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St. Mark’s coach tuning recruiting skills

Mark Wilson for the Boston Globe

St. Mark’s freshman Alex Hreib.

Scott Young is realizing pretty quickly that his name, and his pedigree, as a former professional hockey player only go so far.

Trying to recruit a 14-year-old boy to attend a private school with a sticker price of nearly $40,000 per year - and that’s just for day school (it runs upward of $50,000 for board and tuition) - is not easy.

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Young played 17 seasons in the National Hockey League. He won a pair of Stanley Cups, and piled up more than 700 career points. Coming back to t his alma mater, as the boys’ coach at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, in his first “real-world’’ job has been a challenge.

The art of recruiting prospective players? That’s a whole different craft to master.

“I’ve had to work really hard at this,’’ said Young, who had guided St. Mark’s to a 14-6-1 record (7-4-1 Independent School League) this season.

“My background has definitely helped - it helped right away, there’s no question about that. But families and students, they’re smart.’’

Adam Hunger for The Boston Globe

St. Marks varsity hockey head coach Scott Young runs practice in Southborough.

In just his second year at St. Mark’s, his first full-time coaching gig after retiring from the NHL in 2006, Young has started to get a feel for the art of recruiting, and he appears to be mastering it almost as fast as he did the game of hockey.

Other area Independent School League coaches have differing opinions on how the presence of Young and fellow former-NHL-players-turned-coaches Shawn McEachern (Rivers School in Weston) and Tony Amonte (Thayer Academy in Braintree) have altered the recruiting scene. But they all agree that it has changed drastically.

The most talented young players always have multiple offers. Coaches make their pitch, each one usually a little different. But for these “cream-of-the-crop’’ players, the goals are high, and that’s been known to entice some coaches or recruiting coordinators to make bold promises.

The top players “all want to go out and play in college,’’ Young said. “But individual success and moving on’’ to the next level, he said, “that will take care of itself. People will notice if you’re a team player; the type of leader you are. College scouts recognize that. Some part of the challenge is, so many kids we know, their focus is on something that hasn’t happened yet.’’

Young has no promises to make. He’s been around the block himself, gaining a lot of attention as a high school player and skating with Team USA in the World Junior Ice Hockey Championship in 1985 before committing to Boston University for the 1986 season.

So Young has tried to find his niche as a recruiter by offering a somewhat different approach.

“I really think if you just take the time and sit down and be honest with the family, they appreciate it,’’ he said. “You can tell. You just have to be up front with them, and where you’re at with the program.

“I’m learning and I’m actually starting to enjoy it. You’re not just going out and recruiting and getting every player you want. It’s a challenge.’’

When Young came aboard last year, he figured the program would be a work in progress. St. Mark’s was in a slide, having won just 10 total games over the previous three seasons. But Young said he was pleasantly surprised on the first day.

“I just said, ‘Wow, they’re a lot better than I thought,’ ’’ he recalled. “There are some kids that can play here. We weren’t very deep, but still, there was some skill and talent on this team. We just had to make them believe they could win.’’

Young attended local games, spending weekends at showcases and giving tours to strangers who showed up by bus from Florida looking for a glimpse of the New England prep school scene.

“You can definitely trust him,” said St. Mark’s freshman Alex Hreib, a prized recruit from Carlisle and the Fenn School. “He’s a great guy and a great person. I trusted his experience, and I haven’t been disappointed so far.”

“There was definitely a little extra put in for that one,” Young said proudly of Hreib. “He had some very good schools that were looking at him.’’

Hreib has been excellent this season, joining junior forward Mike Pontarelli (Montreal) to fuel a suddenly explosive offense that averages nearly five goals per game. After winning 10 combined games in the previous three seasons, St. Mark’s notched a 14-13 finish last year, a step in the right direction, and the Lions have already matched that victory total this season.

“Playing for him is nothing like I’ve done before,” said Pontarelli, a 5-foot-8 forward whose hands and quickness impressed Young immediately. “I was kind of starstruck but now we’re really close and I use him as a mentor.’’

He wants to help St. Mark’s win its division, Pontarelli said, “but my real goal is to play professional hockey, and he’s helped me out a lot, calling schools for me, and everyone trusts his opinion.”

Young thinks there’s still plenty of work to do. He wants to see his alma mater back on top of the ISL’s Eberhart Division. And if he improves as a recruiter like he did as a hockey player, he might get his wish.

“I actually thought they were good last year,’’ said the Groton School’s coach, Bill Riley. “They were just a little young. Now they have some very talented kids that are a year older; and the older the kids you do have, the better they’ll be. Add Coach Young to that mix, and they’ll have good teams for years to come.’’

St. Sebastian coach pleased with team

St. Sebastian’s coach Sean McCann hasn’t been disappointed with his team’s 10-8-2 season.

Noah Hanfin, a freshman defenseman from Norwood who has already committed to Boston College, and senior Danny O’Regan of Needham (committed to Boston University) have impressed, while eighth-grader Cam Askew has fit in quite nicely during his first year.

“We don’t usually roster eighth-graders,’’ said McCann, “but Cam contributed early and frequently. His visual understanding, offensively, is very high. I think he just has to learn how to play both offensively and defensively, and the sky is the limit.’’

Groton’s Pompa a big talent

At just 5-foot-8, Groton School sophomore goalie Matthew Pompa has worked around his small stature to impress his coach.

“He does well with angles, using his angles intelligently, and rebounds,’’ said Bill Riley, whose 8-7-1 squad recorded a 4-2 win over St. Mark’s on Saturday afternoon. “He can stop the puck, but he also eats them up.’’

Senior standout Michael Doherty (Reading) had originally committed to Yale, but Riley said Doherty was told he would need a year of junior hockey first, and that could influence his college decision.

Time and goalie serving Lawrence

In her first year coaching the Lawrence Academy girls, Maggie Joyce believes her players are finally starting to understand her coaching style and system.

She said her young team (9-6-1) is “peaking at the right time,’’ but wouldn’t be anywhere without junior goalie VictoriaHanson of Stoughton.

“She’s so smart,’’ Joyce said. “She’s kept us in a lot of games that we would have lost without her clutch saves.’’

Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at jasonmastrodonato@ yahoo.com.
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