Delbarton High School might not have the national prestige of a Shattuck-Saint Mary’s or a St. Paul’s, but the Roman Catholic preparatory school located in Morristown, New Jersey is quickly proving itself to be a fertile hockey-producing factory.
|Alex Smigelski (22) graduated from Delbarton High School four years ahead of Kenneth Agostino (5). Both players attended development camp with the Penguins this past week. |
Nicknamed the Green Wave, Delbarton has won five of the past nine New Jersey state championships under the direction of head coach Bruce Shatel, including three-straight titles in the Garden State’s top level of competition.
Perhaps even more impressive than the hardware the program is racking up is the quality of talent Delbarton is producing. There is no greater indicator of the job Shatel is doing than this week’s Penguins prospect development camp, where three Delbarton alumni – Alex Velischek
, Kenneth Agostino and Alex Smigelski – are all sharing the ice.
Velischek, a 19-year-old defenseman and the son of former National Hockey League blueliner Randy Velischek, joined the Penguins as a 2009 fifth-round draft pick. Agostino, 18, came to the Penguins in the fifth-round in last month’s NHL Entry Draft, while Smigelski, 22, is in camp on a tryout.
“That we are all here is definitely a tribute to our coaching staff,” Velischek said. “Coach Shatel is one of the best coaches around. This is definitely a tribute to the school and the area that New Jersey high school hockey is growing.”
“I give full credit to Coach Shatel,” Smigelski said. “He is really bringing in guys and he is really getting them to play tough games out of the conference and out of the state. They play the prep schools from New England and they have shown that they can compete with them. It’s been great to see the program take off since I graduated.”
Delbarton’s program took off following Smigelski’s graduation in 2006 thanks to the play of Velischek and Agostino, a duo who are extremely close despite being a year apart in age.
Although Velischek and Agostino were separated this past year as Velischek left for his freshman year at Providence while Agostino completed his final high school campaign by leading the Green Wave to a third-straight straight championship, the two kept in touch regularly. In fact, Agostino credited Velischek with helping him get through the mental grind that comes with the NHL combine and Entry Draft.
“We have been great buddies for about four years now,” Agostino said. “He has just been great throughout this whole process for me. Getting to watch him go through this whole process and then being able to lean on him definitely gave me an edge through the combine and the draft. It’s really exciting that we are a part of the same organization right now.”
Velischek found it equally as exciting that Agostino was drafted by the team which selected him just one year earlier.
“When I found out that he was drafted by Pittsburgh I was ecstatic,” Velischek said. “I mean think about the chances. It’s a one in a million shot that you even get drafted. To think that we got drafted by the same team in the same round is just a huge coincidence.”
When the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Agostino was taken with the 140th-overall selection on June 26, the first person he heard from was Velischek, whom the Penguins took 123rd overall in Round 5 a year earlier. Velischek says that he makes sure to jokingly remind Agostino who went higher, although Agostino does receive a small perk for going later.
“I rub it in a little bit that I went a couple of picks higher,” Velischek smiled. “We made a little bet where the guy who was picked higher has to buy the other dinner – so I owe him a meal. It’s all in good fun.”
On the ice this week, the two buddies, along with Smigelski – who played one season with Velischek and followed the career of Agostino from afar – are enjoying going head-to-head.
“You bet I’m taking advantage of them a little bit,” Velischek joked. “It makes me look good.”
“I always have trouble beating Velischek,” said a laughing Agostino. “I still can’t beat him, but it’s fun to go head-to-head.”
“It has been fun going against Velischek in some of the one-on-ones,” Smigelski said. “We did that a lot in high school and now five years later we are in Pittsburgh doing the same stuff. It’s been pretty cool.”
While Velischek and Agostino are enjoying the comforts of being in camp together, and are looking forward to keeping in touch again this season as Agostino heads to Yale to begin his college career, Smigelski is relishing the chance he has to make an impression.
Whereas Velischek and Agostino have the chance to play at Division-I schools, Smigelski played four seasons of D-III hockey at William’s College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Unlike his younger contemporaries, the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Smigelski wasn’t drafted, so he knows he has a harder route to the NHL. The big forward has made the most of his chance by turning heads at development camp.
“I’m just trying to give it my hardest every day and make a good impression,” Smigelski said. “I don’t really know what the next step will be but I know this is the first one. I knew I had to make a good impression this week.”
The future will tell the story of how well the impressions made this week by Velischek, Agostino and Smigelski will play out, but one thing we do know is to keep an eye on Delbarton High School after seeing the quality of talent the school is producing.