When Brian Leetch moved to the North End after signing with the Boston Bruins for the final year of his Hall of Fame career in 2005, he made a telephone call looking for a hockey program for his oldest son. He quickly found what he wanted in Charlestown.
Leetch, who grew up in Connecticut and played for Boston College before joining the New York Rangers in 1988, has since experienced what many people in the city know well, that the neighborhood is a hockey hotbed that consistently produces top talent. Many players who have gone on to prep schools, college hockey and even the National Hockey league got their start in the Charlestown Youth Hockey program.
“I was happy to find a great group of people who believed in teaching the game to everyone who wanted to play regardless of their skill level, while keeping the game fun for the kids,” Leetch said.
Charlestown’s reputation for producing top talent transcends the neighborhood. Last year three players with roots in the one square mile were selected in the NHL’s entry draft: the Nashville Predators picked Jimmy Vesey, who plays for Harvard University; the Bruins picked Matt Grzelcyk from Boston University; and the Carolina Hurricanes picked Brendan Collier, who played for perennial powerhouse Malden Catholic High School and joins Grzelcyk at BU this year.
Many players get their start with the Charlestown Youth Hockey Association, which sent seven teams to state championships last year. The association welcomes all level of talent. Many kids start playing when they are five or six, starting with Mite instructional. As they grow they graduate to new divisions: Squirts for nine and 10-year-olds; Pee Wee for 11 and 12; Bantam for 13 and 14. There are also three teams exclusively for girls, an under 10, under 12 and under 14.
“The CYHA program certainly taught my girls a lot about the game of hockey,” said Joe Sullivan, whose two daughters progressed through the program, with one now playing for the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the other a girls hockey coach and skating instructor. “The memories and friendships they’ve gained over the years are priceless and will last a lifetime.”
Joseph Flaherty, who lives in Beacon Hill with his family, signed up his son Liam two years ago for the Mite instructional program. Liam has worked his way up to the Mite A team, where he will play when the season gets going later this year, while his little sister will be starting instructional.
“He had a great experience with the program and coaches and made lots of new friends,” said Flaherty. “It’s great that the same Mite program can accommodate beginners thru experienced players.”
Amanda Forziati, who lives in the North End, played with Liam on the Mite B team last year and this season she moves up to Squirt. Amanda also plays on the under-10 girls’ team, maximizing her time on the ice.
“The level of confidence that my daughter got from this organization was simply remarkable,” said Amanda’s mom Karen, who tried to interest her daughter in dance classes when she first said she wanted to play hockey. “As a hockey mom, I couldn’t be more proud.”
Leetch now has two sons and a daughter in the program and also coaches. He’s not the only professional player to discover the town. In the last few years at least three Bruins who are no longer with the organization had kids playing Charlestown Youth Hockey: Marco Sturm, Derek Morris and Joe Corvo.
The CYHA connection to the Bruins dates back to the 1970s when the association was formally organized. The late Patrick Considine, a longshoreman who was one of the key organizers, also manned the penalty box at the old Boston Garden. Harry Sinden, the Bruins’ coach and general manager, used to donate equipment to the program, recalls Considine’s son Danny, a youth hockey alumni and former standout along with his brothers.
It was in the 1970s after Bobby Orr led the Bruins to two Stanley Cups and hockey’s popularity in the region surged that talent began to emerge out of Charlestown. While the list of names is enormous, perhaps the most famous is Jack O’Callahan, a member of the Miracle on Ice U.S. Olympic Team that defeated the Soviet Union in 1980.
“Charlestown hockey is a great asset for the neighborhood,” said Brendan Murphy, who lives in the town and has two boys playing Mite. “It’s a meeting place for kids who despite living only a few streets from one another are often spread across different schools and don’t always get to know those living closest to them.”
For information about Charlestown Youth Hockey please visit www.cyha.com. Inquiries can be made by email at [email protected] or by calling 617-416-8138.