By Bill Keefe
Tyler Kelleher inherited a couple of traits from his grandfather, Packy O’Neil, a pro boxer in Western Mass. in the 1940s.
|Tyler Kelleher (Longmeadow, Mass.) led the U.S. Under-17 team in scoring with 48 points in 55 games last season.|
One is resiliency. And the other is size, or lack of it. And the two play off each other.
O’Neil fought as a lightweight; 139 pounds was the most he ever weighed entering the ring. At 17, Kelleher is now 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds.
No doubt O’Neil had to be defensive in the ring, but there also is no doubt he had the toughness every pro boxer must have to endure a bout’s barrage of blows.
Kelleher’s resiliency takes another form. Despite constantly hearing he can’t because of his size, Kelleher again and again has proved that he can, most recently by leading the U.S. Under-17 team in scoring last season.
But he also uses his instincts, agility and speed to avoid testing if he also inherited his grandfather’s chin.
“Every level I have played at, moving from youth hockey to high school and then high school to prep school, people have said that would be tough,” said Kelleher, a center who hails from Longmeadow, Mass. “Then from prep to the USHL, people would say I’m going to take a lot of big hits. I used it as motivation.
“A lot of guys chirped me for being small. I stayed clear most of the year.”
Committed to the University of New Hampshire for 2013, Kelleher was second on the Under-17s in goals with 26, third in assists with 22 and first in points with 48 in 55 games. The bulk of the season was played against USHL clubs with players up to three and four years older.
“The first shift I couldn’t believe how fast it was,” Kelleher said. “I adjusted, but that first shift was really fast.
“Right off the bat, I had four goals in my first four USHL games. Then I tailed off. The middle of the year I was not doing well, but then I picked it up at the end of the year. I had a lot of confidence.
“If I can do well in the USHL, I can do well in college.”
The Under-17s also played in international tournaments, winning the Four Nations in Russia and the Vlad Dzurilla in Slovakia, and reaching the final of the World Under-17 Challenge in Canada.
The emotions of representing your country started in the locker room before the first game of the season.
“I remember we were getting dressed so early just to put the jersey on,” Kelleher said. “Kids were dressed a half an hour before.”
This month, Kelleher will return to Ann Arbor, Mich., to play for the Under-18 team. Each season, the coach of that team has to manage the reality that it is the players’ NHL draft year.
Kelleher said he is simply committed to playing his best and seeing what happens.
“He’s a really good player,” said a New England scout. “He’s skilled. He’s crafty. He’s quick and very talented. UNH is thrilled to have him.”
Another scout was unsure what the level of NHL interest would be due to Kelleher’s size.
He will have the opportunity to make an impression as the season starts with games at Wisconsin, Notre Dame and North Dakota, followed later in October with a game at Minnesota.
The Under-18s will make one sweep through New England, visiting Merrimack on Saturday, Dec. 8 and Kelleher’s future teammates at UNH on Sunday, Dec. 9. Kelleher’s family members and friends already are booking hotel rooms and planning their eastern caravan.
“Last year, I didn’t know what to expect at all,” said Kelleher, who knew teammate and forward John Hayden (Greenwich, Conn.) but nobody else, including goalie Curtis Frye (Northwood, N.H.). “This year, I’m really excited. My teammates are like my brothers now. One of my favorite parts was the bus trips. We made some memories on those trips.”
Kelleher’s earlier hockey memories take him back to playing for the Springfield Pics and the New England Junior Falcons. As a freshman, Kelleher helped Longmeadow High to a Division 3 state championship. He then left for Deerfield and repeated his freshman year before heading to the Under-17s last season.
Kelleher said he has taken an English class to catch up and begin this school year as a senior with an eye to UNH in another year.
Another step up with size, resiliency — and scoring — likely to follow.
Two New Englanders were projected as potential first-round picks in the 2013 NHL draft in NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary futures list of North American and international players.
Right winger Ross Olsson of Billerica, Mass., who played for Williston Northampton last year, was the only high school player in the group. Olsson will skate for the USHL’s Lincoln Stars this year.
Quebec Remparts left winger Adam Erne of North Branford, Conn., also made the 36-player list. …
The U.S. Under-17 Selects feature two local players working to make a name for themselves, although their last names already are known.
Forwards Ryan Donato (Scituate, Mass./Dexter) and J.D. Dudek (Auburn, N.H./Pinkerton Academy) will be competing in the Five Nations Tournament on Aug. 7-11 in the Czech Republic.
Donato is the son of Harvard coach and former Bruin Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.), as well as the nephew of his Dexter coach, Dan Donato.
Dudek is the son of Joe Dudek (Dorchester, Mass.), the Plymouth State running back whom Sports Illustrated famously supported for the Heisman Trophy on its cover in 1985 over the likes of Auburn running back Bo Jackson and Iowa quarterback Chuck Long. …
The Under-18 Selects feature a pair of locals behind the bench and on the ice. Kent coach Matt Herr is the head coach of the squad with Maine associate head coach Bob Corkum (Salisbury, Mass.) serving as an assistant.
Erne, a high-end draft prospect in 2013, and St. Sebastian’s forward Corey Ronan (Franklin, Mass.) will play in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial on Aug. 13-17 in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. …
Head coach of a national champion at RPI and a longtime hockey fixture at the pro, collegiate, junior and scholastic levels as a coach and scout, Mike Addessa (Boston, Mass.) sold his Boston Junior Bulldogs club to Breakaway Ice, the operator of Breakaway Ice Center in Tewksbury, Mass., and the Red Rangers boys and North Shore Vipers girls programs.
Breakaway will operate in both the Atlantic Junior Hockey League and the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League as the Boston Junior Rangers. Mario Martinello, the founder and director of SuperSkills Hockey, will serve as GM and head coach of the AJHL team. Rich DeCaprio, who had been an assistant with the Bulldogs’ AJHL team and head coach of the Met team, will continue as head coach in the Met.
The unrelated organization formerly known as the Boston Junior Rangers is now Boston Warrior and will play in the National Junior Prospects Hockey League. …
The Cape Cod Islanders, Junior Mariners, New England Stars, Eastern Kodiaks, Syracuse Stampede and Trenton Habs all have left the International Junior Hockey League to form the Northern States Junior Hockey League with the Lake George Fighting Spirit. The teams had been independent as part of the IJHL, but the Amateur Athletic Union has sanctioned the Northern States.
The AAU, better known for competition in basketball, baseball and track, also sanctions the Western States Hockey League at the junior level. While stating that it recognizes USA Hockey as the national governing body, the AAU is now active in 24 states throughout all youth age groups.
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.