|NHL.com: Impact Magazine|
|As a child growing up in Rhode Island, Anaheim's Keith Carney wanted nothing more than to play for the legendary Mount St. Charles team in nearby Woonsocket.|
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.
|Garth Snow made a rather lengthy daily commute from his home in Wrentham, Mass., just for the honor of playing for Mount St. Charles.|
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."
|Bryan Berard turned an excellent showing with the Mount, as well as a two-year stint in the Ontario Hockey League, into the No. 1 overall selection at the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.|
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.
|Brian Boucher's earliest hockey memory is of watching the Mount St. Charles team take the ice at Brother Adelard Arena, sowing the first seeds for his future success in the sport.|
"They have the facilities and the ice available to really develop your game and those are the years that you develop the most as a player," says Carney, who played for the University of Maine after his high school career. "You would skate for gym and then you would be on the ice for team practices and everything like that. You're basically on the ice year-round and that was the biggest thing.
"We also had great coaching. Bill Belisle loved what he was doing and he loved you as a player and as a person and that showed through and helped so much in your development."
In many ways, Mount St. Charles is the model that so many high schools in New England try to follow.
Throughout the New England states, hockey is often the king of the winter season, attracting the best athletes to try their hand at a sport that is often treated as a second-class citizen in other areas of the country.
"To play on the Mount St. Charles hockey team when you are at that school is a prestigious thing," says Boucher, who left the school to play in the Western Hockey League before joining the Philadelphia Flyers. "We don't have a football program at the Mount, so hockey was the big thing. It was an honor to make that team and play there."
|Of the six current Mount St. Charles players in the NHL, Detroit's Mathieu Schnieder is one of just two, joining Garth Snow, to be born outside of Rhode Isalnd.|
Other New Englanders will tell of similar experiences at their high schools. New Jersey Devil Jay Pandolfo, who has won two Stanley Cups with the Devils, began his playing career at the Burlington Ice Palace near his home in Winchester, Mass. One of his earliest memories is his burning desire to emulate those players he saw representing the various high schools of the Middlesex League.
"I still remember how big hockey was where I grew up," says Pandolfo, who played for Burlington Prep. "All my friends played hockey and we always were out on the street or at the pond if we were not at the rink. Hockey's so big in the Boston area, not just with the Boston Bruins, but with college hockey and everything else."
There are 17 players from Massachusetts playing in the NHL today, tied with Minnesota for the honor of producing the most current NHL players, according to NHL statistics. New York has produced 16 players and Michigan has produced 15 current players. With 10 current players coming from the other five New England states, this fertile area can claim 27 current players. That pipeline shows little signs of abating. In the previous four editions of the NHL Entry Draft, 50 New England-born players have been drafted. Massachusetts leads the way, as usual, boasting 32 of those selections.
Yet, no school can compare to the sustained success of Mount St. Charles. Even players that have gone on to play at the pinnacle of the sport and represent their country in various international competitions, still revel in their time spent at the Mount.
To a man, they can instantly recall the cramped confines of their childhood rink, the sanctity of their players-only locker room, the demanding closed-door practices of their coaches and the unrelenting pressure sustained by their continued success as the premier hockey high school in New England.
|Jeff Jillson is the latest Mount St. Charles player to make his way into the NHL, playing for the nearby Boston Bruins just five years removed from his last game with the Mounties.|
"I still brag about being from the Mount on occasion," Boucher said with a laugh. "When we play against other guys from the Mount, I'll ask teammates if they know where they play their hockey and things like that. I'm certainly proud of where I am from and where I played.
"I'm also proud of the guys that have played there, guys like Garth Snow and Bryan Berard and Keith Carney and those guys. It's a pretty neat thing to have so many guys from one school playing in the NHL. I can't imagine another school having a legacy like ours."