Sunday, August 4, 2013

Chapter 23: Who Loves Ya!

In hockey, it's always about what's next.  Not so much once you reach the elite rarefied beer leagues.  But all along the way, whether it's peewees, junior, college or the pros, there is always the next level.  There is always someone better than you.  You are always in the process of proving yourself. 

Nothing had happened with the notion of my son going to prep school, other than the steady stream of brochures that were still coming in the mail from the pre-prep showcase he did three or four years earlier. 

There was a kid, Tyler Lindley, who was a pretty talented hockey player from San Diego.  He attended the Northwood School in lake Placid. Another San Diegan, Ryan Purdy attended Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire.  Ryan was a goalie who went on to have a solid career at Williams.  

By now I was coaching and Max was playing second year midget U16. Four times a season all the California teams would meet up for a CAHA weekend.  These were important games to determine rankings and playoffs.  We were about to play the junior Ducks in Valencia, CA.  

Just before the game I bumped into a couple of scouts. Well, a scout and his brother. Pat Norton was the head coach at Tilton School in Tilton, NH. His brother, I'm not sure if it was Brendan or Ryan, lived in the area. This one had gone to Uconn but I can't locate him in 

Pat had been a role player at UNH and then went in to be the assistant coach when Norwich won a D3 national title.  A few years earlier His brother had bumped into some talented youth players playing summer senior leagues with their dads the same way that Max and I skated together.  He was impressed with their skill level and suggested Pat come check them out. 

Ever since then Pat makes a couple of recruiting trips a year to look for "under the radar" talent.  

Bruce and I had a nice chat with Pat and his brother, then proceeded to go out and beat up on the Ducks. Max played well. Here's a nice sequence of a goal he scored.

After the game Pat came down to the locker room with a list of players he liked.  Those boys were called out into the hallway to hear his spiel.  

Prep school is a foreign notion to most  SoCal hockey players.  At least it was at that time. More and more players are finding their way and choosing that route. 

Max was among the boys Pat noticed.  We spent some time talking to him and  let him know that we were very interested.  

That set off a series of events that ended up with Max shipping off to Tilton the following autumn. 

First was the prep school tour. Max and I took a red-eye to Boston.  I believe it was late February or early March.  We planned on visiting three schools including Tilton.  First stop-Governors Academy in Byfield, Mass.  Governors used to be known as Governor Dummers. They must have taken quite a bit of ribbing over that. But they recently dropped Dummers from the name.  

Governors had a great campus with a brand new rink.   We met the coach, got a tour from a player and left.  I think our only connection with the school was Bruce Marshall, Uconn's head coach. He put me in touch with the hockey coach at Governors and we scheduled the interview and tour.  I could tell the coach wasn't very impressed with Max.  He'd never seen him play and only saw what was there in front of him, a scrawny 16 year old late bloomer who had yet to bloom. 

We left.  Headed up to highway 93 and on to Tilton.  There was snow on the ground and the closer we got to Tilton the deeper it was.  Hockey season was over. Pat Norton was also the school's golf coach.  He was forced to drive with the golf team for a couple of hours south in order to practice.  

We pulled into the small town of Tilton.  It was a quaint little New England hamlet.  Old buildings, churches and a diner.   One street light.   A Pizza place and a Veterans Home.  We turned up the hill on School Street and pulled in front of the admissions building and visitors center.  

The Church at the Tilton School
Pat Norton met us in his office, spoke enthusiastically about the school and expressed sincere interest in Max.  The same scrawny kid who was barely given the time of day a few hours earlier by the Dummer coach.  

A girl from the women's hockey team gave us the campus tour.  Max and I were both excited and impressed by the experience.  We let the coach know about the other schools we were visiting and that Max would be submitting his application to Tilton. 

Boston Univeristy vs. Umass-Amherst 2008
On the road again, we headed south to Boston where we caught a game between BU and Umass-Amherst.  BU won.

The next morning we headed to Uconn where we met with Coach Marshall.  We got a campus tour from an injured defenseman from Minnesota.  Uconn had no Connecticut residents on their roster.   After walking all over campus for the tour I had to get back to the rink to play in the Alumni game.  
Uconn Men's Hockey Locker Room
My legs were exhausted from the walk.  I was late. I had to run out to the parking lot and find my car. Then I rifled through all the stuff in the trunk to pull out my skates and hockey gear.  I was traveling light so I didn't bring everything.  Bruce Marshall was loaning me pants, socks and a few other items.   I stole the blue jersey I'm wearing in the picture. I'm on the left. I was having trouble getting everything together. I was at the rink at Uconn. My legs were wobbling. I was sweating. This was my damned nightmare happening while I was awake. 
Except I did manage to get on the ice, unlike in my dream. 
Center, In Dark...feeling the pain
Me on the left with Steve "Swanny" Swanson and Scott Inman, Class of 1977
It didn't get much better when the game started.   The thing I clearly recall was how many times younger alumni would catch me breaking out of my zone from behind.  I had my pocket picked like that nearly every time I got ahold of the puck. 

I remember looking up on the stands to see Max watching me struggle.  I wanted to say, "but, but..I used to be better than this. Really!"   He knew. 

Pepe's Pizza-New Haven, CT

After the visit to Uconn I headed back to my childhood home in West Haven to visit my parents.  I did my standard tour: visited Whitey Bensen's, stopped by the Bennett Rink at the High School, went to Savin Rock for fried whole belly clams and lobster rolls at Jimmy's or Phyllis's.  By the way, Phylis, of Phyllis's was my high school and hockey team mate, Frank Longobardi's mother.  She died when he was a young boy.   We may have also hit up Pepe's or Zuppardi's for some great New Haven pizza. 

The next morning we took the long drive up to Lake Placid to visit Northwood.  Again, our connection there was our friend Tyler Lindley. Tyler  was a five year student there.  He was just finishing up his final semester and headed to Skidmore the following fall. 

Tyler set up the introduction to the Northwood coach.  Max was getting the same lack of interest here that he received at Governors.   Again, he was a pretty scrawny kid at the time.  Neither of these coaches had seen him skate or play so you can't really blame them.  

This would set off a theme that would determine his path for the next few years.  That would be to go where you are wanted.  This principle seemed to work pretty well until this past year, when it didn't.  I'll explain that one later. 

Max at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid
We both really liked Northwood. It was a great environment, right there in Lake Placid, home of the 1980 Miracle Olympics.  It's about a hour drive through winding mountain roads just to get to the highway.  Road trips would be a drag.  Also, my friends with New England prep school ties poo-pooed Northwood since they were independent and therefore did not play in any league so there was nothing to play for.  Or so they said.  Northwood was more known as a hockey factory similar to Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota or Culver Academy.  

No matter.  They weren't interested in Max.  He would go where he was wanted.  I got great pleasure in watching Max be an important part of Tilton beating both Dummy's and Northwood the next season. 

I found out a few days after we left  that my sister's father in law had been the head master at Northwood a few years earlier. 

Next up-breaking out at the Pre-draft/Chowder Cup in Boston. 

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