BEDFORD, MA -- The East Coast Wizards enjoy their location amidst prime college country.
Just over 8 miles away is Brandeis University, just 10 miles distant is Tufts, and when you extend the mile marker a little farther to within one hour’s drive, dozens of NCAA schools come into near reach.
Within this hive of college hockey activity, the Wizards work throughout each season to send players both near and far to continue their education and hockey career.
Freddy Meyer - Courtesy Dan Hickling / Hickling Images
“Obviously our location is great, being just northwest of Boston, and our facilities and coaching staff are among the best in not just the Eastern Hockey League, but in all of Tier-3 hockey,” said general manager/head coach Freddy Meyer.
With just one men’s junior team in the organization, Meyer believes it is most important to make no promises except that each player will get every opportunity to play in the role they earn for themselves.
“When we’re out recruiting, I pride myself and our program on honesty and integrity. We make sure guys know where they stand and what the opportunities are,” said Meyer. “We have one team and 25 guys. Those 25 guys are fighting for ice time and special teams time and spots. It doesn’t matter if you’re a returner or it’s your first day in the program, you’re going to get the opportunity to play and belong in those situations.”
Meyer is one of very few coaches in the U.S. junior hockey world who had significant NHL experience, having played 287 combined regular season and playoff games from 2003-11, becoming a regular in the league starting in 2005. Now, entering his fifth year as head coach of the Wizards, his mission is to train and sharpen the skills of players hoping to set their own path.
“For me, it is all about helping these guys develop on and off the ice,” Meyer said. “I think the guys who have come through the doors have enjoyed the experience here, on and off the ice, and developed a ton during the course of the season.”
The Wizards have sent 19 players to NCAA Division 3 players over the last two seasons, and one (Eddie Pavlini) to the NCAA Division 1 stage with St. Lawrence University. In Meyer’s first two seasons, the Wizards also sent 13 between 2014-16.
“In my opinion, I think we’re doing a pretty good job. Along with 10 guys a year moving on to college the last couple years, we’ll also have Dylan Schuett playing Tier-1 or Tier-2 junior hockey this upcoming season,” he added.
Schuett was the EHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2017-18, and was drafted sixth overall in the NAHL Draft by the Brookings Blizzard.
He obviously placed a ton of credit for his development with the Wizards – not just Meyer with his NHL experience, but the rest of the staff as well.
“I don’t think it was any one part of my game that improved, but rather my game as a whole,” Schuett said, in an EHL feature on easternhockeyleague.org. “Freddy and [assistant coach Kory Falite] gave me the opportunity to play in all aspects of the game, whether it was even strength, penalty kill or even power play.
“I became relied on for key faceoffs and important situations in the game,” Schuett added. “Freddy, Kory and Adrien [Peacock, strength and conditioning coach] spent a lot of one-on-one time with me as well.”
Schuett expanded on the detailed work that the Wizards staff did with him in getting him to become a top Tier-2 prospect.
“On the ice, it was the little things, like puck control, fluidity, and hand placement on my stick,” Schuett said. Of the ice, Adrien spent a lot of his time with me in the gym to get bigger and stronger, and to improve my strength and physicality on the ice. I gained 12 pounds throughout the season, which is more than I ever have before, and I know it was due to the intensity of the training with Adrien."
Training is the name of the game, whether it’s on or off the ice, especially from September to March.
“Depending on the time of year, guys essentially get one day off a week, so you’re playing two games a week and skating in four practices,” Meyer said. “Every day that we practice, there is an off-ice workout in a facility that is kitty-corner to our locker room. It’s worked for us as a program having these guys train so hard so when February rolls around, the guys are hitting their stride.”
The ball is rolling in terms of pulling together the next team to start that stride once early September and the EHL season begins. Meyer and Co. are building the roster for the 2018-19 Wizards.
“We’re in the process of doing that right now. We have guys under contract, but for us it’s a process, and something we work on throughout the entire spring and summer,” said Meyer. “Sometimes you [sign] a guy in September who helps your roster out quite a bit. In terms of local guys, returners and new faces coming to play for us, the guys are locked in. It’s always exciting time to get the guys into the system.”
It certainly can be daunting for new players moving into the junior world, but Schuett said the Wizards made that transition easy.
“Before the season began, I was definitely a little nervous going from playing against guys my age or a year younger at Edge, to playing against guys up to three years older,” Schuett said. “However, it provided me with extra motivation to prove that I belonged with the older boys and could fit in with their speed and size and more mature game. I think being the youngest also took some pressure off because there were no expectations for me to live up to, especially as a new player and rookie, at the start of the season, which changed quickly."
Change is constant in hockey, and that change is certainly good when it comes to advancing up to the higher levels, as Schuett and many more have done and will continue to do from the East Coast Wizards.
Dylan Schuett - Courtesy Edward Jacobs / Team Shred Photography