HAVERHILL — Some young hockey players dream of emulating current NHL stars like Sidney Crosby or Tyler Seguin. Others take a more old-school approach and try to mimic the moves of Hall of Famers like Wayne Gretzky and Ray Bourque.
But Haverhill’s Anthony Licciardello has, since childhood, idolized a player much closer to home, who is one step away from the NHL and whose cell phone is just a call away when an issue arises on the ice.
That role model is former University of New Hampshire and Pinkerton star, 2011 Hockey East Player of the Year and current Pittsburgh Penguins minor leaguer Paul Thompson — who also happens to be Licciardello’s cousin.
“I’ve been close to him since I was born and I have always tried to model my game after him,” said Licciardello. “I think I was at just about every game he played until he got to college, and then I was at all the home games. And he has always been there to answer my questions.”
Licciardello has certainly made his cousin proud this season.
The Whittier Tech senior, who is in his second year as captain for the Amesbury High/Whittier co-op hockey team, has been a force on the ice this winter, currently standing sixth in the Eagle-Tribune area in goals with 14, two fewer than the first three years of his varsity career combined, and 25 overall points for the season.
“Anthony really loves the sport of hockey,” said Thompson, currently the No. 2 goal-scorer for the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. “This has been a season he has worked for and he is really taking a lot of joy in it. We always talk about hockey, and I am so proud of him this season.”
Hockey became a staple of Licciardello and Thompson’s family — their mothers are sisters — before either one emerged as a star. Their cousin Mike Souza starred at UNH (1996-2000), and was selected with the No. 67 overall pick in the 1997 NHL draft.
Next it was Thompson. He was an Eagle-Tribune All-Star as a sophomore at Pinkerton in 2005 (25 goals), before starring for the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs then for four seasons at UNH, finishing as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award — college hockey’s Heisman Trophy — as a senior.
“We were always at the rink watching Paul play,” said Licciardello. “I was at just about every one of his high school and junior hockey games. One year he was named to the New England All-Star team, and we traveled to Rochester, N.Y. to watch him play, because my family is crazy like that. We were at all his home games in college, and traveled a few times for games. It was awesome.”
Licciardello began to emerge as a hockey player in his own right in his youth, and as a freshman skated on the second line for the Amesbury/Whittier varsity team. He moved up to first line as a sophomore, scoring 11 goals and adding nine assists.
As a junior, he had scored three goals in his first five games, but in game No. 6 his suffered a separated right shoulder and his season was over.
“It was just a weird check,” he said. “I wasn’t ready for it, I hit the ice and just heard a pop. The next day I went to the doctor and he said it would eventually be fine, but I was done playing for the season. It was horrible. I was the captain and I felt like I had let my team down.”
Licciardello then set his eyes on recovery, including weight training and a fine baseball season. When the winter arrived, he wasted no time showing his talent, scoring the game-winner in the team’s season-opener against North Reading.
“I celebrated like I won the Stanley Cup after scoring that goal,” he said. “Just to feel the ice under my skates and to be in the locker room with the guys and playing in a real game was great. That was a big moment in my life.”
He didn’t stop there. In Game 2 of the season he scored a hat trick, and added two more goals in the third game of the season. He had another hat trick against Minuteman and a four-goal day in a victory over Pentucket.
“My job is to score goals and I expect to do that,” said Licciardello. “I didn’t really think I was going to have this much success, but I knew I could score. I try to put as many shots on net as possible, because the more chances you have the better your odds are. I also try to take how Paul uses is body to get position.”
He has also taken pride the steps his program has taken. Amesbury/Whittier currents sits at 8-7-1, its best record since the 2006 season (8-7-6), its last trip to the state tourney.
“ I hate to lose so it was very tough,” said Licciardello. “We only had one win my freshman year, so my goal has always been to grow the program. They were great to me when I was a freshman, as one of only four Whittier players, accepting me. So I wanted to build the program.”
With his hockey career soon coming to a close — he is planning to play baseball in college — he hopes to finish in style. And when he needs advice, he knows he has a reliable place to go.
“We call and text about hockey all the time,” said Thompson. “He is really passionate about the sport and winning. When I can I get to his games and he has grown into a very good player. Hockey has been a big part of our lives forever, so I am really happy for him for the season he’s having.”
Phillips’ giant killer
Phillips Academy senior goalie Ross Bendetson of Andover delivered quite possibly the best victory of his varsity career on Wednesday, a 35-save performance in an overtime victory over Kimball Union.
That is the Kimball Union, by the way, that entered the game 23-1-0 and features Boston College-bound, former Pinkerton Academy superstar J.D. Dudek.
“Ross was just terrific,” said Big Blue coach Dean Boylan. “He came up huge for us.”
The hottest player in the area may be a player that entered the season listed as a goalie/forward in the preseason preview.
Timberlane sophomore Jim Perry has scored five goals in his last two games, two in a win over Lebanon that snapped an eight-game losing streak, and a hat trick in a one-goal loss to Keene. He had eight goals on the year going into those games, four in a win over Lewiston (Maine).
Seems like he’s all forward now.
A hockey family
Haverhill’s Anthony Licciardello comes from a family where hockey is a passion, including his two star cousins.
Mike Souza: Four-year star at UNH (1996-2000), scoring 66 goals. Picked No. 67 overall in 1997 NHL Draft. Played five seasons in AHL. Currently a coach at Brown University.
Paul Thompson: Eagle-Tribune All-Star in 2005 (25 goals). Two-year star for New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (58 goals). Scored 57 goals in for seasons at UNH (2007-11). Has scored 14 goals for AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this season.
Anthony Licciardello: Sixth in Eagle-Tribune area in goals (14) this season for Amesbury/Whittier co-op team. Scored 11 goals as a sophomore, but missed all but six games of last season with separated shoulder. Hit .377 with 21 RBIs and 16 runs for baseball team last spring.