Two weeks ago Derek Pratt’s suitcase landed inside the bedroom of an Iowa household, his next-to-last stop on a mission that began at the Collins-Moylan Arena and will culminate a year from now at the University of Connecticut.
“I’ve been watching Hockey East all my life so it’s exciting,” said Pratt, who will be on scholarship to play for the Huskies during their inaugural season in Hockey East.
Between now and then Pratt will hone his skills skating for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League, a path chosen by many college-bound skaters who want more time to develop. Eleven players on this year’s Northeastern University roster, for example, have played in the USHL. “He’s big and physical and still growing into himself,” said his father Tom Pratt, the varsity coach at Northfield Mount Hermon School.
Pratt played three seasons for his father at NMH but by his senior year, “It was time for him to play for someone else.”
He packed his bags and headed for New Hampshire where he attended Concord High School and played for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. A 6-foot-1, 190-pound defenseman, Pratt had one goal and 109 penalty minutes in 45 games.
“I’m a physical, stay-at-home defenseman, that’s my game,” said Pratt from the Cedar Rapids airport where his team was waiting for a flight to New Jersey for an exhibition series called the Atlantic Challenge. “I’m really enjoying the experience so far. It’s been great. Being away from home is just something I have to sacrifice to get to the next level.”
The USHL is composed of 16 teams that play roughly 75 games from September through April. It is built, said Waterloo business administrator Doug Miller, “So that the coaches, players and staff can end up where they want.”
Pratt’s opportunity to play in Hockey East came when UConn hired longtime Boston College assistant Mike Cavanaugh on May 8.
“Mike called Derek that day,” said his father. “He was really excited. We’ve known Mike and he’s kept tabs on Derek for a long time. He laid out a great vision and offered Derek a scholarship the first day he visited the campus.”
The scholarship calls for 60 percent tuition Pratt’s freshman year, 75 percent his sophomore year and a full boat his junior and senior years.
During the trip to Waterloo Pratt’s father was behind the wheel and his brother Kevin came along for the ride. A recent Boston College grad, Kevin was the manager for the BC hockey team his senior year and is focusing on law enforcement with an eye on the FBI. “We took the Mass. Pike and never took another turn it seemed,” said Tom Pratt. “It was nine hours to Cleveland and another ten to Waterloo. John Deere is in Waterloo, the University of Northern Iowa is near there, and so is a lot of corn.”
Pratt will play for coach P.K. O’Handley, who in March became the first USHL coach to reach the 1,000-game milestone. “There was some good ones, there was some stinkers,” O’Handley said on YouTube. “I think the USHL is an unbelievable training ground of life.”
Half the Black Hawks’ games will be in 3,000-seat Young Arena and the other half will be on the road in cities like Youngstown, Ohio, and Lincoln, Neb. Long rides indeed but no homework. “Not studying,” said Pratt. “No school. It’ll be pretty nice to sit back for a little bit.”
Vegasinsider.com lists the Maine Black Bears as three-point favorites to beat UMass this afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
Last week the Minutemen were 441∕2-point underdogs against Wisconsin and were beaten 45-0. The Wisconsin radio announcers were merciful, although Badgers play-by-play man Matt Lepay did refer to one UMass punt as “A five-yard rocket.”
USA Today ranks UMass third from the bottom in its list of 125 FBS teams, ahead of only South Alabama and Georgia State.
Akron is 122nd, which is why FBScedules.com includes the Akron-UMass matchup in November on its top ten list of least-anticipated games all season.
Bad publicity is better than no publicity, but if today’s crowd is under 10,000 then it’s a safe bet that most fans are already indifferent.
Retired Bernardston police chief Pete Brulotte recently passed away. The last time I saw Pete was in Adams Donuts, where he recalled a night many years ago when he and two friends from the Greenfield Police Department were leaving a Red Sox game and witnessed a break-in. “We ran over to a cop who was directing traffic and he looked at us and said, ‘Mind your own bleeping business.”
Brulotte laughed at the memory. He was gruff and irascible, but when he smiled it came from the heart.
“Why do we put guys on to say they’re sorry?” MLB analyst Harold Reynolds asked after Nelson Cruz apologized for using PEDs. “It’s like the parent who says, ‘Go back and apologize and then we’ll let you play.’ C’mon. I want to hear one guy tell me, ‘Here’s what I did to beat the test.’ That’s what I want to know.”
Squibbers: Commenting on Earl Weaver’s numerous ejections, a longtime friend and former schoolmate emailed: “I saw Earl Weaver tossed in 1980 (Milwaukee), first inning. You could smoke in the park back then and I set my program ablaze — flames, it was under my seat.” ... The Patriots playing in the AFC East is comparable to the Tigers playing in the AL Central. They’ll run the Division table and finish 12-4, losing to Denver, Atlanta, Houston, and Baltimore, a done deal. ... Ricky Williams, erstwhile vegan, pot smoker, Hindu, and Heisman Trophy winner for whom Mike Ditka traded all his 1999 draft picks, is the running backs coach at the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio. ... Only 9,962 turned out in Cleveland to watch the Tribe’s 4-3 win over the O’s on Tuesday night. ... The White Sox, who are 26 games under .500 at this writing, have six games left with Detroit which will hurt Boston’s chances of finishing with the best record and home field advantage in the playoffs. ... A tip of the hat to Craig Breslow, Koji Uehara and Daniel Nava, but Shane Victorino gets my vote for the 10th Player Award. ... Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson calls Jose Iglesias “the next Ozzie Smith.” Indeed, despite Jake Peavy’s contributions the Tigers got the best of the deal, a 23-year-old everyday player for a 32-year-old pitcher who’s 36-30 since 2010. ... It’s September and the pennant race is upon us. “If we’re going to win the pennant,” said Casey Stengel. “We’ve got to start thinking we’re not as good as we think we are.”
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.