February 29, 2012

Juniors Journal: South Shore Kings developing future stars

By Shawn Hutcheon

When the NECDL Classics joined the Eastern Junior Hockey League in 1993, their goals were simple: win enough game in order to be competitive and help develop players who would go on to be contributors to college hockey programs throughout the United States.  

Since that time, the club has undergone a number of changes. In 1997, the organization changed its name and location to become the Walpole Stars. The franchise moved to Foxboro, Mass. in 2006 and played in the league as the Foxboro Stars before finally settling on the name it is recognized now as, the South Shore Kings, in 2007.

But regardless of their moniker, the organization has long been a model of consistency when it comes to developing players for the rigors of hockey’s highest levels. Players such as Jordan LaVallee (Atlanta Thrashers), Matt Gilroy (New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators), Jim Fahey (San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils), and Charlie Coyle -- who was drafted 28th overall in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks and since traded to the Minnesota Wild -- have all donned the black and green of the Kings. By the end of this season, head coach Scott Harlow (East Bridgewater, Mass.), who is in his third year behind the Kings’ bench, estimates as many as ten of his players will be committed to college hockey programs for next season.

“Our main goal is to place as many as possible into college hockey. We’ve done OK college-wise,” Harlow said. “We have ten who are placed for next season.”

Five of those ten are ECAC-bound with Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass.) heading to Harvard, Nick Bligh (Milton, Mass.) going to Dartmouth, Nick Cruice committed to Union and both Joey Prescott (Norwell, Mass.) and Derick Roy heading to Brown. Rounding out the list of college-bound Kings are Mike Reardon (Bentley), Shane Walsh (UMass), Dean Niezgoda (Norwich), James Murray (Babson) and Jared Wiedemann (Babson).

“We should have four or five more placed after the playoffs,” added Harlow.     

Harlow and his staff of Anthony Esdale and Jeff Cohen take their jobs very seriously.

“We work on individual skills and that makes our team better,” Harlow explained. “They’ve bought into becoming a team. You need kids to buy into your system and you need good leadership too.” 

Harlow credits his captain Derek Henderson (Smithfield, R.I.) and the alternate captains, Cruice and Derek Colucci (North Scituate, R.I.), with providing the necessary leadership that brings success.

“They hold each other accountable in games, practices and off ice workouts,” the coach said when asked about his squad’s leaders.

Also leading the way has been the play and scoring exploits of linemates Vesey, Bligh and Prescott. Vesey and Bligh each broke the EJHL single-season scoring record of 84 points. In 45 games, Vesey amassed 48 goals and 43 assists for a total of 91 points. Bligh posted 22 goals to go along with 63 assists, totaling 85 points, while Prescott added 21 goals and 35 assists for 56 points.  

The Kings, however, have not relied solely on those three. All of the players bought into Harlow’s systems well enough to contribute to a 37-8-0 record and a first place finish in the EJHL’s south division. The club finished second in the overall league standings, one point behind the Boston Jr. Bruins.

The Kings will be a formidable opponent for any team they face in the EJHL playoffs as they enter the postseason on a 15-game winning streak.

When asked to assess his club’s chances on the eve of the playoffs, Harlow said, “Our goal is to win the league (regular season championship), then the playoffs. We’re not taking anyone lightly. We need to play our best and play our best defensive hockey but, really, anyone could win this league.”

South Shore’s players know relying on their skills alone won’t cut it, and that a full team effort will be required if they want to reach their ultimate goal. If they can pull it off, there will be plenty of former Kings heading off to college campuses next fall with one championship in their backpacks.