By Bill Keefe
March madness extended to the world of New England junior hockey as big news seemed to be happening almost daily.
|The New Hampshire Junior Monarchs celebrate their seventh EJHL title, including (from left) Jack Sweeney (EJHL director of hockey operations), Derek Stahl, coach Sean Tremblay, Cameron Brown, Alex Quinn and Bob Mainhardt (EJHL commissioner). Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Junior Monarchs)|
* Moncton Wildcats forward Brandon Shea returned home to Marshfield, Mass., and, together with his family, evaluated his future options.
* Saint John Sea Dog and former Boston University Terrier Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) signed a contract with the Minnesota Wild and started the QMJHL playoffs with back-to-back three-goal, two-assist games.
* The Eastern Junior Hockey League announced it is starting an Under-16 league in the wake of USA Hockey’s new prohibition on 14- and 15-year-olds from junior hockey.
* The Walpole Express won their third consecutive Atlantic Junior Hockey League title.
* Five players with local ties were invited to the U.S. National Team Development Program Evaluation Camp and two — forward Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.) and defenseman Ryan Bliss (Bedford, N.H.) — already were offered and accepted roster spots on next year’s Under-17 squad.
But far and away the biggest news stories of the month involved Sean Tremblay (Newburyport, Mass.), one of the most successful junior coaches in the East and maybe the country.
Tremblay coached his last game for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs on March 15, capturing his seventh EJHL championship in 10 years and third in a row. Tremblay had given notice at the start of the playoffs that he was leaving to coach the New England Junior Huskies, who owner Richard Gallant announced were being renamed the Islanders Hockey Club, together with his youth organization, the Middlesex Islanders.
Meanwhile, Gallant announced a partnership between the Islanders and Merrimack College that included construction of a second rink on the North Andover, Mass., campus. Later in the month, Gallant made a separate $2 million donation to Merrimack.
The Merrimack happenings and speculation as to why Tremblay jumped to the Islanders fueled talk of USHL expansion. Those fires were fanned by a press conference in Lewiston, Maine, where the Maine Hockey Group, owners of the Portland Junior Pirates, and the owners of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, announced it was their intention to bring a USHL team to the city. They said they were hopeful it could be done within two years. The South Shore Kings and Boston Junior Bruins also were mentioned in the USHL talk as hockey observers figured multiple Eastern teams would be needed to make the logistics work of joining a Midwestern-based league.
However, Tremblay said the allure of the USHL is not what drew him to the Islanders. He said there was nothing definitive and, as an attendance-based league, there are more obstacles than answers in the USHL coming east, where junior hockey is pay to play. With the Bruins, the AHL and colleges, there are numerous hockey draws in New England unlike Sioux City, Iowa, where the Musketeers are the only show in town. One possible scenario has USA Hockey subsidizing an expansion, a source said. Another possible future scenario was some type of affiliation as opposed to full-fledged membership, multiple sources said.
Currently, no EJHL arena meets USHL specifications, said EJHL communications director Mike Klein. Jack Sweeney, EJHL director of hockey operations, said he does “not have one shred of information. I have not been contacted by anyone.”
Quite simply, what Tremblay said brought him to the Islanders “was a contract I couldn’t say no to. … I had a great job working for the Monarchs, a great owner in Rick Vega and a great friend. I was being well taken care of with the Monarchs, so it’s pretty substantial.”
Tremblay said he signed a five-year contract.
The Islanders’ junior teams will continue playing in Tyngsboro, Mass., at Skate 3, which Gallant has invested more than $500,000, according to Tremblay, in building an NHL-style locker room, upgrading the weight equipment and other renovations.
“I was blown away,” Tremblay said. “We’ve got the opportunity to be the best development program in the East, and I am looking forward to being a part of that.”
Tremblay will serve as co-director of the Islanders’ junior operations with longtime Huskies coach Paul Jenkins. Tremblay will serve as coach and general manager of the EJHL team and Jenkins will be an assistant.
“I get along great with Paul,” Tremblay said. “We had a nice meeting with the owner. He facilitated the awkward conversations, but at the end of the day there wasn’t a lot of awkwardness. We’ve never been bitter rivals. I don’t even know if I have one of those. There are some great rivalries on the ice, but it stays on the ice. We coached the EJ select team in Russia. We hit it off, and we’ll work very well together.”
Nate Bostic, a Huskies assistant last year, will serve as director of the Under-16 and Under-18 programs and assist with the EJHL team as much as possible. No other coaches will come over from the Junior Monarchs, Tremblay said.
Ryan Frew, the Monarchs’ Empire League coach since 2004-05, was named to replace Tremblay as EJHL coach and GM. Like his mentor, Frew went out on top from the Empire team by winning a national championship.
Tremblay’s Monarchs swept their first series, but ran into trouble in Game 1 of the best-of-three semifinals, losing to the South Shore Kings, 6-1.
“I’ve got to come up with something,” Tremblay remembered thinking. Tremblay turned to an unconventional motivational method — poetry.
Tremblay sent Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” to the team that night and posted it around the locker room for Game 2. The poem is filled with a series of challenges followed by a concluding reward:
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; …
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!
“We were going to keep a stiff upper lip, become stoic and become men,” Tremblay said.
The Monarchs won. For Game 3, Tremblay broke out the poem “Invictus.” “We’re Monarchs; we’re invincible,” was the rallying message.
The Monarchs won out and took their third consecutive Dineen Cup, defeating the Jersey Hitmen in two games in a rematch of last year’s final. Stephen Miller (Boxboro, Mass.) led the Monarchs in playoff scoring with 5-4-9 totals over the seven games. Goalie Zach Andrews was named the playoff MVP with a .931 save percentage and 1.80 goals-against.
“The poetry was a first for me,” said defenseman Nick Lovejoy (Orford, N.H.). “He’s a hard guy to think he’s being corny. He’s so well respected. He talks; you listen. He’s a guy that if he says something is important, you believe it. He’s a great coach. He obviously knows which button to push at the right time to make a good team be successful.”
Lovejoy joined the Monarchs at the beginning of December. A sophomore at Dartmouth stuck in a numbers game with an injured hand, Lovejoy, with the blessing of the program and intention to return next year, joined the Monarchs to gain playing time.
“The whole reason I went to the Monarchs was because of him,” Lovejoy said. “My coaches at Dartmouth respected him and knew I’d be in good hands with him. Anybody would be lucky to play for him.”
After leaving the Moncton Wildcats, 16-year-old forward Brandon Shea (Marshfield, Mass.) likely will return to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League next season after a trade is worked out, said his father, Neil.
A number of options are on the table, he said, and he was not able to speak any further about it.
“He’s fine,” Neil Shea said. “There’s all kinds of speculation on this and that and 90 percent of what I’ve seen and heard is the farthest thing from the truth.”
Some of the Internet rumors included a clash with Wildcats coach Danny Flynn over ice time or his tight reins on offense. Another speculated that Brandon Shea had a hip problem.
In 45 games, Shea had three goals and seven assists. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Shea is a highly-touted prospect for the 2013 NHL draft who declined a roster spot on the U.S. Under-17 team and a future scholarship at Boston College after Moncton drafted him in the first round last June.
Since leaving Moncton, Shea visited the Dubuque Fighting Saints, who own his USHL rights. The possibility also exists that he could be traded to another Canadian major junior hockey league or even return to Moncton.
The next QMJHL trading period is at the June entry draft. Often trades are worked out ahead of time but are not announced until the official trading period. After the draft, the next trading period is in August. …
The Saint John Sea Dogs — for whom Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) plays — were the top-ranked team in all of major junior hockey as the playoffs got under way. …
The EJHL’s launch of an Under-16 league next season appears to conflict with the operation of the Empire Junior Hockey League. However, USA Hockey this season prohibited 14-year-olds from playing junior and next season the prohibition will extend to 15-year-olds, said Jack Sweeney, EJHL director of hockey operations. The Under-16 circuit will help fill that void and serve as a bridge from youth to junior hockey, Sweeney said.
USA Hockey affiliates believed junior hockey was infringing on youth programs was the likely reason behind the move, Sweeney said.
The Empire League previously had eliminated 20-year-old players with the intention of serving as a younger development league — with a decent number of 14- and 15-year-olds playing — to feed the EJHL clubs. …
After a league-record 91 points, South Shore King Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass.) was named EJHL MVP. He also took home the Offensive Player of the Year. Other award winners were Defensive Player of the Year Conor Riley, Valley Junior Warriors; Goalie of the Year Fabian Sivnert, Valley Junior Warriors; Rookie of the Year Nick Bligh (Milton, Mass.), South Shore Kings; and Coach of the Year Andy Heinze, Valley Junior Warriors. …
Goalie of the Year Kyle Shapiro and team leading scorer Dillan Fox paced the Walpole Express to their third consecutive Atlantic Junior Hockey League championship, defeating the New York Bobcats two in a row in the final. The Express lost only five times in the regular season and were perfect in six playoff games.
Other AJHL award winners were Offensive Defenseman of the Year Jared Henderson (Salem, N.H.), Northern Cyclones; Defensive Forward of the Year Christopher Mastropietro (Revere, Mass.), Boston Bulldogs; and Coach of the Year Bill Flanagan Northern Cyclones. …
A tough year has already given way to a difficult offseason for the Huskies. South Portland, Maine, native
Indiana Ice (USHL) goaltender and Northeastern recruit Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) asked to be released from his letter of intent for next season after he found out that NU’s Chris Rawlings will return for his senior season. …
The Laconia Leafs have announced that Joe Cardarelli, a one-time American International College and Oswego State assistant, will coach the AJHL team next year with Will Fay remaining as GM and moving over to coach the Metropolitan League team. …
In addition to Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.) and Ryan Bliss (Bedford, N.H.) who have accepted roster spots, other players with New England ties among the 53 players invited to the NTDP evaluation camp March 19-23 for the Under-17 team were Boston Advantage forward Liam Pecararo (Canton, Mass.), Kimball Union defenseman Johnathan MacLeod (Dracut, Mass.) and Gunnery forward Laythe Jadallah. …
Boston University-committed forward Danny O’Regan (Needham, Mass.) joined the U.S. Under-18 team at the conclusion of his St. Sebastian’s season. In his first seven games since his debut March 10, O’Regan had three goals and two assists and the team went 5-1-1 in USHL competition. …
The Under-18s are in the Czech Republic on April 13-22 for the Under-18 World Championships.
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Bill Keefe can be reached at email@example.com