May 30, 2013

From NEHJ: Nolan Vesey forges own path

By Bill Keefe

Nolan Vesey led his Austin Prep Cougars to their first-ever Super 8 championship game at the TD Garden. He was named Catholic Central League Large MVP after leading his team in goals and assists. 

It’s not like it’s Smith or Jones. Vesey on its own attracts attention.

Your father is a former All-American and played for the Bruins. And your brother is a third-round NHL pick coming off a freshman season at Harvard in which he tied for third on the team in points and won a gold medal with the U.S. National Junior Team.

So whether they know Nolan Vesey or not, people know the name.

There have been other father-son combinations or brother-brother, but not too many father-brother-brother.

“You get the spotlight put on you wherever you go, but it’s OK,” said Nolan, a left winger from North Reading, Mass., who will join the South Shore Kings next season.

“My dad was a great hockey player,” Nolan said, “and my brother is a great hockey player. Having them two telling me what to work on and giving me advice makes it easier.”

Nolan Vesey is making his own name, and it’s not just because both his father and brother are named Jimmy.

Nolan, who might not be done growing at 18 and 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, led his Austin Prep Cougars to their first-ever Super 8 championship game at the TD Garden. He was named Catholic Central League Large MVP after leading his team in goals and assists (22-18-40).

While his brother attended Belmont Hill and other Austin classmates left for other hockey opportunities, Nolan stayed after exploring some prep schools early on.

“What kept me was a lot of the guys and Coach Louis Finnochiaro,” he said. “I really enjoyed playing for him.”

He followed the Super 8 with a solid performance for the Neponset Valley River Rats in their run to the USA Hockey Under-18 national championship.

The attention Nolan’s way has mounted after each of these runs, particularly the latter. Colleges’ pursuit has increased while NHL scouts also are taking notice, whether it’s for this year’s draft or next.

“I get compared to my brother a lot. It’s nothing bad,” Nolan said. “We both have a good head for the game, good hockey IQ and just as good hands.”

Said Jimmy the father, “To Nolan’s credit, he’s Jimmy’s biggest supporter. He’s the first one to celebrate when Jimmy does well. Jimmy is really proud of Nolan and will be relieved when he commits.

“They’re their own person. They’re not jealous kids.”

Also similar to his brother, Nolan has been a late comer. Jimmy was not one of these players who had his college commitment locked up at 14, and he was passed over in his first year of NHL draft eligibility. Nolan’s college interactions have accelerated now. In NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary rankings in November, Nolan was pegged as a potential late-round pick, but then was not included in the mid-term rankings.

After losing in the Super 8 final, the USA Hockey national championship run in Pittsburgh was perfect timing. Nolan tallied as the River Rats defeated defending national champion Shattuck-St. Mary’s in the semifinals. On April 7, the River Rats tied the St. Louis Jr. Blues with eight seconds left before winning the national crown in overtime.

“That’s at the top of my list,” Nolan said of his hockey experiences. “It was the biggest stage I’ve played on. To win it was awesome.” writer Shawn Hutcheon was an assistant coach for the team and his brother John was the head coach. Except for the River Rats and another club, the rest of the teams played together all season. The River Rats played until Thanksgiving when the high school season started and did not get back together until March after the high school season.

In another example of virtually everyone having a connection to the Boston Marathon bombing, another River Rat assistant coach is Kyle Heagney, who is the chief of police in Attleboro, Mass. In the days following, Heagney and his officers were involved as part of a police consortium in providing additional security in Boston.

The River Rats organized a charity hockey game April 28 at Breakaway Ice Center in Tewksbury to raise money for One Fund Boston.

After playing in that, Nolan’s next step will be to start working out with South Shore Kings’ strength and conditioning coach Brian McDonough.

While Nolan lives north of Boston and the Kings are based south of Boston in Foxboro, there wasn’t much debate about what junior team he would join, whether it was the USHL or the EJHL.

“I was talking to a lot of different teams,” Nolan said. “It came down to how much success my brother had there and how much he loved playing for Scott Harlow and Brian McDonough.”

Jimmy had a breakthrough year playing for the Kings, setting EJHL single-season records with 48 goals and 91 points.

Father Jimmy Vesey doesn’t want Nolan or others to have those kinds of expectations. It’s not for doubting his ability, but the elder Vesey said a lot of things came into place for Jimmy between having excellent linemates and things just clicking to make it a season you can’t explain.

“Judge Nolan on Nolan,” he said.

And judging by the interest he is garnering, it’s certainly based on his first name and not his last.

One scout, after watching Nolan play a year ago, walked away and said, “I just saw the best Vesey at this age.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.