By Mike Zhe
Years later, Scott Harlow has no trouble admitting it: He should have found a bigger role for Rob Florentino (West Roxbury, Mass.).
The UMass-Boston junior has established himself as one of the premier offensive defensemen in Division 3 this season, his 21 assists second-most in the nation at his position. He quarterbacks the nation’s fifth-best power play (27.9 percent) for a Beacons team that finished second in the ECAC East and was an NCAA tournament candidate at 19-5-2 after advancing to the conference tournament semifinals in early March.
But two years ago, there was more mystery than mastery during a bridge year playing juniors with the South Shore Kings, coached by Harlow (East Bridgewater, Mass.), the former Boston College and AHL star who that season took the Kings to the Tier 3 national championship game.
Florentino, a standout forward at Catholic Memorial and later Buckingham, Browne & Nichols, was at a career crossroads. His year playing Division 1 college hockey — at AIC — was discomforting, with him dressing just 10 times.
He also was learning a new position. During a period of hockey soul-searching after leaving AIC, he and a friend headed out to Western Canada to try and hook on in the BCHL; then Florentino did some quick math.
“They had four defensive spots open and one forward spot open,” he recalled. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll try ‘D.’ ”
He ended up back on the East Coast, a late addition to the South Shore Kings, who recognized his ability but weren’t entirely sure what to make of him.
“I wasn’t really sure how a kid like that, honestly, would react,” said Harlow. “He just had a great year for us. I can’t say enough for what he meant to everybody on the team. I think everyone respected him as much as anyone on the team.”
And what a team that was.
There was Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.), who recently cracked the NHL with the Minnesota Wild; Chris Wagner (Wellesley, Mass.), an AHL regular in the Anaheim Ducks system; Brian Schultz, who’s now at Army; goalie Sam Marotta (Bridgewater, Mass.), who’s now at Merrimack; and Peter MacIntyre (Norfolk, Mass.), who joined Florentino at UMB and is one of the nation’s biggest impact freshmen.
About the only downside was that Florentino didn’t get a chance to showcase all of his abilities. “(UMass-Boston coach) Pete Belisle asked him, ‘What did you do on the power play with the Kings?’ ” recalled Harlow. “He said, ‘I watched it from the bench.’ ”
“South Shore was so skilled,” said Belisle (Manville, R.I.). “He wasn’t a power-play specialist, but our power play runs through him. He gets the puck to the net good, he’s fluid across the blue line and he’s scored some highlight-reel goals.”
As the ECAC East playoffs got under way, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Florentino was among the national leaders in defenseman scoring and a ringleader on a good Beacons team that’s scoring goals in bunches (4.72, third-most in Division 3). UMB owns the No. 2 seed in the conference, its best finish in seven years under Belisle.
“I was hoping I was capable,” said Florentino, a right-handed shot. “At the end of last year, Coach Belisle said he was going to put me into every situation to see if I could have a big year, and he thought I could.”
The Beacons have gotten big years from veterans like Florentino and high-scoring forwards Mike DeGrazia (17-17-34) and Travis Daniel (12-28-40), but also from their crop of 14 freshmen. Max Reavis is centering DeGrazia and Daniel on the first line. The first-year second line of MacIntyre, Kit Sitterley and Frankie DeAugustine also has been productive. Derek Colucci (North Scituate, R.I.) has been the top penalty killer.
The guy they call “Flo” is typically paired with sophomore John Houston, whose game leans more toward the defensive. It’s a partnership that’s worked well for both of them.
“He’s probably our most solid defensive defenseman,” said Florentino. “He’ll joke and say, ‘Just get out of the zone. I’ll get this.’ ”
“They’ve been a great pair the last two years,” said Belisle. “I give Rob the green light. I want him to jump in the play and John allows him to do that.”
Florentino is the second of four athletic brothers. Oldest brother James captained Stonehill College his senior year. Gerard, the third brother, is a 6-foot-1, 240-pound freshman catcher on the UMB baseball team. Anthony has committed to Providence College for hockey.
Harlow coached two of them with the Kings and another at Stonehill, and said Rob Florentino’s success is no surprise.
“First of all, he’s probably one of my favorite kids I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach,” said Harlow. “It honestly doesn’t surprise me because it’s the kind of kid he is. He’s a team leader, he’s putting up a lot of numbers and the team’s playing great.
“I’m not in the locker room there, but I bet (his leadership) is a big part of it.”
History’s a part of it, too. Like last year, the Beacons were playing their best hockey as the postseason arrived. But last season’s team fell just short of a top-four finish, had to go on the road to Skidmore for the quarterfinals and got ousted, 3-2.
“That was definitely a big letdown,” said Florentino. “We’d started off really poorly last year and then turned it on at Christmas. … (Captain) Jimmy Ennis (Roslindale, Mass.) was the heart and soul of that team. To not get him another game stung.”
Forward. Defenseman. Leader. Down the road, we may be attaching another role to Florentino’s résumé. “He’s going to be a coach someday,” said Harlow. “That’s his calling.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.