In a college hockey landscape featuring a few traditional powerhouses, Harvard University has flown under the radar the past couple of years. That's just one of the reasons it might be the perfect place for forward Jimmy Vesey.
A sophomore from North Reading, Mass., Vesey never overwhelmed scouts. In fact, he wasn't selected at the 2011 NHL Draft. But rather than be embittered after being passed over by every NHL team, Vesey became even more motivated to prove the scouts wrong.
"My next year, when I played juniors for the South Shore Kings [of the Eastern Junior Hockey League], that's when I tried to prove them all wrong," Vesey said. "Right now, I don't think about it anymore. I'm just focused on my own development."
Vesey's strong season after his draft-day disappointment made forgetting that snub a lot easier. With South Shore in 2011-12, Vesey paced the EJHL in goals (48) and points (91) while leading the Kings to a first-place finish in the league's Southern Division. That impressive comeback season compelled the Nashville Predators to take him as a 19-year-old in the third round (No. 66) of the 2012 draft.
And Vesey has only continued to develop since then.
In his freshman year at Harvard, he tied for the team lead with 11 goals while continuing to develop his game in the defensive end. Working with longtime NHL player and Crimson coach Ted Donato has furthered that growth.
"Jimmy has played very well for us," Donato said. "He has made a lot of big-time plays for us. But he also is developing into a complete player. He's gotten better away from the puck and is certainly a guy we count on offensively."
Vesey, now 20, had hoped a big season with South Shore and an opportunity to shine with the Crimson might help him become an NHL-caliber player. But perhaps the greatest moment of his young career was something even he never foresaw.
As a member of the United States team at the 2013 World Junior Championship, Vesey was an important depth forward on the squad that won gold in Ufa, Russia. One of the less-heralded players on a roster featuring seven first-round draft picks, Vesey had five points in seven games.
"I never expected to make the team. In the back of my mind, I always thought I was going to get cut at some point," Vesey said. "I had no previous international experience. But luckily I made it as the 13th forward and we made the run to the gold medal. I learned a lot about myself personally, in terms of always working hard and you never know what can happen. Just to be on that team was a special experience."
That international experience set the tone for what has so far been a breakout sophomore season. After Harvard's 5-1 loss Saturday to Yale at Madison Square Garden, Vesey leads the Crimson in goals (10) and points (14), and is enjoying a run in which he has seven goals and three assists in his past seven games, including a hat trick on Dec. 29 in a 9-3 win over a traveling Russian team.
With the Predators keeping tabs on his progression, Vesey hasn't given much thought to how long he'll stay at Harvard. But whether he plays all four years there or leaves to turn pro, he'll always have an important hockey mentor to rely on: his father, Jim, a star at Merrimack College who played 15 games in the League with the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins.
"He was my first hockey coach. He actually coached me all the way up until high school. He taught me pretty much everything about hockey," Vesey said. "Just having him to talk to after every game and tell me what I can improve on and help me through times of adversity, he's another unbelievable source of knowledge."
That means a lot coming from a Harvard man.