Article courtesy of New England Hockey Journal reposted here with permission. (Emphasis, ours)
Mike Hardman ’17 joins the list of recent Winchendon School alumni playing (or committed to playing) their sport at the highest collegiate level.
UNHERALDED OUT OF WINCHENDON, POWER FORWARD SHINES IN BCHL, PREPS FOR BC STINT
By the time the dust settled, Mike Hardman had a new destination.
Following the 2017-18 season, Hardman’s only one in the United States Hockey League, the Des Moines Buccaneers fired head coach and general manager Dave Allison and assistant coach Nate Weossner.
Hardman, a native of Hanover, Mass., had a strong relationship with both of them and was upset.
“Both of those coaches recruited me hard out of Winchendon School and really believed in me,” the 20-year-old forward explained. “I played a lot with Des Moines.”
Hardman, who totaled 23 points (10- 13-23) in 56 games with the Buccaneers, found himself at a crossroads, unsure about where he was going to play during the 2018-19 campaign.
“I was still committed to Union College at the time and was talking to them,” he recounted. “They respected whatever decision I was going to make. I was still talking to Allison and Weossner, and they thought I was good enough to play in the USHL, but maybe a move to the BCHL would be better.”
Hardman ultimately decided to head westward to join the British Columbia Hockey League’s West Kelowna Warriors. He was recruited by then-head coach and general manager Rylan Ferster, and he knew several Massachusetts natives who had played for the club, such as RJ Murphy (Needham), Michael Ryan (Marion), Quin Foreman (Norwood) and Connor Sodergren (Tewksbury).
“All of those guys loved it out there,” he said. “Off the ice, too, the area is beautiful. It’s a spot where you would want to live and raise a family.”
Hardman’s development shifted into a higher gear on the Pacific side of the continent and he concluded the campaign first on the Warriors in goals (39) and points (72) in 58 regular-season contests. His 39 goals were second-best in the league and his 72 points were third-best. He added a pair of goals in four playoff games.
“The hockey was unbelievable; the rink was great; the coaches were awesome,” he said. “I am really happy I made that choice.”
Going into the season, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder had high expectations for himself and knew the coaching staff was going to rely on him to help lead the club.
“I wanted to be a top guy on my team and I wanted to win the BCHL championship,” he said. “I had a hot start right away and had a lot of confidence coming off the USHL season. Being a second-year guy in junior hockey is huge. You have a lot of confidence and know how much time you have with the puck. When you’re a first-year guy coming out of prep school or U-18 or U-16, the junior game is a lot faster.”
Unfortunately for the Warriors, they were eliminated by the Wenatchee Wild in the seventh game of the opening round of the postseason. “That was tough,” Hardman lamented.
Despite the defeat, Hardman and his teammates had every reason to hold their heads high because of the way they persevered through the turmoil that plagued the organization throughout the campaign — and prior to it.
Less than a month before the start of the season, Ferster resigned and was replaced by Geoff Grimwood, who informed Hardman that he was going to give him a lot of opportunity.
“I believed in him,” Hardman stated.
So did his teammates, which is why they protested and skipped a practice when owner Kim Dobranski fired him ahead of their regular-season opener.
“We as a group thought ‘Grimmer’ was the best coach for us and we stood by him,” Hardman said.
Grimwood was reinstated just a few days later, although he was fired for good in January and replaced by Brandon West.
“‘Grimmer’ was a great coach,” Hardman explained. “He was hard on the top guys, but he gave the top guys a lot of opportunity to play. It was great. In the offensive zone we didn’t have much of a system; we could just play. In the ‘D’ zone we had systems. I loved ‘Grimmer.’ Then ‘Brando’ came in. He was an absolutely great coach, too, and taught us a lot of stuff. Both of those coaches were great for my development.”
While Hardman remained strong in the face of the unrest, the left-handed shooter also learned many other lessons that will aid him as he continues to climb the rungs on the hockey ladder.
There was the intense off-ice training, as well as the strict and uptempo practices. There were also the games, in which he competed against teams that had National Hockey League draft picks or players who are expected to be plucked in the future.
“You’re playing against really good competition, and talking to guys who play college hockey right now, the BCHL is definitely a good league to go to before college,” Hardman said. “I grew as a player and as a person.”
Hardman considers his ability to make plays and his physicality as the two areas of his game that improved the most while he was with West Kelowna.
“I’m a big power forward who likes to play physical, but I also have skill,” he explained. “I love playing with two really skilled guys because I can work off them and they can work off me. This year was a perfect example. I played physical and when I had the puck I made plays and tried to put the puck in the back of the net. And you’re always trying to get the puck back, so the biggest thing is to compete, play hard and be physical.”
Hardman credits his billet family, Scott and Kim Tipton, for helping him become accustomed to his new surroundings away from the rink.
“They treated me like I was one of their own,” he said. “I’ll talk to them for the rest of my life.”
What also allowed Hardman to shine so quickly was the experience he gained from the challenges he had to overcome earlier in his career, as well as the lessons he was taught by his coaches at Winchendon — Jarrett Sampson and Brian Troy.
Of course, before he was able to learn from those bench bosses, he had to be accepted to the school, which, as it turns out, was one of only a few prep schools that wanted him.
“I was at Xaverian Brothers High School and short, and there were some prep schools that didn’t think I was going to be the player I am now,” Hardman recalled. “Winchendon gave me a chance, and I took it.”
He continued, “Going through all of that adversity was great for me. When I went into the weight room that summer before going there, I always thought about that. It was the best thing for me.”
Hardman totaled just 21 points (4-17- 21) in 28 games in 2015-16, his first campaign at Winchendon, and then watched as his three best friends — Matt Fawcett (Lincoln, R.I.), Ben Thomas (Ashburnham, Mass.) and Jon Mulera — were drafted into the USHL while he wasn’t selected.
Motivated, he not only grew 3 inches in the summer following that season, but also gained 15 pounds.
“Talking to my coaches in the exit interviews at the end of my first year, they told me I needed to score goals,” Hardman remembered. “I took that to heart. I worked with Jacob Hixson, my skating and skills coach, and we worked on my skating and my shot every day throughout the summer.”
Brimming with confidence, Hardman elevated his scoring statistics immensely the following season as he recorded 54 points (24-30-54) in 28 matches. In addition to doing that, he earned a Division 1 commitment to Union.
“To see all of that hard work pay off was awesome,” he said.
Along the way, Hardman also learned the importance of having good character, a trait that was stressed by the Winchendon coaching staff.
“If you have good character, it’s going to lead you to better places,” he said. “I’ve always followed that. If you’re a bad kid off the ice, coaches at the next level aren’t going to take you, and that’s so true. Prep school leads into the USHL and the BCHL. There’s a draft in the USHL, and all the scouts and coaches are wondering if you have good character or not.”
Hardman’s splendid character was on full display in his BCHL season, and for his work with the Warriors he earned the circuit’s Bob Fenton Trophy, which is awarded to the player “who exhibited the fundamental aspects of sportsmanship while excelling at the game.”
“It means a lot,” he said of winning the trophy. “I didn’t really know too much about the award when I got it, and my coaches told me that it goes to a guy who plays the game the right way. I was definitely humbled by that. It’s a great award. I can’t thank my teammates and coaches enough; they were awesome for me. It was a special moment.”
The special moments will keep coming this fall for Hardman, who has switched his commitment to play for Boston College.
“I wanted to go to school in Boston, play in the Beanpot and play in Hockey East,” concluded Hardman, whose grandfather Bob Sylvia was a captain of Boston University’s hockey club in the 1960s. “I’ve been going to those games since I was 5 years old. I toured BC in January and met (head coach) Jerry York and (assistant coaches) Brendan Buckley and Mike Ayers, and they thought that I could help their team next year. To earn a commitment to BC was huge, especially with the academics. BC is a great school, so if hockey doesn’t work out, there’s a lot of alumni connections with jobs. And the campus is beautiful, too, right in Chestnut Hill. It’s a dream come true.”