It means so much to Andrew DeCristoforo to pull on the South Shore Kings jersey.
By Joshua Boyd
The organization brought him in as a high school sophomore in 2013. After the end of December, the calendar will flip to 2018, marking five solid years for DeCristoforo as a defenseman with the Kings organization.
All of that time, the Kings have been cornerstones of the United States Premier Hockey League, regularly entering a team at each level.
“Five years ago, the USPHL was still trying to grow a little bit. Now, it’s gotten a lot better, and people are gravitating towards the NCDC,” said DeCristoforo, a ’98 and native of Medway, Mass. “It’s been really fun to play in, and it’s been challenging, too.”
DeCristoforo has risen up through the USPHL ranks, from the 16U to the USPHL Empire Division (equivalent to the current USPHL Elite Division in terms of position on the developmental ladder).
After a year at the Empire Division, he was two years with the 18U team, returning to that fold for a second season in 2016-17. Now, he’s a dedicated member of the Kings’ team in the National Collegiate Development Conference.
“That’s why we have these teams in place. The best case scenario is to take six or seven guys every year, and move them up to the next highest team on the ladder,” said John Gurskis, head coach of the Kings’ NCDC squad. “Every year, you’re looking at different pieces of the puzzle for your team. Every team needs a solid defenseman, and he certainly has been solid.”
DeCristoforo joined the South Shore Kings’ 16U team as a sophomore in high school, seeing that what the Kings organization and the USPHL offered was simply more than he could get at the high school level.
“After high school, I wanted to branch out. The Kings were very close to home, and since I joined, they’ve been great to me,” said DeCristoforo. “Playing 16U that year helped me with a lot of things. It helped me understand how hard it is to be a good player, how hard you have to work if you really want to play in college. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and in a high level league like the USPHL, you can keep improving your game.”
During the 2014-15 season, at the former Empire level, DeCristoforo got a chance to play with much older players and also worked on his physical frame.
“I was still a pretty small kid at that time, and I wasn’t ready to go to the 18U level. I learned how to play against bigger and stronger kids, and I learned where to put myself on the ice so I wasn’t getting hit all the time,” said DeCristoforo.
From 2015-17, DeCristoforo lined up on the 18U blue line for Kings head coach Dave O’Donnell.
“Dave was a great guy. He always believed in me, and believed in my play. Those were the two most fun years I’ve had,” added DeCristoforo. “I still talk to the kids on my team two years ago, and the kids last year. I did a lot of growing up at the 18U level. I grew tall while I was in that league, and my game started to develop more.”
Another benefit of the USPHL’s multi-tiered structure is that teammates can remain so for more than one year at more than one level, growing together. That leads to more on-and off-ice chemistry.
“I got to play with [current NCDC teammate] Mitchell Walinski at the 18U level. When you’re practicing with players like that every day, you’re getting better every day,” DeCristoforo added.
This year, DeCristoforo has dealt with injury problems, limiting him to 11 games at the NCDC level. Gurskis was expecting to have him back at some point during December.
“He brings great consistency. You don’t have to worry about him getting caught up or not taking care of the puck,” said Gurskis. “He’s more of a conservative defenseman, and he’s able to play tough in front of the net.
That’s not to take anything away from his offensive game. He’s run the power play at previous levels, so you can put him in any situation.”
“Coach Gurskis has been great. I’ve known him for a while. He’s always believed in me and given me lots of confidence to go out and play my game,” said DeCristoforo. “The jump from the 18U to the NCDC is a little faster, and the kids are faster and more skilled. Once you played a few preseason games and got into the regular season, it was not hard to get used to the flow.”
DeCristoforo, like all of his teammates, is playing for the Kings and his teammates, but also for a chance to compete in college hockey someday.
“I’ve reached out to a few schools, but nothing serious quite yet,” said DeCristoforo. “I would love to go to school next year. My ideal situation would be a Division 3 school around New England that has a good program and fits me, academically.”
There will likely be a very fortunate college that can bring in such a versatile blueliner, one who loves to learn more about the game every day.
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