VJW Junior A Players College League Awards & Announce Future Plans
The season may have ended for the Valley Jr Warriors during the semifinal round of the EJHL Playoffs, but there is still a distinctive buzz around Haverhill. Not only do members of the Warriors continue commit to top Division I and III schools, but one of their own received top league recognition.
Earlier this month, Ryan Fitzgerald (shown right) - the high-flying forward who will take his talents to Boston College next fall - was named the EJHL Rookie of the Year and then just this week Gus Harms announced that he has committed to Northeastern University.
"Our goal is to help these players get to the next level and we are thrilled that they are getting the opportunity to play at the next level," said Andy Heinze, the VJW head coach/general manager. "They all worked hard, so it's nice to see them get the recognition from the league and college coaches."
Harms becomes the second Warrior from this year's team to commit to Northeastern. He follows in the footsteps of Jake Schechter, who announced his intentions of playing for the Huskies back in January. The 6-1, 200-pound Harms played in 48 games this season and posted 23 points. "It's a real testament to their hard work and dedication," said Heinze.
This latest accomplishment for Fitzgerald is
particularly impressive given that he played in just 32 of his team’s 46
games and posted 17 goals and 19 assists.
“It shows how much
respect he has from the players and coaches in this league,” said
Heinze. “Fitzy was out quite a bit because he was playing for the
national team and in high-end tournaments and we supported that. The
team is important, but you don’t want to hold these kids back.”
Fitzgerald is one of the many VJW players who has deep roots
with the Warrior program. His younger brother Casey Fitzgerald plays for
the VJW ’97 Elites and was part of a Malden Catholic team that won its
third consecutive Super 8 title. The comfort level that the family had
with Heinze and the VJW program was one of the reasons why Fitzgerald
chose to stay close to home this past season.
“There is a real trust factor and the bottom line is that the
parents understand that we support the kids first and foremost,” said
Heinze, a three-time EJHL Coach of the Year. “It isn’t just about wins
and losses for us. While we all want to win, it is about overall
development and preparing the players for the next level.”
Prospective players also appreciate the fact that Heinze is the
only EJHL coach who has collegiate-level playing and coaching
experience. He still holds the Merrimack College school record for most
games played (144) and ranks 10th on Merrimack’s all-time scoring list
with 166 points. He also spent nine years as an assistant coach with his
“We strongly feel that if you do a good job the kids will want to be here and will be proud to be a Warrior,” said Heinze.
That type of commitment was seen down the stretch as the
Warriors finished the season by winning 11 of its last 12 games. Heinze
was especially happy with the play of Albee Daley, John Needham, Joe Lappin and Chris Tracy who all emerged as impact players.
Daley underwent major knee surgery seven games into last season.
He made the decision to return to the Warriors this year and peaked at
the right time.
“Albee came back from Christmas break and you could tell that he
felt better about his knee,” said Heinze. “His mindset was about
playing and enjoying the game rather than on where he would play in
college. That served him very well and now he is getting some good
Tracy joined the team late in the year and helped to fill the void left when Schechter suffered a season-ending injury.
“The addition of Chris made us deeper and stronger,” said Heinze.
Needham - much like Fitzgerald - spent his time playing and
watching his younger brother compete for the Warriors. In fact,
Needham’s mother Regina was watching John compete in the EJHL semifinals
while his brother Craig was leading the VJW ’99 Elites to a New England
Hockey League Championship title.
“Needham is a guy who can play in any situation,” said Heinze.
“He is a physical kid who can move the puck well. He is still getting
stronger and will be a really good college player.”
Lappin, meanwhile, was tabbed by Heinze as the player who was
most improved this season. He not only has roots in the Warrior program,
but his family legacy is matched by few. His father Pete is the career
scoring leader at St. Lawrence University and three of his three uncles
also spent their collegiate hockey careers at St. Lawrence before
playing professional hockey.
And then there is his other uncle - Dave Sacco - who was a standout player at Boston University and currently a coach in the VJW organization.
“He just played great down the stretch,” said Heinze of Lappin.
“He was a midget player coming into the season and he was a real factor
for us down the stretch and into the playoffs. He is very consistent and
I foresee some Division I opportunities for him to follow in the
footsteps of his father and his uncles.”
While those players
consider their options for next fall, here is a rundown on the college
commitments from other members of the 2012-13 VJW Junior A squad.