By Jean DePlacido
---- — Ever since Bryan Jackson was a high school freshman, he has worked hard to bring hockey to North Shore Tech.
Now as a senior, the Danvers resident from a hockey family has seen his dream come true.
Hockey players who attend North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie can now play varsity hockey as part of a cooperative program with Mystic Valley Charter School in Malden. The move has worked out well for both programs, and Jackson is playing a leading role as a team captain and one of the squad’s top scorers.
“I love the fact we were able to make this happen,” said North Shore Tech athletic director Paul Worth, who had been working on the project for a year and a half. “When we finally got approval from the MIAA, Bryan was the first one I called.
“The schedule has been tough, with Division 1 Everett and Cambridge along with Catholic Central (League)’s Marian. Those are all established programs that have been around a long time. This move actually benefited Mystic Valley, as well as us, because their numbers were down.”
Heading into this Saturday’s game against East Boston, the combined Mystic Valley team sports a very respectable 3-5-1 mark. The Eagles shook off a five-game winless streak to win three straight against O’Bryant (5-1, then 7-1) and Minuteman (4-1).
“When coach Worth called me last summer, I was on vacation in Maine with my family,” said Jackson, whose older brother Brendan played for Danvers High and whose sister, Brianna, was an outstanding goalie for the Beverly High girls’ team. “He made my vacation a whole lot better because I really wanted to play hockey. I had thought about transferring to Danvers High after my freshman year so I could play, but decided my career was more important.”
Jackson and senior defenseman Max Sciola from Beverly, who played for Worth on the North Shore Tech football team (Jackson a tight end/defensive end; Sciola at linebacker), have each stepped up to play big roles for the hockey team.
Senior goalie Joe Snow from Marblehead is sharing duties in the Mystic Valley net with two others, while freshman Dan McCormack, a forward from Salem, and sophomore defenseman Sean McDonough of Lawrence (the lone Essex Aggie player) are also helping out.
Mystic Valley plays a 20-game independent schedule with home games in Everett. They have practices at rinks in Everett, Charlestown and in the North End and are aiming to go .500 or better in order to qualify for the Division 3 North tournament.
Jackson, who is studying to become an electrician, began playing in Danvers Youth Hockey before moving on to Top Gun out of Salem, N.H. He began his campaign to bring hockey to North Shore Tech as soon as he started school there, and said he never got discouraged.
“I’ve been fighting for so long that I’m pretty pumped up to be playing,” said Jackson, who is also a catcher on the North Shore Tech baseball team. “Mystic Valley had a small team last year (the first for the program), and we’re helping them out. Coach (Mike) Bertoni is really good and knows a lot about the game. He can be pretty intense at times, but I like him.
“I think knowing we now have hockey is going to bring a lot more people who play to our school.”
Bertoni, a former assistant coach at Suffolk University, is in his first season with the Eagles. He is delighted with the help the team is getting from the North Shore/Essex Aggie kids.
“I’m really optimistic about the challenge having a new program offers,” said Bertoni, who is a physical education/health teacher in the Boston public schools. “Jackson, Sciola and Snow have all been very pleasant surprises. Jackson and Sciola are student athletes who bring those intangibles of commitment and discipline carried over from their football background. Bryan is one of our leading scorers, while Max is a top defenseman.
“Jackson is a natural leader who has good hands and a great shot. He really sees the ice, while Sciola is a steady stay-at-home defenseman. Snow is going to give our other two goalies a run for their money, too. McCormack and McDonough are contributing, as well.”
Worth said the co-op program will remain in place as long as both teams want it. Eventually, once North Shore Tech and Essex Aggie move to their new facility in the fall of 2014, he’s hoping that one day the school will have a varsity hockey team of its own.
“That’s down the line,” Worth said. “I think the more sports we can offer, the better it is. Having a hockey team might help some kids with the decision-making process, because now we can offer the best of both worlds.”