When Union College and Boston College face off on April 10th in the first semifinal game of the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship, there will be three familiar Warrior faces on the ice.
| Frozen Four Warriors (from top) - Ryan Fitzgerald, Mike Vecchione and Brendan Silk|
Rookie sensation Ryan Fitzgerald and sophomore Brendan Silk will suit up for the Eagles, while Mike Vecchione will lead the Dutchmen. All three players spent time in the Valley Jr Warrior program and are now setting their sites on a national championship. That all-important showdown will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Click here for complete coverage of the NCCA Frozen Four Championship.
This latest accomplishment - advancing to the Frozen Four - continues what has been a memorable year for Fitzgerald and Silk, who were part of an Eagles team that captures the Beanpot Tournament back in February. It marked the fifth straight title for the Eagles.
Silk was a Warrior youth standout before he was named to the U.S. National U-18 team in 2011-12 where he played in 42 games. He was also a member of the 2012 U.S. National U-18 select team at the Five Nations Tournament in Pori, Finland in February 2012.
Fitzgerald has emerged as one of the nation's top collegiate rookies. Selected by the Boston Bruins in the fourth round (120th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft,
Fitzgerald scored the game-tying goal in the third period to help list the Eagles past second-seeded UMass Lowell, 4-3, in the NCAA quarterfinal round. The Reading native stands fifth on the team in points with 12 goals and 16 assists in 39 games.
Fitzgerald and Silk will meet fierce competition when they take on Union, which has been led offensively by another Warrior player in Vecchione.
The former Malden Catholic standout (he scored 83 points his senior year while leading Malden Catholic to a 22-1-2 record and Super 8 Tournament Title in 2010-11) was named a finalist for the ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Year. The Saugus native netted six goals and 11 assists in 20 league games, and his 0.85 points per game ranked fourth among all rookie scoring in conference play.
Interestingly, Vecchione met up with another Warrior during the final game of the ECAC Championship where Union defeated Colgate for the league title. Playing for Colgate was Jake Kulevich, who was a VJW teammate of Vecchione's for four seasons.
To learn more about Vecchione and his connection to Kulevich and his thoughts on the Frozen Four, see the story below which appeared recently in the Saugus Advertiser
Click here to follow all of the Frozen Four action! Best of luck to all of the Warriors.
Former Malden Catholic Super 8 champion Mike Vecchione of Saugus prepares for his first NCAA tournament game
Saugus native Mike Vecchione, who starred on the first Malden Catholic Super 8 championship team in 2011, has quickly established himself in the college hockey world as a freshman forward with a scorer’s mentality at Union College. Vecchione has already scored 12 goals, including two in as many games last weekend against Cornell and Colgate to help the Dutchmen to their third straight Robert M. "Scotty" Whitelaw Cup as ECAC champions. Union went on to beat both Cornell on Friday night and Colgate on Saturday night by identical 5-2 scores at Lake Placid, N.Y.
But there’s no rest for the weary. Vecchione and his teammates were back at work after finding out last Sunday that they are the third seed in the NCAA Division 1 men’s tournament behind Minnesota and Boston College. They will take on Vermont Friday afternoon in an opening round game at Bridgeport, Conn.’s Webster Bank Arena (2 p.m.). If the Dutchmen beat Vermont, they will take on the winner of the Providence/Quinnipiac match-up Saturday at 3 p.m. The Frozen Four is slated for April 10 and 12 in Philadelphia.
Vecchione is only two games away from college hockey’s showcase event, which would cap an unforgettable initial campaign. But the Saugus product has been in big contests before, starting in his earliest days in youth hockey, and he understands that the most important game is the next one on the schedule.
But Mike still found time between practices earlier this week to answer some questions posed by the Saugus Advertiser in the ensuing text about the team’s run to another ECAC title, and it’s work ahead in pursuit of the bigger NCAA prize.
There was another North Shore player on the ice Saturday night playing for Colgate. He was Jake Kulevich of Marblehead, and ironically the same day you had helped MC to the state title three years ago, he did the same thing in the Division 3 game.
What’s does that tell you about the state of Massachusetts hockey today with two players from the same area playing in a Division 1 college game with a championship at stake? Also did you have a chance to talk to him? Did you know each other prior to this year?
I did know Jake prior to playing against him in the championship game last Saturday. We were teammates on the Valley Junior Warriors for four years growing up, and are still friends to this day.
Back when we were on the Warriors together, our team took a trip up to Lake Placid and we won a gold medal and the relay race. Going back up to Lake Placid for this tourney brought back some great memories Jake and I had together.
Unfortunately, I was not able to talk to him after the game, but he played great, and I wish him all the best in the national tournament. I remember congratulating him when his Marblehead team won the state championship the same year MC won it in my senior year, and it just shows that Massachusetts hockey is as strong as anywhere else. It has produced many Division 1 college hockey players, and continues to produce Division 1 players.
What has this whole season been like for you as you adjust to your new surroundings?
It was not very hard adjusting to my new surroundings. Union is a small school, and everything is on campus and close.
It has been a lot different than juniors, because I really had to learn to balance out my workload with hockey taking up a great deal of my free time. This whole year has been a great learning experience for me on and off the ice. The upperclassmen have been great with taking us under their wing and showing us how to do things the way Union hockey should do them.
What’s it like playing inside Herb Brooks Arena, including the locker rooms?
It is a huge complex with three rinks in it, but the Herb Brooks Arena is the big daddy of them all.
It is a full bowl of seating with a balcony that also wraps around the ice. It is just a great feeling to play in the same place where history was made.
We were lucky enough to get the women’s national locker room, so we had a nice setup with stalls for each of the players, and it was away from the other teams so we had our privacy.
How did you approach the ECAC title game both individually and as a team?
I personally approached the game like every other game, and so does the rest of the team.Everyone sticks to their routines, and try not to change what has been working for us. Call it superstition, but we call it sticking with the process. The upperclassmen have been there before, and kept everyone loose, and I think that is one of the keys to our success.
What was it like to watch the entire NCAA selection process on Sunday for the first time as a college player after viewing it from afar in the past with little at stake?
We had to watch the show on some of the guys’ phones on the bus, because we were on our way beck from Lake Placid, but it was an awesome experience to watch the selection show as a player and know that my team is a part of the whole process.
It was always interesting to watch and see the brackets get made, but it was a whole new experience watching it as a player and having them pick us as a top contender to win the whole tournament.
Did the team care that they are the third seed behind Minnesota and BC? Can you give a scouting report on Vermont, the team's first round opponent?
We didn’t care that we are the third seed behind those two teams. It has been that way for most of the year, and we didn’t expect it to change. We are only concerned about ourselves, and what we need to do to get better.
We are the one seed in our bracket, and our only focus right now is getting past UVM. We haven’t seen UVM this year. We know they are a good team, and it’s going to take our best game to beat them.
What’s your assessment of the upcoming tournament, and the goals that the coaching staff has setup going into it? Have the goals changed since the start of the season now that the team is in the Big Dance?
We talk about setting the table the whole year. Each game we win we set the table for ourselves.
Our goals have been the same all year — win the ECAC regular season, win the ECAC championship and win the national championship. So far, we completed two of our three goals, and have our minds focused on the next one. These guys have been in the Big Dance the past couple of years, and the goals remain the same.
How do you think you have improved as a college player since the first day of practice? What are some things you still have to work on, and does the coaching staff tell you beforehand how much ice time you’ll be getting for a particular game?
I understand the game much better than I did in my first practice. There were some adjustments to be made in my game, but the coaching staff has been there every step of the way to make me a better player, and I think it is starting to show now that we are at the end of the year, and the success that I’ve had. We pride ourselves on being a hard team to play against, and it starts in the defensive zone.
Since I’ve moved to center, it has been a learning process for me to be responsible down low and that is one place where I feel like I can always be better in.
Before games, the coaching staff puts four lines on the board, and depending on how well your playing will dictate how much ice time you get that game.
What’s the atmosphere like around campus with the NCAAs right around the corner? Have they caught Dutchman Fever?
Right now, we are on spring break, so the campus is a little empty, but luckily for us hockey guys we just have to focus on the task at hand — the national title — instead of worrying about schoolwork, which is great.
Our fans have had Dutchmen Fever since the puck dropped for opening night. They have been great for us every single game this year, whether it is home or away. They have been there to support us. They are some of the most loyal fans I’ve been around, and I’m sure they are just as excited about the NCAAs as we are.
Do you have certain steps already mapped out on where you want to be as a player over the next three years in terms of a specific role on the team in pursuit of your dreams?
I don’t really have any steps mapped out. I think I just need to continue along the path that I’m going. I’m happy with where I am now, and over the next three years I just need to continue to develop and get better. I’m happy with the role I am currently in now as a top six forward, power play guy and an impact player for my team.
The coaches here know what it takes to make it to the next level, and I trust that they will help me pursue my dreams.
What are your thoughts about Malden Catholic winning its four straight Super 8 title? What would you say to next year’s team to ease any pressure on them to continue the dynasty?
I think it is incredible the amount of success they have had, and I couldn’t be more proud of the players and coaches for what they have done to keep the program at the top.
I would tell next year’s team to follow their leaders and trust the coaching staff, because what they are doing is working.
Going through MC, I learned a lot from the guys before me who paved the way for the current success of the program. They showed me what it takes to win, and it took a lot of tears at the end of the season to finally realize that coming together as a team is most important, which means everyone has to buy in.
When I was a senior, I took what I learned from those guys, and applied it to the team. I did everything I could to win, and so did the rest of the guys, which is why we came out on top, and I feel like that tradition has continued throughout the years.