By Jim Smith
The Rochester Monarchs’ 16U head coach Jamie Bird knows that in order to build a solid program, that program needs to have continuity. It needs to create a number of opportunities for players to develop at various levels.
Bird and his Rochester colleagues are well on their way to building such a program in upstate New York.
“In terms of upward movement within the program, it’s not as entrenched [here] as it is with other programs,” said Bird. “The program and the organization are working to create that ladder. The players at my group and the younger players want to see what we have. They want to see if there is a quality option for them to stay home next year.”
He sees the USPHL’s creation of the tuition-free National Collegiate Development Conference as helping to spread the word about what Rochester can do for players. The Monarchs will be members of the NCDC next year.
“Something like this hasn’t been around here for a long time, if at all. There are so many good, young players from our area that by the time they are 14 or 15 [years old] they are looking elsewhere, because we just haven’t had that kind of junior dynamic and the players just naturally start looking elsewhere,” added Bird. “This [NCDC] may make it so players will look here first.”
The Monarchs coach is optimistic. He willfully accepts the opportunity to play an impactful role in the new program next season.
“It’s not that other programs or other organizations haven’t tried to do it iIn Rochester], but there hasn’t been the kind of traction and continuity that is needed,” Bird said. “There certainly hasn’t been this kind of vision. We play a role in building the health up for that junior operation. It’s important to the overall health of hockey in our city and I am happy to be a part of it.”
On the ice, Bird notes the development of his 16U team at the defensive end of the ice as key to this season’s success.
“Our goaltending has been very steady. I think we have seen a lot of development with our overall defensive play as a team,” Bird said. “Just like any winning team, the formula is kind of standard, but you have to have the players doing it. We’ve been committed to playing good defense. It’s just been a mindset for us.”
Solid defense always begins with the goaltenders. Bird has a pair of goalies in David Battisti and Dalton Jerzak that have seen an almost equal amount of playing time.
“When I picked the team, I was looking for two guys that could share the load,” Bird commented. “You just have to have two players that can share the load equally and they’ve done it. They’re both good and they both want it. They compete for it and it’s healthy competition.”
The skill development of the players and the success of the team have several Monarchs players beginning to garner attention at the next level.
“We have a couple of forwards who are definite prospects for playing college hockey at least at Division 3,” Bird said. “We [recently] had the All-Star game, and two kids that were selected are doing a lot offensively for our team”
Forwards James Merkley and Elijah Devereaux were forwards were chosen for the All-Star game, as was defenseman Jason Vent.
“Merkley is our captain and is a huge part of our offense. His confidence level is through the roof. He is starting to get some eyes on him,” added the Rochester coach.
“Elijah Devereaux is a 2001[-born forward], playing like he is 17 or 18 years old. His poise is unbelievable,” Bird said. “Jason Vent is very close to almost a point a game in USPHL games.”
If the NCDC meets Birds expectations, players like Merkley, Devereaux and Vent will be able to stay close to home and develop and showcase their skills in front of family and friends.
Follow Jim Smith on Twitter: @BlueLineNotes
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