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Hockey takes on a new twist at Matignon

Dennis Franczak (left), founder of the Boston Imperials Hockey Academy, and Matignon headmaster Tim Welsh have joined forces to establish the junior hockey program at the school.
Dennis Franczak (left), founder of the Boston Imperials Hockey Academy, and Matignon headmaster Tim Welsh have joined forces to establish the junior hockey program at the school. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Matignon has been synonymous with high school hockey in Massachusetts for much of the last half century.

But in November, the school sent shockwaves through the hockey community when it announced that its boys’ program — winner of eight state championships from 1975-1993 under legendary coach Marty Pierce — did not have enough participants to field a varsity team, and instead was joining a co-operative arrangement with Revere and Malden.

The move also opened doors at the Cambridge school for a new type of hockey venture.

Earlier this week, Matignon and the Boston Imperials jointly announced the creation of the Boston Imperials Hockey Academy at Matignon High School. The Imperials plan to launch teams in three age groups at the national Tier 1 level to begin competing this fall. All of the academy players will be full-time students at Matignon, but otherwise would be unaffiliated with the school’s MIAA hockey co-op.

“What we saw is an opportunity for kids who don’t play multiple sports — hockey is their thing, but they can’t afford to go to prep school,” Imperials founder and president Dennis Franczak said. “I’m a firm believer in a Catholic education, that focuses on community building, and we want to give kids an experience that’s more rooted in that.”

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This is not the first attempt at creating a hockey academy at a local parochial school.

Pope John XXIII previously hosted the Boston Shamrocks Hockey Academy, and Franczak said the Imperials explored launching a similar program at the Everett school, which closed last year.

“We had to regroup, and we looked at Matignon as an option,” Franczak said. “When we heard Matignon could not field a varsity team [of its own], we took the academy plan off the shelf.”

Matignon headmaster Timothy Welsh said the agreement came together quickly in the wake of school’s announcement regarding its MIAA team.

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“It made sense to look at what this could mean. We had some important issues to address on our end to make sure everyone was on board,” said Welsh, who acknowledged it would be an influx of boys into a school that has dropped in enrollment to roughly 375 students overall.

“We’re a comprehensive college preparatory high school, and we try to be holistic in our approach. We saw this as an opportunity for students to go to elite colleges, who also need to have the academic piece.”

Welsh emphasized that Imperials players would study the same curriculum as all other Matignon students, and follow all school guidelines, rules and requirements. While the school otherwise would have no financial stake or oversight in the hockey aspect of the academy, Matignon athletic director Michael Lahiff said he reached out to Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association officials just to clarify the school’s intentions.

“It’s similar to having students who play junior hockey,” Lahiff said.

Tara Bennett, the MIAA’s director of communications, said the association’s only concern would be making sure all rules and eligibility guidelines are being followed, particularly if academy students also choose to play another MIAA sport at Matignon.

“We see this like what a lot of schools do with skiing,” Bennett said. “Their students go to a ski academy, rather than compete for a high school team.”

Recently, it also has become more prevalent with elite soccer players choosing the academy path while enrolled for classes at their local high school.

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Franczak said he saw a model for the program at Mount St. Charles in Rhode Island, which launched its own hockey academy this year, and he hopes will be among the teams on the Imperials’ schedules. Welsh, a native of Rhode Island, said he also closely examined the Mount St. Charles academy during the process.

Brian Boucher, a former NHL goaltender who now works as an analyst for NBC, was part of a group of Mount St. Charles alums who collaborated and came up with ideas for a “rebirth” at that longtime hockey powerhouse.

“When you think of Mount hockey, it’s not what it was in its heyday back in the ’80s when it was at its height. You could probably speak the same of Matignon, and all of high school hockey,” Boucher said.

While Mount St. Charles ultimately built dormitory space on its Woonsocket campus, both Franczak and Welsh said Imperials players from outside the area would stay with host, or “billet,” families.

“We do have experience. We have a number of international families here, so we have agencies that we work with already,” Welsh said.

Enrollment cost in the academy and hockey program, which Franczak said would be “bundled” with Matignon tuition, ranges from $28,500 for day students to roughly $45,000 to $50,000 for boarding or international students.

Franczak also has heard the concerns and fears of local high school hockey coaches, many of whom see the Imperials as the latest in an increasing number of programs competing for the same talent pool. He doesn’t agree, saying the Imperials are looking to “fit that narrow niche” of attracting from less hockey-rich areas, as well as those who have outgrown their local programs. Franczak said since the announcement he has had more than 250 inquiries, with about 80 percent of those coming from outside the greater Boston area.

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“I know it wasn’t without controversy,” Franczak said of the announcement. “There are people who love it, or hate it, or think it’s the end of high school hockey. One of the things that’s very important to me is, I am a huge, huge supporter of MIAA hockey. My son plays at Arlington Catholic and has had a great experience.

“We’re being very communicative of what we are,” added Franczak, who hired former Islanders Hockey Club general manager Nate Bostic as the academy’s director.

Ultimately, Franczak and Welsh agreed it comes down to what is best and makes sense for both the Imperials and Matignon.

“Matignon’s got a proud history. When I saw that their program [went co-op], it was a sad day for high school hockey,” Boucher said. “If this is their way of resurrecting things, good for them.”

Said Welsh: “My goal still is to one day see a Matignon high school team play for a state championship again at the Garden.”


Jim Clark can be reached at jim.clark@globe.com.