By Bill Keefe
Things were going pretty good for Brendan Silk last summer.
The 17-year-old right winger from Wakefield, Mass., had committed to Boston College a few months prior. He finished his sophomore year at Austin Prep, helping the Cougars reach the Super 8 semifinal. Then he earned a spot in USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program with the best 1994-born players in the country.
Then it all changed pretty quickly.
“My foot was just dangling,” Silk recalled. “There was blood everywhere. It wasn’t good.”
Skating at a summer skills session, another player had stepped inside the back of his skate and on the back of his right Achilles’ tendon.
Silk was carried into the lobby. He couldn’t walk from there to the parking lot so he was taken by ambulance.
“I thought I just needed stitches,” Silk said.
Six days later, on July 26, 2010, Silk had surgery to repair his Achilles’ tendon. In about a month’s time, he was scheduled to go to Ann Arbor, Mich., to join the Under-17 team.
Leaving home, school and friends to accept that challenge is hard enough when healthy. With the injury, the dynamics of Silk’s interactions with his new teammates and friends wouldn’t be the same. But he ultimately decided to go.
“I wouldn’t have gotten the same care as out in Michigan,” Silk said. “I was going to rehab every day. They would work on me for two hours every day, massaging and all the rehab stuff. It was the best decision I ever made.”
Silk made it back to play in about a dozen games before a second injury, a stress fracture in his back, shut him down completely. Now a year later, Silk is ready to start fresh for the Under-18 season. A season of working out and maturing has added about 25 pounds to the 185 that his 6-foot-1 frame carries. Silk said he feels “100 percent healthy.”
He has skated all summer, continued to work out with Mike Boyle and played on the Under-18 Select team that competed in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament last month in the Czech Republic. It was an effort to get back some games he lost last year and to get his conditioning and timing back. He posted one goal in four games, but the larger mission was served.
“My wind was pretty much back,” he said. “I wasn’t getting tired like I was in Rochester (for the Select 17 Festival). I’m still getting my timing back, but it’s almost 100 percent back. The only way to get in hockey shape is to keep skating.”
Danton Cole joined the NTDP last year and coached the Under-17 team and, as has been the custom, will stay with the same group of players and coach the Under-18 team this year.
“He’s a good all-around player who gives us size and speed in our lineup,” Cole said. “He’s going to be a really valuable addition.”
Cole said some of Silk’s strengths include reading plays, being aggressive, skating, positioning and shooting.
That Silk is returning at all is remarkable considering the first doctor he saw told his father he didn’t think Silk would be able to get back to where he was. Silk’s father didn’t reveal this to him until last month. Silk said the thought never went through his mind.
For the first 2½ weeks after surgery, Silk was on the
couch with his foot elevated. Then he moved to crutches, crutches
with a walking boot, then just the boot.
On short road trips, Silk would accompany the team, but long bus rides weren’t good for his rehab so he stayed in Ann Arbor, where Silk said his billet family was very supportive.
It also helped that Silk had some built-in friendships with fellow Massachusetts natives Cam Darcy (South Boston), Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown) and Frankie Vatrano (East Longmeadow). He had known Darcy since they were 7, been teammates with Grzelcyk on the Middlesex Islanders and had played against Vatrano.
The Under-17s’ first international competition, the Four Nations Tournament in November, was held on home soil not far away in Woodridge, Ill., so Silk attended.
The team played well and won the tournament. At the trophy presentation, the team pulled Silk out of the stands and onto the ice. In the championship team picture, it is Silk at the center, seated on the ice, trophy in hand, surrounded by his teammates.
While still walking with a limp and constantly stretching his Achilles, Silk was cleared to skate in the middle of December. He was cleared for contact Jan. 1 and returned for his first game in a USA uniform Jan. 8, a 4-2 USHL win against the Sioux City Musketeers.
“It was unbelievable,” Silk said. “I can’t describe it. All my teammates were having a blast and to finally be able to join them, it was the best feeling.”
In addition to adjusting from his injury, Silk also was adjusting on the fly in moving up from high school hockey to the USHL; his teammates had the benefit of doing that together earlier in the season. Still, Silk posted a respectable two goals and three assists in 14 games. In the 11 USHL games he played, the Under-17s lost once in regulation to go with nine wins and an overtime loss.
“His work ethic is great,” Cole said. “I was impressed with how Brendan realized the positives of the situation and battled through it. Those are more than hockey lessons; those are life lessons.”
The U.S. Under-18 team will make six stops in New England this season to face college clubs: Oct. 14 at Vermont, Nov. 23 at Maine, Nov. 26 at Colby, Nov. 27 at Bowdoin, Jan. 7 at Northeastern and Jan. 8 at Boston University. …
UNH alumnus Mike Ayers (Hingham, Mass.) has been named U.S. National Team Development Program goaltending coach, replacing Joe Exter (Cranston, R.I.), who accepted an assistant coaching position at Ohio State. Matt Greason (Bridgton, Maine) will be an assistant with the Under-18s. …
Yale forward Kenny Agostino was the leading American scorer with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp at Lake Placid, N.Y. Boston College sophomore center Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) and BU sophomore winger Matt Nieto were among 15 players released from the 44-man camp before two final international games. Local players who stayed in camp were BU sophomore forward Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.), BC sophomore forward Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.), Vermont sophomore forward Connor Brickley (Everett, Mass.) and BU defenseman Adam Clendening. The final team will be chosen following a December camp in Alberta. The tournament runs Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Calgary and Edmonton. …
New England natives on the U.S. Under-17 roster for 2011-12 include goalie Curtis Frye (Northwood, N.H.) from Phillips Andover, Yale-committed forward John Hayden (Greenwich, Conn.) from Brunswick, and UNH-committed forward Tyler Kelleher (Longmeadow, Mass.) from Deerfield. Also on the team is a pair of BC recruits, defensemen Stave Santini and Scott Savage. They will be coached by former Worcester IceCats coach Don Granato, who was named to replace Ron Rolston, who left for the head job with Rochester in the AHL. …
U.S. Under-18 center Cam Darcy (South Boston, Mass.) and center Zemgus Girgensons, a Vermont recruit playing for Dubuque in the USHL, were two of the 36 highly regarded 2012 NHL draft prospects that participated in the NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in Toronto. The players tested out various alterations in game play including faceoffs, icing and overtime under the direction of NHL vice president Brendan Shanahan. …
Darcy also was among the latest Northeastern recruit to look elsewhere after Greg Cronin (Arlington, Mass.) left the Huskies’ bench to join the Toronto Maple Leafs’ staff. Darcy had been committed for 2012. John Gaudreau, a top scorer on Dubuque’s USHL title team, was released from his letter of intent and will instead play for BC this fall. His brother Matt also changed his future commitment from Northeastern to BC. Two other committed players have decided on Western Michigan instead. In addition, defenseman Jamie Oleksiak left for the Ontario Hockey League. …
Maine associate head coach Bob Corkum (Newburyport, Mass.) guided the U.S. Under-17 Select team to a 4-0 record and Five Nations Tournament championship at Ann Arbor, Mich. Forward Adam Erne (North Branford, Conn.), who had committed to BU but will play for the Quebec Remparts this year, had two goals and an assist while forward Shane Eiserman (Newburyport, Mass.) had 1-1-2 totals. …
The Under-18 Selects lost only once but wound up in fifth place at the eight-team Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The team won three games, but one was in overtime and one a shootout and did not make the medal round. St. Sebastian’s forward Dan O’Regan (Needham, Mass.) led the local contingent with 2-3-5 totals in four games. Kent School forward Boo Nieves and Shattuck-St. Mary’s Teddy Doherty (Hopkinton, Mass.) were next with 1-3-4 and 0-4-4, respectively. St. John’s Prep forward Sam Kurker (Reading, Mass.) did not register a point. Indiana Ice goalie Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) played all but 20 minutes in net. …
The EJHL sent an all-star team to compete in the World Junior
Cup in Omsk, Russia, Aug. 30-Sept. 3. The Fort McMurray Oil Barons
of the Alberta Jr. A Hockey League are the other North American
team. Six other clubs from Russia, Latvia, Belarus, the Czech
Republic, Slovakia and Sweden also are participating. ….
The Woodchuck Classic runs Sept. 8-11 at the University of Vermont and Cairns Arena in Burlington and South Burlington, Vt., respectively. The Junior Bruins Shootout is Sept. 23-25 at New England Sports Center in Marlboro, Mass., and the Atlantic Junior Hockey League Showcase is the same weekend in Simsbury, Conn.
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Bill Keefe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.