Top Freshmen Ready For First Faceoff
Once Champs Together, Fitzgerald, Veccione Meet at Frozen Four
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
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The last time Ryan Fitzgerald and Mike Vecchione were on the ice together, they were raising a Super 8 tournament trophy as Massachusetts state high school champions with Malden Catholic, coached by former Merrimack head coach Chris Serino.
The next time will be Thursday, when the freshmen will stare across the ice at each other for the first time ever at the Frozen Four when Fitzgerald’s Boston College Eagles take on Vecchione’s Union College Dutchmen.
“It will be a little strange I’m sure,” said Fitzgerald. “We’ve never played against each other, so it will definitely be different. I’m excited for it though. We grew up together and played together for a long time, so it will be fun to compete against him.”
Vecchione and Fitzgerald were on the same line at MC, where they were also joined by Boston University freshman Brendan Collier.
Once together, they helped trigger an impressive streak for the Lancers, who have won four straight Super 8 titles in Massachusetts – theirs was the first.
“Once Ryan got to MC, we all clicked,” Vecchione said. “Me, him, Collier. We played two years together and won a state title. It was pretty special.”
The trio all committed to Division I schools not long after.
“I asked Coach Serino to put us together,” said Vecchione, who originally committed to New Hampshire before decommitting and signing with the Dutchmen. “We just had chemistry from the start. It was tic-tac-toe. Those guys were all really selfless and it didn’t mater who scored. After my junior year, we were all talking to colleges and the next year we were all committed.”
Fitzgerald added: “I loved playing with those guys. Looking back we were obviously part of something special but even at the time, you could sort of tell and feel it. It’s funny to think though, I mean it doesn’t feel like it was a long time ago that we were winning that championship and here it is a few years later and we’re on opposite sides.”
Vecchione and Fitzgerald helped put Malden Catholic hockey on the map.
Despite an incredible run of success in the 1960s and '70s, when Serino took control of the program in 2005, it was down — not having made the state tournament in years and consistent basement dwellers in a competitive conference.
But Serino was a recognizable face in hockey circles, especially locally, and immediately helped turn the momentum.
All of a sudden, Malden Catholic was attracting some of Massachusetts’ top players to play in the ultra-competitive Catholic Conference, which also includes Catholic Memorial and Boston College High School, a pair of programs that have sent numerous players to Hockey East schools.
Vecchione, Fitzgerald and Collier were among the first to make the decision to play at MC. After those three paved the way, other Division I commitments have followed, including Fitzgerald’s brother Casey (Boston College), Tyler Sifferlen (Massachusetts-Lowell), Mike Iovanna (Masschusetts), Ara Nazarian (New Hampshire) and Matt Filipe (Northeastern).
Serino died last year after a long batter with cancer. John McLean, who was an assistant coach under Serino at Merrimack and at MC, has taken over as head coach.
“Obviously (Serino) was a college coach and I think that got people excited,” Vecchione said. “He brought a college style to our practices and games. I know he helped me a lot when I was looking at schools. When I was going through that process, I was watching the things the college teams were doing and we were doing a lot of the same stuff. He knew how to develop us as players and how to help get us to the next level.
“He’ll definitely be on my mind. I owe a lot to him.”