The Growth of Generals Hockey
Starting with only one team in the Tier 3 NA3HL in 2015, the Northeast Generals have rapidly taken over hockey in New England. Despite being a brand new team in a brand new league in 2015, the team had several NCAA player commitments and even had a player go on to play professionally overseas. This success created an opportunity when the North American Hockey League (NAHL) came inquiring about adding an expansion team to their prestigious league.
While other leagues claim to be Tier 2, the NAHL is the only USA Hockey sanctioned Tier 2 hockey league in the United States. In 2016, the Northeast Generals accepted that challenge joining the NAHL and started their climb up the ladder of development. The creation of the NAHL Northeast Generals team coincided with the opening of the New England Sports Village in Attleboro, MA. This allowed the top junior hockey program in all of New England to have the best facility in the region to call home.
As the only organization in hockey with an NAHL, NA3HL, and full memberships in the NAPHL with their U16 and U18 teams (along with Split Season U16 and U18 teams playing in the prestigious Beast Series), the ascent has been a quick and impressive one for the Northeast Generals Hockey Organization. This can be attributed to the “person-first and player-second culture” that has been created by the front office, coaching staff, and its’ dedicated players. Not only have they created a culture that breeds success on and off the ice, the Generals Organization has developed talent throughout their organization that is now succeeding in the skilled and physical style of hockey played in the NCAA. Even with all of their past successes, the Generals still have bigger plans for the future of hockey in New England.
Educating the Masses
While a high-level brand of hockey is very familiar to New England and Hockey East, the NAHL was something new to the area even though all of the local NCAA Colleges had rosters littered with NAHL alumni. Still, players in the New England area needed to be educated on what opportunities the Generals and the NAHL had to offer. Prior to the NAHL and the Generals’ presence in New England, players’ options consisted of a Tier 1 league, the USHL, Canada, straight to college, or to play in other lower-level junior leagues.
Educating local players, as well as the fanbase has been a challenge that the Generals have welcomed and embraced. In collaboration with Lovell Hockey, a household name in New England, the Generals Organization was catapulted to the next level. The Generals now had access to young players that had no knowledge of the NAHL in the past. These players from Lovell Hockey associated teams like Boston Advantage were now educated and scouted, which allowed the Generals access to their top-end talent. This, along with the Northeast Generals NA3HL, U18, and U16 teams, as well as affiliate NA3HL team, the New England Knights, and other Lovell Hockey-owned teams, have provided a wealth of talent to fill the NAHL team’s roster for years to come.
Impact on New England
This is the fourth season for the Northeast Generals playing in the East Division of the NAHL. They have propelled nearly 100 players to the NCAA ranks with even more players to make commitments during or after the 2019-20 season. Their impact in New England is not a question. They continue to place players at schools throughout the NCAA, with many playing and committing to Hockey East institutions.
There are 10 NCAA Division 1 hockey programs located in Massachusetts along with another 10 or so located throughout New England. Relative proximity alone allows for scouts to easily attend Generals games to assess their players. Players like current Generals forwards Jack Ring (University of New Hampshire commit), Clark Kerner (UMASS Lowell commit) and Trevor Smith (University of Vermont commit) as well as past Northeast Generals players Connor Marshall and Justin Jallen (both at Brown University), Brady Gaudette (University of Maine), Michael Higgins (Holy Cross), Kohei Sato, (University of New Hampshire) and Matt Demelis (Northeastern University), to name only a few, can testify to the advantage of being a Northeast General located in New England.
“Words can’t describe how much the generals helped me prepare for my college career but the organization taught me how to be a good teammate and a leader as I was one of the older guys there. The Generals gave me the opportunity to be one of their reliable guys and I truly believe that they have prepared me to transition into my time here at UNH” said Kohei Soto, the first Japanese born player to play in a Division 1 NCAA game.
Soto continued, “My time with the Generals made me more mature personally and on the ice. We had a good team and everyone loved everyone, I still keep in touch with most of the players I played with there and I wouldn’t be where I am now without the Generals staff and organization.”
Justin Jallen, sophomore at Brown university, echoed Soto’s praise of the Generals Organization, “The Generals helped prepare me for college hockey by providing me with balance between structure and freedom. The systems they implemented were something new to me after making the jump from high school hockey, but were important to playing hockey the right way. But at the same time I was given the freedom to continue to be creative and not have to lose the pieces of my game with that transition. This translates well to the college level as more systems are implemented into the game. You can’t lose sight of your strengths as a hockey player and your role on the team, which the Generals helped me continue to work on.” Every player we talked to had the highest praise for what the Generals did to help them accomplish their goals. That sentiment could not be summed up better than the words of David Fessenden, “I left knowing that I was ready to take the next step in my life and in my career.”
Stars in the Making
Outside of the Northeastern United States, the Generals still have their presence felt with standout alumni Louis Boudon playing his freshman season at Lake Superior State University after playing the last two seasons with the Northeast Generals. Boudon has 4 points in the first 8 games of his NCAA career. There is also goaltender David Fessenden at Alabama-Huntsville. After playing three seasons with the Northeast Generals as their primary backstop, Fessenden is now a freshman tending net for the Chargers this season. Alex Cohen had an assist on his very first NCAA shift at Union College this season. Cohen played 3 seasons for the Generals, serving as an assistant captain for the 2018-19 team and started his freshman year with the Dutchmen in a promising fashion. Then there is John Jaworski who played the 2018-19 season for the Generals. Jaworski currently plays for the Chicago Steel in the USHL before entering his freshman season in 2020-21 for the Pioneers at Division 1 Sacred Heart University. At West Point, Colin Bilek was Army’s top freshman point getter after a 17-point campaign in 2018-19. This season Bilek has 2 points in his first four games of the 2019-20 season.
Bilek was the first captain in Generals history and had this to say about the organization, “The Generals helped prepare me for college hockey by giving me the training and resources needed to help improve my game. The coaching staff is the best there is on the east coast and they always put in the work to help craft my game and help me get to the next level” He continued, “Playing for the Generals was the best decision of my life. It was the best 2 years of my life and I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to play for an organization like the Generals. I would not trade a minute of it. I made lifelong friends and relationships that can’t compare to anything you’ll ever find outside hockey.”
The Generals are looking forward to another opportunity-filled year, adding to this already lengthy list of success stories. With top scoring line in the NA3 and with a nice mix of rookies and veterans suiting up every night for their top team, this season may be their brightest yet.
As the NAHL season hits the quarter mark, the Northeast Generals have dedicated this season off the ice to engaging and building foundational relationships with their local fanbase, businesses, and the community of Attleboro, MA.
“One thing we learned early on is the incredible social impact these young men can have on our community. The attraction of fans is always going to be an uphill battle with so many hockey options in the area. However, the impact our kids within the organization have in the local schools, charities and in countless other activities is remarkable. We have been very fortunate to have great hockey players that are also great young men. They are quick to go read at the local school, build a house with Habitat for Humanity, or help with team practices for other organizations. We don’t require this of them, they are intrinsically motivated to help do their part. They see the excitement on people’s faces and just want to pay it forward. If you had to ask me and the other owners what our favorite part of this experience has been we would say it is the impact the young men we bring in have on the surrounding area away from the rink.” said Generals Co-Owner Richard O’Dowd (O’Dowd co-owns the Generals with Bryan Erikson and Robert Penfield).
The Northeast Generals measure their success with more than wins and losses and the large number of alumni that play hockey at the NCAA level. “A large part of junior hockey is community. From our billet families that treat our kids as their own and the schools that we are involved with and the amazing fans that come to our games, we gauge our success, in part, by how our families, fans, and kids in the community experience Northeast General hockey.” Continued O’Dowd.
This offseason the Generals added Matt Atherton as a full time Director of Sales and Marketing.
“Matt has been amazing since day one. He has really brought an incredible amount of enthusiasm to the Generals both at the rink and in the community. We are extremely lucky to have found someone that fits our philosophy as an organization so perfectly”, said owner Bob Penfield.
Atherton has loved his time with the Generals and already feels like a part of the “family”.
He had this to say about his role early on, “One focus for the organization off the ice is to establish foundational and mutually beneficial partnerships with those businesses in our community. Businesses like Brigham Women’s Health, Performance Physical Therapy, The Hungry Goat’s Kitchen at the Barn, Malik Chiropractic and Holiday Inn, amongst others, have been tremendously supportive to the Generals Organization and we intend to continue those relationships while building many others over time.”
This is not only about sponsors, however. This is about community.
“We take pride in our community and our loyal fans that live in and around the Attleboro area. Our players are involved with every school in the area as well as several non-profit organizations that our community cares about. We support our community and our community supports us” said Atherton.
In addition to Atherton, the Generals have also added Alice Boushell as their Media Director, and Patrick Garriepy as the team photographer and Creative Director. Atherton praised the duo by stating, “I would not be able to do what I do for the Organization if it were not for Alice and Patrick. Patrick’s creativity and assistance on anything that pops up is a tremendous help. Alice is my right hand and without her the Organization does not function correctly off of the ice. She has a bright future here with the Generals and I look forward to matching our on-ice success to what we can do for the organization off of the ice.”
The Generals Advantage
The Generals have their physical therapy and training center located inside their home rink. They have a partnership with the second- largest Harvard teaching hospital in the nation with Brigham Women’s Health, a team chiropractor, dental care, and a full-time athletic trainer and equipment manager.
“We want our players to have every advantage possible. Everything ranging from their health to the marketing of the team and individual players throughout the season. We want to give our players every opportunity to perform their best as well as make them accessible to the community and to college scouts” said Atherton.
Generals Manager and Head Coach Bryan Erikson loves the advantages the Generals have over other teams. “I feel like with the New England Sports Village as a facility we are way ahead of other teams right away. You add to the fact that our gym and strength and conditioning Coach Phil Currier of APT is also located in the rink and it’s a home run. We offer many of the same amenities as a Division 1 College program. A full time Athletic Trainer and Equipment Manager for all teams in Howard Theberge who does a tremendous job and is a great person. We have had the same goalie coach, Steve Mastalerz (GDS Goalies), for our entire existence. We have a partnership with Lovell Hockey, the best skills guys in the business to help our players out. I could go on and on. But we really think our players have access to amazing things and allows them the chance to succeed and improve right away.”
The Generals do things the right way. The organization cares about their players and does an amazing job at taking care of their well-being. Add this to their off-ice efforts in promoting their players to the community, scouts, and their growing fan base, the Generals have established themselves as the go-to organization for players that are serious about continuing their career.
Alex Cohen, a freshman and Division 1 Union College and holder of almost every individual Generals record on the ice had this to say, “The Generals provided me with the necessary steps in furthering my hockey career at the collegiate level through the detailed practices and the hands on input from the great coaching staff. I would not have been able to make my dream of playing college hockey at the Division 1 level without the help form the whole Northeast Generals organization’s care for each individual player.”
Present and Future
Even after the incredible strides already made in New England, the Northeast Generals Organization feels that they are still just beginning to make their presence felt in terms of player development and community impact.
“More and more people in the area understand that the NAHL is the league to play in to develop your game for NCAA Division 1 hockey. We love moving our players on to the USHL or early to College. We have a NAPHL U16 and U18 team where we just tendered a player in house in Adam Smith, who is a big strong defensemen who will have a huge impact for us next year and who has taken huge strides under NAHL Assistant Coach and Midget Director Eric Progen. You can see the growth with our D1 commitments on the NAHL team last year, our call ups from the NA3HL and the establishing of great connections with Boston Advantage, the 95 Giants and the New England Knights” said Erikson.
The Generals not only have done something truly impressive in a short amount of time, their commitment to increasing that excellence is extraordinary. Just like the players that dawn the Orange, Blue and White, the organization as a whole puts in an effort that simply isn’t common in today’s game. All of the nearly 100 Generals alumni, the Generals front office, staff, fans and even the community have the same thing in common. They will all be Generals for life and part of a family that continues to rise throughout New England.
The takeover continues.