By David Willis
---- — DERRY — News that the winningest coach in college hockey history, Boston College’s Jerry York, was in the arena to watch you play would intimidate the most confident of hockey players.
So perhaps it was a blessing that former Pinkerton star Zach Sanford did not learn until after the February game that York had made the trip to scout the high-scoring forward while playing for the Middlesex Islanders of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
“I had no idea he was there until after the game,” said Sanford. “When I did find out, I just thought, ‘Wow.’”
Whatever Sanford showed York and his assistants during their scouting trips, he apparently made quite an impression.
Sanford, the 2012 Eagle-Tribune MVP, last week committed to play his college hockey for defending national champion Boston College.
“It really is extremely exciting,” said Sanford.
“They are the best program in the country, and to be there is really an honor. I wasn’t really expecting it.”
Sanford becomes the second member of the 2012 Division 1 state champion Pinkerton hockey team set to join the Eagles. His former linemate and fellow Eagle-Tribune All-Star J.D. Dudek committed in August.
“We are both so excited to be playing together again,” said Sanford.
“I think it’s pretty cool. It shows how good a coach (Pinkerton head coach Casey) Kesselring is.”
Sanford is currently starring as a forward for the Islanders of the EJHL — New England’s top junior hockey league. After a slow start (5 goals in 32 games), he has caught fire, netting eight goals in the last seven games.
The Pinkerton High senior moved on to the Islanders after a tremendous three-year career for the Astros in which he scored 67 goals and was also an Eagle-Tribune All-Star in 2011.
The rangy 6-foot-4, 190-pounder will play another year of juniors before heading to Boston College for the 2014-15 season.
“That’s going to be the longest year ever,” said Sanford.
“But I also want another year of juniors. I need to get bigger and stronger and can still develop my game.”
Sanford burst onto the scene for Pinkerton as a freshman three years ago with 12 goals, and as a sophomore scored a team-high 18 goals and earned Eagle-Tribune All-Star honors.
His breakout season was last year, when he led the area in goals (36) and points (69), leading the Astros to the Division 1 state title.
“I loved my time playing at Pinkerton,” said the Auburn resident. “Coach Kesselring taught me a lot, and he is a big reason why I am where I am today. I grew a lot as a player and a leader there.”
Still a student at Pinkerton, Sanford made the move to play junior hockey with the Islanders this winter.
During the season, Sanford began gaining Division 1 college interest, and was eventually offered by the University of New Hampshire, Northeastern, Cornell and UMass Amherst. In January Boston College began showing major interest.
“A few assistants came out to watch me in January,” he said. “Then coach York watched me twice in February. Then I visited BC and really loved it.
“It came down to BC and UNH. Coming from New Hampshire, UNH was really appealing to me. But, the more I thought about it, what was best for my future on the ice and off was to go to Boston College. I talked to my family and people around hockey and made the decision.”
He said the Eagles gave him a “three-for-four” scholarship (three years on scholarship, one he pays), but he said he could earn the fourth if money is freed up by players leaving.
“Now I have to get in the gym and make myself bigger, faster and stronger,” he said. “I went to the Beanpot first round this year and it seemed like a great atmosphere. I can’t wait to be part of it.”
Former Pinkerton star Zach Sanford became the third Astro to become a top Hockey East recruit.
Name years at Pinkerton Eagle-Tribune All-Star Hockey East school current team
Paul Thompson 2003-05 2005 (25 goals) UNH (2007-11) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL)
J.D. Dudek 2010-12 2012 (20 goals) Boston College (2014) Kimball Union
Zach Sanford 2009-12 2011 (18), ‘12 (36) Boston College (2014) Middlesex Islanders (EHJL)