February 22, 2013

Juniors Journal: Islanders' Stahl the best-kept secret in EJHL

By Shawn Hutcheon

Every scout, coach, journalist and fan always wants to hear about the “next one.”

The young athlete dubbed the can’t-miss kid gets a heap of attention in all mediums and it is rare when he does not live up to expectations. Some other players might be resentful or envious of that, while others go about their business of leaving it all on the ice and in the weight room.

They make sacrifices because they are, for the large part, unheralded. They possess the same desire to be the best, so they eschew nights out with friends or spending endless hours playing video games. Their ambition is to be recruited by a college hockey coach.   

It’s with that in mind that we hope to shed a little light on Derek Stahl (pictured right) of the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s Islanders Hockey Club. Stahl, who hails from Londonderry, New Hampshire, is easily the best defenseman in junior hockey on the East Coast and you, most likely, have never heard of him.

Stahl has all the tools coaches and scouts look for in a defenseman. He is a smooth skater with outstanding speed, mobility and agility, which allow for him to continuously keep opposing puck carriers to the outside in one-on-one situations. He wins battles for loose pucks in all three zones and when he does, he has the ability to see an open teammate and put the puck on his stick with deft passing skills. Stahls shot from the point is an accurate one that many college blueliners envy. His overall style is that of a reliable defensive defenseman who prides himself on taking care of his own zone first and foremost.

For observers of Stahl and his game, it is not a surprise when he talks about which NHL player he patterns himself after.

“I grew up idolizing Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins,” Stahl said. “He was that stay-at-home type of defenseman who was a great person to look up to. Watching him gave me my defensive tendencies.”

“I try to keep it as simple as possible,” The defender continued. “I was brought up as a defensive defenseman and try to do as Coach (Sean) Tremblay says, ‘defend and distribute.’ I try to make a good first pass out of the defensive zone and those are what I focus on.”

“Every game, I’ve been trying to be as consistent as possible,” Stahl explained. “This season I’ve worked on gaining confidence with the puck, holding onto it a little longer and make plays or make a move then make the pass.”

Working on those aspects of his game have paid dividends for Stahl, who will turn 20 years of age in April.

“He (Stahl) is your classic junior veteran,” said Islanders associate head coach Paul Jenkins. “You can rely on him and get a lot of minutes out of him. He’s a very heady player with great stick skills (and) a very good skater. It’s an easy coaching job when he’s on the bench or the ice. If he had three more inches, he’d be a Division 1 player.”

And that is why you have probably never heard of this player. Stahl is 5-foot-10 and in a world that tends to look at a defenseman’s height before looking at his abilities. If Stahl was blessed with being 6-foot-1, he’s a star and a can’t-miss Division 1 prospect but as the old hockey adage goes: The big players have to prove they cannot play while the small players have to prove they can.

As Jenkins mentioned, Stahl is a veteran of four seasons at the junior level which recently culminated in his committing to the State University of New York at Geneseo, also known as Geneseo State.  Geneseo is a Division 3 college hockey program that hit the jackpot with the successful recruiting of Stahl.

“Geneseo was the right fit for me,” the New Hampshire native said with excitement in his voice. “I walked onto the campus and took the tour and it was an unbelievable campus, the hockey facility is first class, the coaching staff is great and I could see myself playing there and succeeding. I’m really excited to spend my next four years there.”

There is no doubt Geneseo State is excited to have Derek Stahl, the best defenseman eastern junior hockey has to offer.

Now that you know his name, you can be sure you will hear it often during the next four years and beyond.

Game of the Week

This week’s top tilt will also be the final one for the Eastern Junior Hockey League. The Islanders Hockey Club will hit the road to face off against the Valley Jr. Warriors in a game which decide second place in the league’s Northern Division. More importantly, it could also be the game that tells us who will get a first round bye in the postseason as the top two clubs in each division will have the luxury of resting during the play-in round.

The Islanders, who have three games remaining in the regular season, are currently in second place and hold a two point lead on the Jr. Warriors, who have two contests to play on their schedule. 

NE Junior Power Rankings

1) Boston Jr. Bruins (31-10-0-2-0)
2) Valley Jr. Warriors (28-11-0-1-2)
3) Islanders Hockey Club (28-11-0-1-2)
4) Northern Cyclones (29-8-3-2)
5) Walpole Express (27-9-2-0) 

6) Bay State Breakers (24-17-0-1-2)
7) Springfield Jr. Pics (24-17-0-0-3)
8) Connecticut Wolfpack (26-10-2-1)
9) South Shore Kings (21-16-0-3-0)
10) New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (22-18-0-0-2)

11) Boston Bandits (18-19-0-1-3)
12) Boston Jr. Rangers (20-10-9-2)
13) Laconia Leafs (9-25-8-0)
14) Portland Jr. Pirates (10-31-0-1-0)
15) Connecticut Oilers (10-27-0-3-1) 


Twitter: @ShawnHutcheon
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