TYNGSBOROUGH, MA -- When each Islanders Hockey Club player held up and passed along the Dineen Cup, indicative of the National Collegiate Development Conference Championship, he was raising it for their team and hundreds of others wearing the unmistakable lighthouse logo of the IHC.
Across five rinks, and featuring more than 1,200 players, the Islanders Hockey Club has made itself into a true “cradle to college” organization – one that can essentially take players at the Mite level and work them up level to level to that top NCDC team.
Everywhere you look, from Mites to Juniors, there is an Islanders Hockey Club team putting together outstanding hockey efforts in some of the toughest leagues in the country. At present, there are seven players who are advancing to the NCAA Division 1 level from this year’s NCDC team and the number is expected to grow.
The Islanders Hockey Club is certainly proud of these players who have moved on to the top realm of college hockey. The organization is equally proud of the 16 players and counting moving on from the USPHL Premier team to the NCAA Division 2 and 3 levels.
The Islanders Hockey Club also takes delight in knowing there will be half a dozen or more players moving up from their USPHL Elite team to the Premier level, and the youth teams that put together one of the best winning percentages in the ultra-competitive Eastern Hockey Federation.
Simply put, when an Islanders Hockey Club player gets where they want to go, there is applause echoing throughout the vast organization.
“What a privilege it is to be steward of over 1,200 families and their young, aspiring hockey players,” said Islanders Hockey Club owner Richard Gallant. “We’re more of a family. We really have this great group, from the Juniors to the Islanders East to the Islanders West. The Islanders Hockey Club is a great community where we all work together to provide a great experience for all our players.”
That community aspect is heard also in the comments from NCDC head coach Sean Tremblay about his team’s Dineen Cup title.
“It is a culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. We have been in four championship games in the last six years and won two of those,” said Tremblay. “With the playoffs, you can get hot at the right time and get a hot goalie, but to do that every single day throughout a season, and with the turnover we have sending players on to college hockey, that shows you the solid foundation that we have.”
Tremblay oversees the top team for the Islanders, and his office is right next to that of Tim Kyrkostas, who runs the USPHL Premier junior team, and is also in charge of the youth programs operated by the Islanders Hockey Club East programs.
“We talk every day, Tim and me. Even if we’re not in our offices, we’re on the phone with each other,” said Tremblay. “For me, it’s like being the principal of a great school, and you get to know all the kids. I can still go out and recruit a good NCDC team, but it is such a pleasure to, every year, have an influx of kids that I can get to know when they are literally 8 and 9 years old.”
Tremblay emphasizes the point that out of the nationally-recruited NCDC roster, six are players who have come up through the Islanders Hockey Club junior or midget teams. The Midget program is run by Nate Bostic, who is in his ninth year with the Islanders Hockey Club organization.
“I’ve been fortunate to see everything grow. We are going into our seventh year with the midget program, and our success over the last three years is shown in the amount of colleges coming to watch our 18U and 16U players, and those players who are moving on to junior programs,” Bostic added.
Bostic is also in charge of the youth teams of the IHC West division of the organization, which operate out of Skate 3 in Tyngsboro, Mass.
“Ultimately, we want our local players to be successful, and just build the best development model for those levels at the youth side,” Bostic said. “That, in turn, will make our midget and junior teams a lot more successful.”
Forward Mark Cheremeta is a perfect Exhibit A for what the Islanders Hockey Club can do for its players.
A Parkland, Fla., resident, he started out his junior career playing for the Palm Beach Hawks, when Kyrkostas was head coach of that team’s USPHL Premier squad.
After a year with the Islanders Premier team, he advanced this year to the NCDC squad, and was one of the top point-producers, scoring 59 points in 50 regular season games. He tacked on five more points in seven playoff games. Cheremeta is now committed to play at the University of Vermont.
“It’s a different era in recruiting. There is such an emphasis on early recruitment. You’ll see more and more kids skating at 16U with a deal [i.e. verbal commitment],” said Tremblay. “A guy like Mark, growing up in Parkland, he just wasn’t seen. He went through the old-school late recruitment process. The same goes for Yale recruit Justin Pearson, who played 18U and then two years of juniors and got his commitment.”
Some of the Islanders Hockey Club players from this year fit the profile of earning college commitments at the younger levels. Justin Ferguson went from 16U to 18U to the IHC’s Elite team, where he got his commitment to Dartmouth. From there, he joined IHC’s top junior team and helped them to two consecutive Dineen Cups.
Mark Gallant committed to Colgate as a 15-year-old and played 16U and 18U with Coach Bostic. Jonathan Young committed was captain of the Islanders’ 16U team when he committed to Merrimack. Both played for the NCDC this past season.
“For these players, we are a finishing school. Our mission is to develop our players better than anyone else, and expose our kids to NHL, NCAA Division 1 and Division 3 scouts,” said Tremblay. Simply put, our goal as an organization is to try and let these boys obtain their dreams.”
The Islanders were able to put a championship team together with a whole different dynamic. In the past, the Islanders would scout a player and offer them a spot on the team.
Now, there are tenders and a draft for the NCDC. The Islanders Hockey Club could scout and talk to a player that ends up on a completely different team.
“You have to be strategically planning a year, even two years ahead,” said Tremblay. “Maybe a piece that doesn’t fit so well now, fits right in July or August.”
Beyond the NCDC level, each Islanders’ coach is working hard to move players along to the next level. The Islanders’ Premier team finished third overall in the playoffs, and 16 Premier players are bound for college teams.
The Islanders’ USPHL Elite team, coached by Brian Umansky, is likely to move between six and eight players from the 2017-18 roster to Kyrkostas’ USPHL Premier roster next year.
“Sean and I are working closely in terms of discussing our players and their development, and where they can possibly fit into the next levels,” said Kyrkostas. “I am on a national search for players who graduated high school and who understand that coming here to play for the Islanders Hockey Club at the Premier level will help them get placed at the NCAA Division 2 and 3 levels.”
Kyrkostas said the Islanders put a huge emphasis on smart scheduling, playing their games Tuesdays through Thursdays, so that college coaches – who typically have their games on weekends – can have a better chance to scout Islanders players.
The Islanders, who typically play their home games at Skate 3, are happy to bring the show directly to college campuses.
“We play between two to four games a season on college campuses. We’ve played at Saint Anselm, Norwich, the University of New Hampshire and Plymouth State. We were one of the only USPHL Premier teams to play a college team, when we played the Plymouth State Division 3 team as one of their preseason games,” said Kyrkostas. “We take great pride in showcasing our players. We do a great job of getting them to the right people, and we make sure they’re doing their part in filling out all of the paperwork they need to have for college.”
Along with the national search for players, the Islanders Premier team is expected to take “two to three” players from the USPHL midget program.
“We’re starting to see more players make that internal advancement, and that is where we are going to, the next phase of our entire program,” said Kyrkostas. “I will be the coach for our U14 team this season, and my goal is to send anywhere from four to six players directly to Nate Bostic’s U16 team.”
“We are a stepping-stone for these kids for a year or two,” added Bostic.
That stepping stone has its own spotlight on it, however.
“We had our third year of having a player commit to a NCAA Division 1 program from our midget program,” added Bostic, pointing to 16U player Alex Jeffries, who will matriculate to Merrimack College in 2020-21.
The Islanders are adding a 15-year-old team that will be the bridge between the youth program (which ends at 14U) and the midget program.
“That’s our newest project, and it’ll make the cradle to college process a little better,” said Bostic. “Players used to leave our program after they were 14 and come back at 16 after a year away.”
Midget players are not only getting all the benefits of a full season program on the ice. They are able to work in the same strength and conditioning facility as the NCDC players and the other Islanders junior teams.
“We look at development all year long and we want to make the development model better,” said Bostic.
Working to that end, the Islanders signed a multi-year deal with Athletic Evolution for the program’s off-ice training.
“We’ve had a fantastic relationship with Athletic Evolution,” added Tremblay. “We just went through almost an entire junior season without injuries, and certainly without serious injuries. AE is with our team almost three days through the midweek. Strength and conditioning coach Scott Duggan takes what we do on the ice just as seriously off the ice. Our guys knew they were cared for, and that truly added to our culture.”
From coast to coast, there can be only one age-specific team at the top of the national rankings (according to the myhockeyrankings.com website) and you will find at each age group one Islander team competing for that top spot.
The past two years, the 2007 team has achieved that level of success. The 2006 Peewee team finished with a No. 6 ranking and the 05’s were in the top 20. Last season, the 2004 team went to the world-famous Quebec Peewee Tournament and finished in the semifinals.
The Islanders’ acquisition of the former Dual State Riverhawks brought the organization its current IHC West youth program, and they worked closely with that group’s Bantam 14U players to get them ready to form the base of this coming season’s first-year 15U team.
“Ultimately, we want our local players to be successful, and just build the best development model for those levels at the youth side,” Bostic added.
“Our ’09’s, ’10s and ’11s will be phenomenal,” said Kyrkostas. “At every birth year, we’re really strong. We have great facilities – Merrimack College, Skate 3, the Essex Sports Center – and great coaches, because we want to be the best. We want to get players to college and the NHL, and that’s what we try to live up to each and every day.”