Brian Hart at the NHL Draft Combine. (Photo by Brad White/NHLI via Getty Images)
Recruiting is never easy in college hockey, but there are a few institutions with a leg up on the competition. Sometimes it’s due to geography, sometimes it’s due to success. In the case of Harvard, it’s because it’s Harvard, the most famous university in the world. And the Crimson family is happy to welcome a couple offensive weapons to campus next season in Jimmy Vesey and Brian Hart.
“I could never go there if it wasn’t for hockey,” Hart said. “I’m really grateful to get in.”
A two-sport star at Phillips Exeter prep school in New Hampshire, Hart set varsity records in soccer with his scoring prowess, including the single-season mark for goals with 35 in 20 games. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Maine product noted that soccer helped his hockey game when it came to learning how to shield the ball from opponents. But he still points toward the ice for inspiration.
“I’m a power forward with skill,” he said. “I watch a lot of James Neal. We’re about the same size; he likes to shoot the puck, I try to shoot the puck a lot as well. He’s a superstar now and I’m trying to get there.”
Scouts love Hart’s heavy shot and noted how hard he is to stop once he builds up a head of steam. Heading to coach Ted Donato’s Harvard squad will also help the youngster round out his skill set.
“I want to play a defensive game,” Hart said. “I can’t just be a goal-scorer in the NHL, I’d have to play two-way and Harvard seemed like a good fit for that. I was all over the ice in high school and I need to change that at the next level.”
While Hart will be draft eligible for the first time in 2012, Vesey is on his second go-around. Though he was a standout at Belmont Hill prep school in 2011, he didn’t hear his name called at the draft. But a switch over to the South Shore Kings of the Eastern Jr. League (where Minnesota Wild prospect Charlie Coyle played) allowed Vesey to flourish: He put up 48 goals and 91 points in just 45 games, earning MVP and offensive player of the year honors for the circuit.
“I used last year as motivation and went out and had a good year,” he said. “I really just wanted to play against older and stronger kids to help the transition to Division 1 college.”
Like Hart, Vesey saw the Crimson’s offer as something he could not pass up.
“It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime thing getting accepted into Harvard,” he said. “Not a lot of people in my family had the opportunity to go to college and this secures my future after hockey as well.”
Vesey’s breakout season netted him a rare overage slot at the draft combine in Toronto, where he interviewed with a score of teams and got to hang out with his future Harvard teammate Hart for a few days.
“I hadn’t met him before, so this was a great experience,” Vesey said. “It may be someone I’m rooming with for the next four years, so it’s good to get to know him.”
And who knows? With Vesey playing the left wing and Hart a right winger, the freshmen may even get on a line together in Boston. At 6-foot, 178 pounds, Vesey doesn’t have the size of Hart, but it’s pretty obvious what he brings to the table.
“My goal scoring is my biggest asset and my offensive awareness around the net,” he said. “The biggest thing is my first few strides from a standstill. It’s something I’m going to improve.”
And he and Hart will both have a pretty nice setting to do so in next season.
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