By Cary Shuman
Local hockey fans made the short trip to TD Garden Saturday night to see Jimmy Vesey, a product of a close-knit Charlestown family, play his first National Hockey League game against the team he grew up rooting for as a young boy.
Vesey, a 23-year-old Harvard graduate and the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner, gave the Townies in the seats and the family and friends watching from the sky boxes a superlative show as the New York Rangers’ rookie had an assist and played sound two-way hockey in the his team’s 5-2 victory over the Boston Bruins.
Vesey has been very impressive on the team’s No. 1 line. The 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound left winger has six goals and four assists for a talented Rangers team that has a 10-4-0 record.
Already called a “rising Rangers star” by the Boston Herald, Vesey played at the TD Garden in four Beanpot Tournaments while at Harvard.
The arena was called the Boston Garden in 1980 when Jimmy’s father, Jim Vesey, won a state hockey championship for Christopher Columbus High School in the North End. Jim Vesey went on to become a legend at Merrimack College, twice earning All-American honors before reaching the National Hockey League and playing for the Boston Bruins. Vesey is now a scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Following the game, a throng of media greeted Jimmy Vesey in the Rangers’ locker room, all wanting to hear his thoughts about playing his first professional game at the Garden.
“It was a big night, obviously for me and my family – I haven’t seen them much since I’ve been gone but I had a crew here and I’m looking forward to seeing them after this [interview],” said Vesey. “I’m very fortunate to have a lot of people here supporting me and cheering me on.”
Vesey was asked about choosing the New York Rangers organization for his professional hockey career.
“I’m comfortable with my decision. Everything is working out and I’m getting a good opportunity and I think we have a really strong team so I’m very happy with my decision.”
What has the transition been like playing Division 1 college hockey for four years at Harvard, the world’s most prestigious university, and now competing in the NHL, the world’s best hockey league?
“It’s obviously a step up in terms of the hockey – the guys are bigger, stronger and faster. I think I’ve done alright adjusting to that. But the biggest thing is the schedule is demanding – 82 games and playing every other night – and I have to make sure I’m taking care of my body.”
Vesey recalled attending Boston Bruins games as a youth. “I came here to watch Bruins’ games when I was growing up, so it was pretty special for me to be out there as a professional. I saw those guys win the Stanley Cup in 2011 so just to be out there with them is pretty cool.”
Rangers coach Allen Vigneault has given Vesey many responsibilities, inserting Vesey on the power play and during crunch time.
“We’re a great team and very deep and the coaches have trusted to put me in all the crucial situations, the power play and 5-on-5, and I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Vesey said Harvard hockey prepared him well for the next level of competition. “ECAC is a pretty good level of hockey and in four years I matured a lot as a player and a person.”
He’s happy with his decision to remain at Harvard for four years and earn his degree.
“A lot of [my staying at Harvard] was the degree,” said Vesey. “Obviously it’s one of the best schools out there and not a lot of people have that opportunity. Everyone always say they’ll finish if they leave early but it’s actually pretty tough to dedicate the time to do it and I wanted to make sure I got it out of the way. I thought we had a good team at Harvard for my senior year and I was the captain, so it was in my heart to stay.”
Vesey keeps in close contact with his father, whose experience in collegiate and professional hockey has been an asset to Jimmy’s own development and entry in to the NHL.
“My father has been a great resource for me now and in my whole life,” said Vesey.
John McLaughlin was among the many Townies who made the trek to watch proudly as Jimmy Vesey skated for the Rangers on the Garden ice.
“I knew Big Jimmy growing up in the Charlestown/Milt Schmidt League – I skated with him my whole life,” said McLaughlin. “I was the leading scorer and Jimmy was second. I went on to Norwich and Jimmy went on to Merrimack. I think its’ awesome that his son is playing for the Rangers. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Good blood lines and good people. They’re a very close-knit family and I’m very proud of young Jimmy. I watched him play at Harvard and I’m here for him with the Rangers.”