January 21, 2011

From NEHJ: Southern Maine's thin blue line

Joy follows law enforcement career path

Southern Maine senior Zach Joy scored 20 goals last season 10th-highest total in Div. 3. (photo: Photo courtesy of Southern Maine)

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

GORHAM, Maine — Zach Joy might have been feeling some added pressure to score more goals, but nothing approaching the desperate.

At the University of Southern Maine, where the criminology major is a favorite among students — especially those like Joy from bordering New Hampshire, whose flagship state university doesn’t offer it — the line between right and wrong is a lot deeper than the blue and red ones.

Players have gone on to become state troopers and federal agents, including Eddie Pike, whose undercover career in the Drug Enforcement Agency still stands as a source of program pride (and whose 274 career penalty minutes still stand as a program record).

There was a defenseman named Steve Sloper (Concord, N.H.), who played here earlier this decade, and was on the verge of an internship with the Maine State Police one offseason when his coach, Jeff Beaney, got a call. 

“The guy called and said, ‘Would you have any issues if he was issued a gun?’” Beaney said. “I’m thinking: ‘Geez, I might want to put him on the power play more.’”

Such is life at USM, one of the few campuses in New England where snow patches were dotting the ground in mid-December, and where the shots a player fires during his playing career are often a whole lot different than those he’ll unload in his professional life.

For his part, Sloper concluded his USM hockey career without incident, and is now a state policeman for New Hampshire Troop B. And Joy (Dover, N.H.), whose hockey career will expire in March, is thinking that one day down the road the right place for him to use his weapons might be in the FBI.

“I don’t know what I’m going to have to do to get into it,” he said, “but the next chapter of my life’s about to start when hockey ends in March, and that’s when I’m going to pursue it.”

“It’s kind of neat,” Beaney said. “He’s such a wholesome, clean-cut kid. Knows right from wrong. Holds people accountable.”

Both Joy, a senior, and the Huskies (4-4-1, 2-3-0 ECAC East) were trying to find their game as the holidays arrived. Joy scored 20 goals a year ago — the 10th-highest total in Division 3 — but through seven games this season was sitting on just a pair.

“It kind of put more pressure on me, but I’m trying not to think about it,” he said. “I’m in a little bit of a slump right now, but I’ve just got to get through it and focus on using my teammates a little more. I think once I get a couple more they’re going to keep on coming in bunches.”

The last weekend before the break changed things. He scored twice — including the game-winner 22 seconds into sudden-death overtime as the Huskies won at Salem State, 5-4. And he opened the scoring against the University of New England two nights later in a 3-0 win.

As 2011 begins, Joy isn’t quite on last season’s pace. But his five goals are tied for the team lead, his 5-2-7 totals trail only teammates Paul Conter and Jon Rutt, and his team — after a first half that included nice wins over Colby, Middlebury and Salem State, plus a 4-2 loss at reigning Division 3 champion Norwich — is looking for big things.

“We have all the right pieces,” said Rutt (Scarborough, Maine), a senior forward who shares the captaincy with Joy and defenseman Steve Wiedler. “We have a good goalie (freshman Braely Torris). We’re probably deeper on ‘D’ than ever, and I think our scoring’s going to come along.”

With many talented players in this area leaving high school to play for prep school or junior teams, Joy is a rarity — a player who played in four high school state championship games. Dover won the Division 2 title in New Hampshire during his sophomore and junior years, and lost in the final when he was a freshman and senior.

At that point, he was harboring Division 1 college dreams, but a year with the powerful New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs proved an eye-opener, pitting him against — and with — some of the best college prospects in the country.

“It was a little frustrating, just because I’m not used to being the guy who’s not the go-to guy,” he said. “But in the end it was good, because it was a reality check.”

USM, an hour from Dover, N.H., offered proximity, and also a tuition break when he was accepted into the New England regional program for criminology.

“I wanted to go to a place where my parents could have a chance to watch me play, that was close to home,” he said. “I’m kind of a homebody. Family’s important to me. I don’t think they’ve missed a game in four years.”

“The classes I’ve taken, I’ve really enjoyed them and want to pursue it in the future. Learning about how society works and how different things affect crime. Social control. White-collar crime. Different gender stuff. It’s all real interesting.”

On the ice, the former Dover High School sniper has fit in well with Southern Maine’s run-and-gun mentality. But after seeing three straight seasons end in the quarterfinal round of the ECAC East playoffs, the Huskies are paying more attention to their own end.

“We do look to play up-tempo and play with a lot of speed, and we’re not going to change that,” Beaney said. “But there are certain situations, like if you’re out there for 30 seconds and the puck hasn’t left your zone, the goal of your shift has changed.”

Beaney likes to joke that he’s coached enough future state troopers to have speedometer immunity between Augusta and Portsmouth, N.H. The goal now for Joy and his mates is to keep the pedal down after closing out the first semester with some momentum.

“Just watch out,” Rutt said.

He was presumably talking to future ECAC East opponents. But he could have just as easily been warning the criminals who cross paths with Joy once he trades in his stick and skates for a badge and weapon.

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com