 save percentage for the EJHL’s Boston Junior Bruins last year.

When it shakes out, it’s likely multiple teams from the heavyweight Keller Division of the ISL will be chosen for the elite tourney. Championships by Lawrence last year and Milton the year before ended a seven-year stranglehold on the title by Founders League powers Avon Old Farms and Salisbury.

But who’s the team to beat?

“I think Lawrence has to be the team to beat after winning it last year,” said St. Paul’s coach Mark Bozek, whose team returns is core, including standout goalie Mike Pinios. “But the ISL is well-balanced. There aren’t any easy games.”

“That’s the great thing about our league,” said Day. “Every game, if you don’t play well, you’re not going to win.”

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

Twitter: @MikeZhe603