Editor’s note: This story has been updated for digital upon Walsh’s traded from Cedar Rapids to Des Moines.
T.J. Walsh deserves a break or two from the hockey gods. The past three years have been cruel with injuries derailing prime developmental seasons.
Instead of dwelling on the lack of good fortune, the Shrewsbury, Mass., native is plugging on and going back for a third season in the United States Hockey League with the Des Moines Buccaneers.
Once considered one of the top 2000-born players in the United States, Walsh has suffered a series of injuries, including one this season that kept him out until January. However, he finished the 2017-18 season healthy and ready to continue his bounce-back.
“It’s been a tough past few years with injuries. It was nice to finally get back on the ice and be around the guys. Once I got back from injury in January, it was a good season,” Walsh said.
He had two goals and eight assists in the ultracompetitive USHL, his second season in the top college-bound junior circuit in North America.
The undersized forward is quick and has agility and soft hands to make plays and beat defenders wide. He’s always been strong on puck pursuit and getting to loose pucks in the offensive zone to start plays. “I’m a smaller, playmaking forward who can play well in the corners. I like to make plays and score goals,” Walsh said.
While Walsh always has been known for his offensive exploits, Mark Carlson, his coach in Cedar Rapids, has helped him develop his game away from the puck and continue to become more conscious of the defensive zone.
“He’s a stickler with details,” Walsh said of his coach. “He holds us all accountable. He focuses on your game and what you can improve on. He cares about all of his players. You learn to pay attention to the little things. You can see how you develop over the course of a season.”
Walsh was minus-21 in his first USHL season as one of the youngest players in the league, but he cut that number down to minus-12 this past year. He credits experience and time spent with the coaching staff for his improvement in that aspect of his game.
“My defensive awareness has gotten much better,” Walsh said. “You learn playing in this faster league with better players that you have to be aware. Everyone is good and can make plays and score. It’s one part of my game that I think I’ve improved on over the past few years.”
In addition to the great hockey in the USHL, he’s enjoyed playing in front of large crowds and the professional environment in the league.
“It’s a lot different. There are a lot of great fans. The community is very welcoming of us. The rink is great and it’s a great place to play,” said Walsh.
Walsh will play his college hockey for Boston College, a school he committed to almost four years ago. Spending much of his childhood just an hour away from Boston, he was like most kids in the area who picked an allegiance early on.
“Growing up in New England, you’re either a BC or BU guy,” Walsh said. “I’ve always loved BC. Watching the Beanpot and all the tournaments, playing at BC was always a dream of mine. Coach (Jerry) York is one of the greatest coaches in all of hockey. With all the facilities they have there, I just fell in love.”
Walsh will spend the summer working on his game — both in the weight room and on the ice improving his skating and skills.
“I’ll be training with Brian Mc-Donough at EPS in Northboro (Mass.),” Walsh noted. “I’ll be skating with Peter Russo. They push you and they want the best for you. Hopefully it’ll be a good summer and next season will go well.”
Quest for the Clark Cup
The USHL Clark Cup playoffs are under way and several New England prospects are in position to raise the trophy in less than a month.
Providence College commit and former Roxbury Latin star Michael Callahan (Franklin, Mass.) leads a group of several locals on Youngstown, the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference. Maine commit Craig Needham (Medford, Mass.) and UNH commit Eric Esposito (West Haven, Conn.) are the other prominent locals on the Phantoms’ roster.
Matt and Kyle Koopman, Providence commits from Marblehead, Mass., are both on the Waterloo Black Hawks, one of the favorites to make it out of the Western Conference.
“Waterloo plays a really heavy game. Youngstown is good and they keep winning. If I had to take a guess, I’d say it’s going to be Waterloo vs. Youngstown in the finals,” said Walsh.
Also on the Waterloo roster is Florida Panthers prospect Ben Finkelstein (South Burlington, Vt.), who played a season and a half with St. Lawrence. He’ll be heading to Boston College to join the Eagles for his final two years of collegiate eligibility.
“Ben Finkelstein, who came in to Waterloo,” said Walsh, when asked who was the best defender he went up against this year. “He makes an impact right away. He’s great offensively, but he’s also good defensively. He’s a guy we had to game plan around. He was one defenseman you don’t want to play against.”
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