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Jake de Saint Phalle

United States

Frozen Four: Detailing Prep School Success in the NCAA Elite

May 15, 2015

Turns out the hockey played out right on our campuses is pretty quality puck, for between the rosters of Frozen Four contenders Providence College Friars and Boston University Terriers, a whopping 20 players have played at a NEPSAC (New England Prepatory School Athletic Council) school at some point in their career — just three shy of filling a NHL regulation roster. Also noteworthy is BU coach David Quinn played hockey at Kent, so he certainly has a familiarity with the level of play taking place on the prep ice.

While the path to the pros is a difficult one, it can be hard to know whether prep school or juniors is the best route. For those who take the juniors route, their college eligibility is wiped out since they are paid. Therefore, if their hockey career ends in any fashion, they have no college degree to help procure a job. While it does have a higher success rate for making "the show" and better competition, college players have seen increased play at the NHL level. In simpler terms, Major Junior hockey is the high risk/high reward route while prep and college is the safer, yet still highly competitive, path to the pros.  

Ben Mirageas, a current repeat freshman defenseman at Avon Old Farms, committed to Providence in March. On choosing the prep school route, he says, "Coming to Avon this year, I have received the whole package. Avon has taught me how to be a good leader, how to compete, getting me ready for the next level, and has gotten me some exposure. I don't believe I would be where I am today if I hadn't chosen Avon." He hopes to have prep school propel him to success at Providence just as it already has for the 12 current players. 

Providence coach Nathan Leaman attributes much of prep school success to preparedness off the ice. "They know how to study well and how to manage their time well, which helps them a great deal on the ice." Mirageas has translated this to "the importance of leadership" which he has learned "from playing hockey here at Avon." The prep school route teaches critical lessons off the ice as well which college coaches notice and cherish in their players. 

The Frozen Four starts tonight with the Friars matched up against Omaha-Nebraska later today while the Terriers take on the North Dakota Fighting Sioux on Saturday.

The highest-represented school by far is Kimball Union, who has four former players on BU's roster and one on Providence. Berkshire and Kent display two who are both with the Friars. Providence also boasts players from Avon Old Farms, Pomfret, Salisbury, and St. John's Prep while BU rosters players from Belmont Hill, Brunswick, Cushing, St. Sebastian's, and Taft.

These players are no slouches at this level, either. Providence juniors Noel Acciari of Kent and Trevor Mingoia of Berkshire tied for the team league in goals with 14 each. Acciari was also second on the team in points with 30 while Mingoia was one behind him. Acciari has had a great tournament so far, scoring two goals and adding an assist through the first two games.

The starting goalie for the Friars, Jon Gillies, played a year of prep hockey at Salisbury and is now a junior in college. He is a draft pick of the Calgary Flames and has backstopped this team to success. He has a .929 save percentage and a 2.01 goals against average and a record of 22-13-2. His outstanding numbers have followed him to the Tournament through the first two games as he attempts to take his team to Frozen Four glory.

The former prep kids at BU produce beautifully as well. One-time Belmont Hill defensemen Matt Grzelcyk is a Boston Bruins draft pick, fourth on the team in points with 10 goals and 27 assists, and leads all defensemen in points. To add to his resume, he also is fourth in the nation in points per game among defensemen (.95) and leads all Hockey East defensemen with 20 points in league play. He was a big reason the Terriers won the Beanpot as he scored two goals, including the OT winner, in perhaps his future home of TD Garden. Can he do it again on a bigger stage in the same venue? So far he has contributed with an assist and is +2 on the tournament.

Other BU players include Robbie Baillargeon, a sophomore forward and ex-Cushing Penguin. He is a draft pick of the Ottawa Senators and has picked up 15 points in 28 games. A.J. Greer, who for two years laced up the skates at Kimball Union Academy, has had a decent freshman year with 6 points. He also added a helper in BU's first tournament game against Yale which they barely escaped with a 3-2 OT win. That goal is shown in the first few seconds of the video below.

https://youtu.be/Ctuq5QsnL1k

Other former KUA players include Nick Roberto, John MacLeod, and Dylan Somerby, who all were on Kimball Union's 2012 Small School Championship team. Roberto scored the OT winning goal in the finals to secure the title for the Wildcats, and he will undoubtedly hope to do it again on a much larger stage.

Clearly prep school hockey has propelled these kids to success at the NCAA level.

One of these advantages is playing agaisnt older kids as Leaman says scouts are "generally watching younger players, both in age and in freshman, sophomores playing with juniors and seniors." This experience of playing with older kids is invaluable and surely correlates to success at the collegiate level. Mirageas is a prime example of this as he is a 16 year old freshman playing with kids as old as 20. He says, "The best advantage to playing in the Founders League is that every single person, and team, is very competitive." That competitiveness is surely helped along by playing with kids four years older than him. 

These are just some notable prep alum that will participate in the Frozen Four. With Providence and BU at opposite sides of the bracket, there is the potential for a prep school showdown of sorts in the NCAA men's hockey final to rekindle some old prep school rivalries. The games start tonight so be sure to watch those players who once walked the same paths you use everyday.

This was an article I wrote for Prep Sport Report, a website I started with a teacher and a few students at my school Avon Old Farms. It covers prep school sports in New England, mainly in the Founders League which my school competes in. This was published before the NCAA Frozen Four (hockey) started in Boston and it detailed the former New England prep school players competing on Providence College and Boston University. The link to the originial article can be found here which includes a chart of every player who played as well as some pictures to compliment the article. 

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