December 27, 2009

Nobles line may be best in N.E.

Hourihan, Hayes and Harlow (photo: JJ Miller)

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Forget the 4-H club. Noble and Greenough only needs three.

After a successful season last year, the Bulldogs will be counting on its “3-H line” to deliver it to the New England prep school hockey tournament.
That is, from right to left, Kevin Hayes, Mark Hourihan and Matt Harlow.

The three players, all Massachusetts products, spent the fall with the Cape Cod Whalers Under-18 Midget team, compiling a 23-7-4 record and developing chemistry for what is expected to be one of New England prep hockey’s most productive lines.

“They were awesome, just awesome,” said Frank Nelson, an assistant coach with the Whalers. “It’s a great opportunity to keep the synergy going. We have other great kids on the team, but there’s something about that synergy. We try to use it as often as possible.”

Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.), Hourihan (Lynnfield, Mass.) and Harlow (Bridgewater, Mass.) served as the top line with the Whalers and also took residence on the top power play, along with fellow Nobles students Gus Young and Mike Reardon. Though they lost seven games with Cape Cod, six of those were by a single goal. They’re counting on the fall success providing a segue into the prep season.

“The fall has been a huge boost for us, chemistry-wise,” Harlow said. “We already have some chemistry and we’re already confident.”

Noble and Greenough missed the postseason by a single point last year at 19-9-1, and its goal is go much farther than just qualifying this time around.

“The goal is to win the New England championship. Period,” Harlow said. “The Keller (Division title in the Independent School League) is nice. But we’re shooting for more.”

The wingers, Hayes and Harlow, excelled last year as members of Nobles’ top line and -- based on the success the group had this fall -- Hourihan should be a capable replacement for graduated center Billy Andrews.

Andrews and Hayes tied for the team lead with 55 points last year, while Harlow put up 37. Hourihan, without the help of playing on the marquee line, collected 20. He also has the toughest job entering the season, replacing a player that Hayes said, “could do whatever he wanted with the puck.”

Or so you’d think.

“I’ve never really thought about it that way,” Hourihan said, of replacing Andrews. “I don’t really see myself as replacing Billy Andrews. Each season is a new start.”

All three have athletic backgrounds.

Hourihan’s father played football at Holy Cross, while Hayes’ brother Jimmy is skating for Boston College and his cousins are former NHLers Keith Tkachuk (Medford, Mass.) and Tom Fitzgerald (Billerica, Mass.). Harlow’s father was the head coach of the Whalers, a former player at BC and an assistant at Nobles last year.

Along with their athletic abilities, Nelson said the trait that stood out most during the fall was the unit’s unselfishness. All three wound up with more assists than goals.

It’s unlikely to stop there. Even before the prep school season started, Harlow was busy passing off credit to Hayes.

“I probably credit him for about 75 percent of my goals,” Harlow said.

Hourihan, meanwhile, was feeding both of them. “These guys are so good, it probably doesn’t matter who’s between them,” he said.

Hayes said that chemistry stems form the time the trio spends together at school, both on and off the ice. Hourihan and Harlow are roommates, while Hayes is a day student. Both count Hayes as one of their best friends from childhood, while Hourihan and Harlow connected as soon as they began playing varsity hockey together. All three have played at least three seasons of varsity hockey.

The bond has created a connection that helps when they take the ice.

“I think it’s just that we have faith in each other,” Hayes said. “When you give the puck up, none of us feels like we won’t get it back. We’ve been on the same team three years. It just builds by being together. There’s a lot of trust. We know that no one is going to be selfish.”

It doesn’t matter who scores. The group knows someone usually will.

Of course, there are other traits that make the line dangerous as well, ones that are even easier to see than unselfishness -- ones that make all three forwards strong Division 1 prospects.

Hayes, 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, has already committed to joining his brother at BC, and the pair credit him with being an incredible stickhandler and tremendously skilled with the puck, both while shooting and passing.

Hourihan, 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and headed to Brown, is the power forward who does much of the work in the corners and along the boards.

And Harlow combines an engine that won’t stop with a hockey mind honed by living with a coach.

“I anticipate the chemistry will be excellent,” Nobles coach Brian Day said. “They all do different things well. They all have a different skill set that compliments each other.”

The trio won’t be alone. Nobles returns 15 players from the previous season, including Young (34 points last year), Reardon and three other Cape Cod Whalers – Matt Whiting, Ben Wiggins and Nick Raffone.

The past two years, Nobles has skidded in the middle of the season before picking back up again at the end, costing itself chances at the postseason.

“My main concern is making sure we stay humble,” Day said. “We need to always focus on our next opponent.”

Based on what Hayes is saying, that shouldn’t be an issue this year. Despite a schedule that includes teams like Berkshire, Hotchkiss, Proctor and Lawrence Academy, Hayes’ focus is right where it needs to be.

“The first game is probably going to be the toughest of the season,” Hayes said.

If that mindset holds, the 3-H club is going to make the winter look a lot like the fall.

“The best part about doing this is it’s so much fun to watch them when they head to prep school,” Nelson said. “It’s a blast to pick up the paper and follow them, to look at the box scores. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of them.”

Chris Carlson can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.