Small states, huge impact
Rhode Island, the smallest state in the Union, can be hard to find on a map. It can be even harder to reach in the dead of winter as the harsh New England weather wreaks havoc with travel plans on a weekly basis.
Yet, NHL scouts, somehow, always seem to find their way to Rhode Island's industrial city of Woonsocket, a small off-the-beaten-path hamlet tucked hard on the state's northeast border with Massachusetts.
That's because Woonsocket is a not-to-be-missed oasis of untold riches -- one of many in the hockey-mad New England region -- for those men charged with finding future NHL stars.
Woonsocket is the home of Mount St. Charles Academy, a veritable pipeline of future NHL players. The small, Catholic co-educational junior-senior high school, which overlooks the city, has been producing NHL players on a regular basis ever since Brian Lawton was selected first overall by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft.
There are currently six players from Mount St. Charles in the NHL -- Detroit's Mathieu Schneider, Anaheim's Keith Carney, Chicago's Bryan Berard -- another No. 1 draft pick -- Boston's Jeff Jillson, Phoenix's Brian Boucher and Garth Snow of the New York Islanders. All came to prominence while strutting their stuff for the Mounties.
Even more impressively, all of the above Mount St. Charles alumni have played for the United States in international play. Snow played in the 1994 Olympics. Boucher twice played in the World Junior Championships and is considered a leading candidate to be one of America's three goalies in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. Jillson also made two appearances at the World Junior Championships. Schneider played in the 1998 Olympics. He also was a member of the 2003 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. Berard has already made four international appearances, playing in two World Junior Championships, a World Championship and the 1998 Olympics. Carney, meanwhile, also played in the 1998 Olympics.
With a track record like that, there is little question why scouts of all kinds break out the road maps and make the sometimes treacherous trek to Brother Adelard Ice Arena, an intimate old barn fashioned partially out of a discarded airplane hanger. There, they are usually joined by scores of pre-teen rink rats that dream of one day of playing for the "Mount" almost as much as they dream about playing for the Boston Bruins. All have their eyes trained on the ice surface, watching Mount St. Charles play the exciting brand of wide-open hockey that has made the school a hockey institution.
"As a kid, I never went to the Boston Bruins," said Snow, who grew up about 30 minutes from Woonsocket in Wrentham, Mass. "I used to go to the Mount games. For me, it was more the focal point."
Boucher, like Snow a goaltender, grew up right in Woonsocket. He, too, dreamed of wearing the legendary Mount sweater and continuing the school's run of excellence in hockey.
"I used to go there as a kid and watch them play hockey and just be amazed," said Boucher. "I remember standing close to the ice and they would skate in warm-ups and create such as wind as they circled their end and I just wanted to be a part of that."
That legacy attracts the best players from throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Mass, allowing the Mount to consistently field one of the best, if not the best, high school hockey teams in the country. Not only has Mount St. Charles dominated Rhode Island Hockey, winning 26-straight state championships, it regularly challenges New England's best high school and prep school teams on a regular basis in well-attended and crisply played tournaments. In those tournaments, Mount St. Charles often faces other New England powers like Rhode Island's Bishop Hendricken and Lasalle Academy, Connecticut's Thayer Academy and Massachusetts' Catholic Memorial. More often than not -- in fact almost always -- the Mount walks away as the best team on the premises.
Carney, who grew up in nearby Pawtucket, believes Mount St. Charles is so successful because of the emphasis it is able to put on hockey, especially as one of the few schools in New England with its own ice surface.