By Mike McMahon
---- — When Harvard freshman Jimmy Vesey was a kid, he practically grew up inside the walls Merrimack College’s Lawler Arena.
His dad, Jim, is one of the best players to ever don the Merrimack jersey. His 103 goals, 129 assists and 232 points are still a career record for the Warriors. His incredible senior season in 1988 is still the record for points in a season with 83, including 33 goals in just 33 games.
If not for Jim Vesey, Merrimack College probably would not be in Division 1 and almost certainly not in Hockey East.
Tonight will be a full-circle moment of sorts for the Vesey family, when nearly 100 family and friends pack Lawler Arena to watch Jim’s son, Jimmy, skate for Harvard against the team his father put on the map at the Div. 1 level. It’s also the Crimson’s first ever visit to Lawler Arena.
“When I was in elementary school my dad would take me and my brother to pretty much all of the Merrimack home games,” said Vesey, who as a freshman is leading Harvard in scoring with eight points (five goals) in seven games. “Chris Serino was still the coach then and my dad was friendly with him, so he let us go and run around the locker room after games. I was pretty young but that was my first real exposure to college hockey.”
When it comes to hockey, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Vesey, who was born in 1993, was a two-year star at Belmont Hill. Last season, he led the Eastern Junior Hockey League in scoring with a whopping 91 points, including 48 goals in just 45 games.
He’s not just prolific on the ice, though. He’s a scholar in the classroom as well. Before committing to Harvard, Vesey said he looked at almost all of the Ivy league schools, including Yale and Dartmouth. He also looked at Boston University, Northeastern and Providence before choosing Harvard.
“One of the biggest things for me is that it’s a Beanpot school,” he said. “Then, I always had the grades so I thought about Harvard and it’s a great level of hockey and with Harvard, I know that I’m setting myself up for life after hockey.
“Going into the year, looking at the schedule, there were a few games that stuck out. Obviously the Beanpot is one, and then this game at Merrimack is right up there with that for me. It’s 10 minutes from my house (in North Reading). It’s the same rink my dad played in. It’s going to be special.”
A big week
This week has been a whirlwind for the 19-year-old center. It started Sunday, when Jim Johannson, the director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, called Vesey to inform him that he was part of Team USA’s preliminary roster for the World Junior Championships held at the end of this month in Ufa, Russia. The tournament consists of the best hockey players in the world under the age of 20.
“It’s a great honor,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Vesey took part in Team USA’s evaluation camp in August. The next steps include a three-day camp in New York before a trip to Finland where the team will play exhibitions and make final cuts. The roster, which currently has 27 players, needs to be trimmed to 23 before the start of the tournament.
Working out the nerves
Vesey admits that heading into his first NCAA game against Bentley on Oct. 27, there were some nerves.
They were quickly quelled, though.
In his first shift, he notched an assist on a Luke Greiner goal. He later potted two of his own to cap a three-point night.
“There were definitely nerves,” he said. “We had played two exhibition games, so I think that helped me get adjusted, but there were definitely still some nerves. I got an assist on our first goal and that really took some pressure off. Then I was able to go out and play the way I wanted to, I felt a little more comfortable after that.”
On Vesey’s second goal, North Andover’s Colin Blackwell, a former star at St. John’s Prep, notched an assist.
Led by Vesey, Blackwell Tommy O’Regan and others, the Crimson are primed to compete for hardware not only this season, but in the years to come.
In the next few years, head coach Ted Donato adds some of the top recruits in the nation to his roster, including Eddie Ellis, who plays at Phillips, as well as Luke Esposito, Alexander Kerfoot and Devin Tringale.
“Our sophomores, the freshmen last year, really made a positive impact,” Vesey said.
“My class has gotten off to a good start too and from what I’ve heard the next few classes are even better, so that’s really exciting to see what will happen not only this year but over the next few years.”
NHL comes calling
As an 18-year-old in 2011, coming off his final season at Belmont Hill, the 6-foot-2 Vesey was passed over by every NHL team in the draft. This past summer though, still draft eligible, he was taken in the third round (No. 66 overall) by the Nashville Predators.
“I definitely went into last year after not getting drafted with a little chip on my shoulder,” he said.
“I definitely used it, and I went into the year with that attitude, but honestly I didn’t expect to be drafted my first year. I really just wanted to play my best and get ready for Harvard.”
Merrimack vs. Harvard When: Tonight, 7:30 Where: Merrimack College TV: WBIN, Fox Sports Atlantic Radio: WGAM (1200, 950AM) WGAMTheGame.com Merrimack Harvard Record 5-7-2 4-3-0 Goals For 2.71 2.71 Goals Against 2.71 2.14 Power Play % 17.9 7.7 Penalty Kill % 81.8 92.0 Tomorrow night is Chic Kelly Night Tomorrow's game and night will be a special one for Merrimack College hockey as they not only host an exhibition game against the very talented U.S. National Under-18 Team at 4 p.m., but it will also be the second annual Chic Kelly Night. Kelly, native of the Philadelphia area, was paralyzed while a JV hockey player as a freshman. Merrimack will donate $5 from every ticket to the Friends and Family of Chic Kelly. Merrimack is 1-0 lifetime versus the U18 national team, defeating them 4-2 on January 3, 2009 behind two goals from Jesse Todd and 19 saves from former U18 goaltender Joe Cannata. The U.S. National Under-18 Team enters the game with a record of 11-6-3. Tyler Kelleher is their leading scorer with 23 points and 12 goals. Newburyport's Shane Eiserman, formerly of St. John's Prep, is a forward on the team. Ticket prices: $15 for adult and $10 for children. There also will be a toy drive. If you bring an unwrapped, new toy to the game you will receive $5 off your ticket.