TROY, N.Y. — Last year was a banner year for the ECAC in terms of national recognition. A look at the rosters of the Titan All-America Teams from the East, and the presence of the ECAC was undeniable.
On the first team there was Trevor Koenig (Union) in goal, Matt Pagnutti (Clarkson) on defense, and Martin St. Louis (Vermont) and Todd White (Clarkson) at forward. On the second team, Dan Murphy (Clarkson) in goal, and Mike Harder (Colgate) and Eric Healey (Rensselaer) at forward. But of those, only Healey, Murphy and Koenig were underclassmen.
This year, those superstars may be a little harder to find.
The ECAC — a world without a star? Maybe, and maybe not.
A look at the top of the ECAC scoring charts finds a returning All-American — Eric Healey.
It isn’t surprising to find Healey atop the charts; after all, he was the league’s returning scorer this season.
Healey became the first Engineer since 1986 — when Mark Jooris tallied 34 goals — to hit the 30-goal mark last season, joining the likes of Adam Oates, Frank Chiarelli and George Servinis among Rensselaer’s 30-goal club. He led the team in points, as did Oates and Joe Juneau. He shares All-American status with such Engineers as Oates, Juneau, John Carter, Neil Little and Darren Puppa.
“Wow,” said Healey. “When I was growing up and watching them, I idolized them, and to be mentioned in the same breath as those guys is incredible.
“It gives me hope that I could play at the same level that they did in college, and that I’d love to play hockey afterwards and get up to their status. For me to be even considered with them, it’s just an honor.”
Add to his stats a mark of 26 assists, and you can see why all of a sudden people had their heads turned towards Eric Healey, leading to a second-team All-ECAC selection and a second-team All-America selection.
“I was a little surprised [to be named an All-American], because I made [only] second-team ECAC,” said Healey. “I didn’t think I had a chance.
“I knew I had the numbers, but because I was second-team I didn’t even think about it. There were a lot of big guns [Hobey Baker finalists Mike Harder, Martin St. Louis, and Todd White] ahead of me so I just didn’t expect it.”
When Healey arrived at Rensselaer, Healey was known as a scorer, but wasn’t especially heralded among the freshmen class. He was one of six, and one of three undrafted. He arrived from the New England Classics, and played a year at Tabor Academy before that.
He did come with credentials — while with the Classics he scored 137 points with 61 goals and 76 assists, and was named the New England Junior Hockey Player of the Year. After that came the choice of where to attend college, which for Healey came down to just a few things.
First off, all of his friends were going to stay in the New England area, and most of them were going to attend Beanpot schools — Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern and Harvard. Second, not many schools recruited him, despite being the Player of the Year.
There was interest from Rensselaer, Vermont and Clarkson, and Healey chose Rensselaer, maybe because a Rensselaer connection was already established within the Healey family. Healey’s uncle played college hockey at Holy Cross under Mike Addessa, who went on to Rensselaer, where he won the NCAA championship in 1985.
“It was basically because I didn’t have anywhere to go at that time,” joked Healey. “I made my decision because I wanted to get it out of the way.”
It was a decision that Healey, Rensselaer and Engineer fans have never regretted.
When Healey arrived he was put on the fourth line, but within five games, he was on a line with seniors Craig Hamelin and Wayne Clarke. Combining the seniors and Healey paid dividends for the Engineers.
“That was a great opportunity for me because I followed their lead,” Healey said. “They liked to carry the puck through the neutral zone and I just followed the play and went to the net and took the body to create space for them. I was the guy that sat in front of the net and took a beating.
“But I got the odd goal here and there,” he added with a smile.
In fact, Healey scored 13 goals and added 11 assists in a freshman campaign that placed him on the ECAC All-Rookie Team, and was a member of the first ECAC championship team for the Engineers since the last Adam Oates-led team in 1985.
In the league championship game, Healey scored twice, with his first of the game being the winner.
“That was probably the highlight of my college career, and I was just glad that I could contribute,” he said.
Not only did Healey contribute, he learned a lot from the senior-laden team. He credits Clarke with a lot of his development.
“Clarkie was a tremendous influence,” Healey said. “I spent a lot of hours on and off the ice with him. He was a great guy and a great hockey player, and he was a great mentor for me.
“I wasn’t really aware of what was going on that year because it went so quickly, but I learned to work hard and go out every day with the same attitude,” he added. “To be a leader when you have to be a leader.
“I followed the suit of the seniors and I started to become a leader.”
Healey’s next year was a disappointing one for the Engineers, who suffered their first-ever 20-loss season. He also had different linemates, this time playing with seniors Bryan Richardson and Tim Regan on the number-one line.
“I was probably the biggest guy on that line and I did a lot of the gritty work,” Healey recalled. “Our line complemented each other well. It’s always great when you play with a great centerman (Richardson) [who] can dish the puck left and right.”
He added 18 goals and 22 assists to his numbers that season, and going from a championship team to a team that lost 20 games also provided valuable lessons.
“You can’t take things for granted,” he said. “We had a lot of potential and a lot of high scorers, and we thought we were better than we were. We just didn’t do the little things that we needed to do to win like we did the year before.”
Healey’s third season came with his third different set of linemates. Still on the number one line, Healey was with sophomores Alain St. Hilaire and Matt Garver. The trio exploded last season, scoring 140 points between the three. Healey accounted for 56 of those points and it culminated in Healey’s All-ECAC and All-American selections.
“I can attribute the whole thing to my whole line,” Healey said of the selections. “You’re only as good as your teammates, and the whole team can take credit for my individual honor.
“I think I surprised a lot of people because there wasn’t a lot expected from our team,” he added. “I was able to pop in to get the 30 goals which is another highlight for me.”
He led in goals and points in the ECAC tournament last season as well, setting the stage for an outstanding junior year.
“Going into my third year I had a lot more confidence and I matured as a player — physically and mentally,” he said. “When you have a lot of confidence, you take more time with the puck.”
This season, Healey didn’t get a different set of linemates, and the Engineers were picked to win the ECAC as the season began. Not only that, but his line was the one that generated most of the buzz in the ECAC.
However, the season started with a 6-0 loss at Boston University, and the Engineers found themselves with a 7-5-0 record after 12 games. Healey had six goals and nine assists, but still, the talk around the ECAC was `What’s happened to Healey and Rensselaer?’
“I put a lot of pressure on myself and it showed coming out of the gates,” Healey admitted. “I was little snakebitten there, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying.
“I was hurt the first 12 games of the season,” he also revealed. “Sitting in the stands, people probably didn’t know that. I knew I wasn’t playing the way I was capable of playing. But in the last 16 games, I thought I’ve come on pretty strong.”
Pretty strong may be an understatement. In those 16 games, Healey has put up 10 goals and 15 assists, giving him 17 goals and 24 assists on the season — the best overall in the league. He is also first in league scoring, with 12 goals and 19 assists in ECAC play.
He is only two points away from matching his entire league total of last year, two goals from breaking into the top ten all-time Rensselaer goal-scorers, and 22 points from breaking into the top ten Rensselaer point-producers.
“[The scoring title] is always in the back of your mind, but I’d trade that in for a championship and a chance to go to the NCAA tournament again,” he said.
Healey’s 31 ECAC points put him just ahead of his closest competition, both of whom happen to be his linemates, St. Hilaire and Garver.
“If we can finish one-two-three in the league that would be a great boost for RPI hockey,” Healey said. “We’ve had a lot of great scorers in the past and it would be a great honor for the team.
“It’s tough when you’re the center of attention,” he added. “You’re either playing against the checking line or the other team’s best players. It’s a double-edged sword, and it’s kind of frustrating, but I’ve been playing the game for so long that [I know that] if you don’t want to be in that position then you shouldn’t be playing the game.”
Next year, the undrafted senior hopes that he can continue to play the game that started for him on the ponds in Hull when he was four years old.
“I’d like to entertain anybody’s offer,” he said. “I’m not just going to play hockey for 20 years and hang it up. I’ve got a lot more hockey left to be played.
Regardless of his hockey future, there’s his business management degree with a minor in marketing, but Healey hopes that’s not for years to come.
“I’m not ready for nine to five,” he said. “What’s that saying? `Your worst day at the rink is your best day at the office?’ So I’m going to try to keep it that way for a while.”
But for now, the focus is the ECAC championship, which looked lost early in the season, but is once again in sight.
“As a team, we’re definitely peaking,” said Healey. “We lost a lot of games that we shouldn’t have lost and we’ve underachieved. We have to take control of our own destiny — and we will.”
But how about the Hobey Baker Award, the scoring title, and the ECAC Player of the Year?
“We’ll see what happens,” laughed Healey. “I know what kind of hockey player that I am. I don’t have to prove anything to anybody, except to my teammates and my coaches. People can think whatever they want of me as long as I have the respect of my teammates — that’s all that I want.
“And that ECAC championship.”
The thought isn’t to finish atop the ECAC in the scoring race, or to be a Hobey Baker Finalist. There’s only one thought going through Healey’s mind.
“My whole class is my inspiration because we’ve been here for four years. We’ve learned from each other and we’ve helped each other grow as people, and as players on the ice,” he said. “We’ve been with each other every day for the last four years.
“I’ve been with my other teammates for awhile now, too, and I’d like them to get that feeling that we did when we were freshmen,” he added. “It’s the best feeling in the world to come out with a team championship.
“I came in on a bang and I’d like to go out with a bang.”
Special thanks to Rensselaer Sports Information Director Leigh Jackman.