By Dan Harrison
---- — In terms of competition and exposure, there’s only so much the Bay State can offer a high school hockey player. So for the past three years, Peabody hockey head coach Mark Leonard has done his best to offer local players a look at what life on the ice is like outside the borders of Massachusetts.
Most recently, Leonard joined Malden Catholic coach John McLean and assistant Phil Antonelli, and B.C. High assistant coach Bob Roche in taking two teams of local players out to Minnesota two weekends ago to compete in the Upper Mid West High School Elite Hockey League.
The elite Massachusetts all-star team, coached by Bob Roche, included St. John’s Prep players Brian Pinho (senior), Jack McCarthy (junior), and Tyler Bird (junior), and Malden Catholic senior Michael Iovanna (Middleton) and sophomore Ara Nazarian (Boxford). The elite team finished its three games at 1-2.
The lower level Massachusetts all-stars, coached by Leonard, included the Prep’s Jim Currier (junior), Peabody’s Derek DeMild (junior) and Danvers’ Joe Strangie (senior). Leonard’s group finished 2-1 after dropping its first game 4-3 to Minnesota in a shootout.
“I’m lucky to be involved and to have the opportunity for a few NEC (Northeastern Conference) kids to go out there,” noted Leonard. “It’s
nice for the kids around here.”
Leonard, who began taking kids out to Minnesota three years ago with Acton-Boxboro’s Bob Lavin and Hingham’s Tony Mussina after USA’s National Coach-in-Chief Section Director Mike McMillan explained the advantages of a Minnesota showcase to the group.
“He (McMillan) told us how they do things out in Minnesota. There’s a lot of showcases to promote kids,” said Leonard, who joked about how at Peabody he is always losing kids to prep hockey programs, whether it’s St. John’s Prep, St. Mary’s, Bishop Fenwick or Malden Catholic.
“They don’t lose kids to prep schools and junior hockey (in Minnesota) like we do. The kids around here have so many choices with prep and juniors. Especially in Peabody with St. Mary’s, Bishop Fenwick and even Malden Catholic down the road. They’re always stealing (Peabody guys) from me.”
The elite team struggled out of the gate, losing to Minnesota White by a 7-2 score before falling 6-1 to a strong Norway U18 team. But, with a shake-up in lines before the third game the group finally began to click, downing the Michigan Development U18 team, 4-3.
“I think the Minnesota team was really good and we didn’t play bad but we got out-shot pretty badly. I think they just capitalized on their chances and we didn’t finish; that was our problem throughout the weekend. We had plenty of chances, just didn’t finish,” explained Pinho. “We switched up the lines before the last game and I think everyone started to click a little better. Maybe to get the guys a little more pumped up (McLean) switched the lines to bring some energy. The last game we were all pretty prepared and ready to play and I think that’s why we came out on top.”
Pinho finished with one goal and two assists. He had a helper in each of the first two games before stealing the puck off a defenseman’s stick and beating the Michigan goalie on a breakaway for his first goal of the weekend. Tyler Bird finished with a goal and an assist as well. Nazarian, meanwhile, finished with three goals and an assist while Iovanna had a goal and an assist.
“It felt good to finally score a goal out there. I didn’t want to come home without one,” explained Pinho.
The lower-level team didn’t need any line-tinkering to find its chemistry. The boys opened play with a tough, 4-3 shootout loss to Minnesota but rebounded nicely with a 6-1 win over North Dakota and a 3-1 victory over Colorado.
Currier had two assists on the weekend and scored his only goal on an empty-netter against Colorado with a minute left. Strangie had two
assists in the three games.
“My group played really well. They just got into the whole team thing and really stuck together and played well,” said Leonard, who was
assisted on the bench by Mussina. “It was an eye-opening experience for both teams as far as what kids in other parts of the country are
doing. It was great hockey for them with over 150 scouts (in attendance) throughout the weekend.”
Elite hockey wasn’t the only attraction the Bay State boys got a chance to experience on their trip to the Midwest. Pinho and the rest of the boys had a chance to visit the Mall of America in South Bloomington, Minn. The Mall was just 20 minutes from the hotel the boys
were staying at. Overall, Pinho enjoyed the change of scenery.
“It’s (Minnesota) a totally different place, everything was spread out. There was a lot more retail. One of the days we went out to the Mall of America and it was cool to see how big that place was,” said Pinho, who spoke about the trip overall. “I think it was a really good experience and a good chance for all the guys on the team to get some exposure out there. We played a little bit better teams and it was a little faster paced game, but overall it was a good experience.”