Dartmouth has a long track record of recruiting in the New England Prep School market with verbal commitments from some of the top defenders in the league in Sean Keohan (Dexter) and Brendan Less (Choate) as well as forwards Christian LeSueur (Brunswick) and Sam Hesler (Belmont Hill). This week they committed their youngest recruit yet in 00’ centerman Shea Courtmanche out of Taft School to keep their prep pipeline flowing.
Courtmanche grew up playing Tier 2 hockey for the Greater New Haven Warriors in Connecticut until he was a second year pewee, when he decided to make the jump to MidFairfield Rangers to play for NHL veteran John Tonelli. Although the commute was over an hour from his house, his parents realized the value of playing for a former NHL star. “Coach Tonelli made me the player I am today; he emphasized two-way hockey and never taking shifts off,” explained Courtmanche. The next season he played for the MidFairfield Bantam team which was ranked among the top programs in the country under coaches Bob Crawford, Josh Siembida, and Pete Ferraro. “They did an amazing job not only keeping our team as a top national competitor but also preparing us for the next level. I can’t say enough about how important Mid-Fairfield was to my development as a player and I can’t thank them enough for all they did for me.”
After a highly successful Bantam season he set his eyes on matriculating to prep school hockey. He narrowed the decision down to three heralded programs in the state of Connecticut: Avon, Taft and Gunnery. While he knew Avon and Gunnery were top echelon teams and that his father had played at Gunnery, he ultimately chose Taft. “My dad has been friends with Coach Murphy for a long time having played at Gunnery together in prep school. My family knew he would be supportive of me both on and off the ice. The other major factor was the academics that Taft had to offer.”
While it is rare for 15-year-old’s to play at the prep Varsity level, Courtmanche not only made the team but played top six minutes and finished the year with 8 goals and 6 assists in 25 games. “I attribute the success I had to the great group of students I go to school with. These guys are the most driven student athletes I have ever met. We all push each other and hold each other to a higher standard on the ice, in the weight room, in the dorms and most importantly in the classroom.”
The hockey transition can be hard enough, but living away from home and balancing the academics, athletics and social life is no small task for a 15-year-old. “Living away from home accelerated my maturity and has made me into more of a man. On the ice, the prep level has been great for my game as the players are bigger, faster and older than anyone I had faced the year before. There is also nothing like the experience of playing for your school.”
Shea also played for a new split season Midget AAA program in Connecticut started by Steve Novodor (assistant coach at Loomis Chaffee) called the Yale Bulldogs. The team was comprised of other young prep standouts like Tyce Thompson (Salisbury), Jacques Bouquot (Salisbury) and Ethan DeStefani (Gunnery) and qualified for the U16 Nationals in San Jose, CA. The team lost in overtime in the semi-finals to Victory Honda, but he described his second trip to the Nationals as “an amazing experience.”
The next step? The USHL Futures Draft. “I talked to a couple teams the night before, but that next day I watched pick after pick waiting to see my name come up and it never did. For a couple days I was very upset. I truly felt I deserved to get drafted,” Courtmanche reflected. “Coach Murphy met with me and gave me a talking to. He said from here I can go two ways: one, I can let it discourage me and effect my studies, or two, use it as motivation to work harder in the weight room and in the classroom. I took his advice and used it as a fire that kept me going all spring. I worked harder than ever in the classroom and in the weight room and finished my first year at Taft strong. I wanted to prove people wrong. As soon as hockey started in the summer I played that way, and I think by doing so, I did prove a lot of people wrong.” He certainly did at the National Development Camp in Buffalo where he outworked and out-hustled his opponents every day for the camp.
While he had been getting recruited for almost a year prior, things really picked up in the spring after Nationals and heading into the summer. He had interest from several ECAC and Hockey East programs, but visited Cornell, Quinnipiac and Dartmouth. “I had other visits lined up for later in the summer, but I fell in love with Dartmouth when I visited after the National Development Camp in Buffalo.” While his play in Buffalo caught a lot of eyes, the Dartmouth staff was well ahead of the pack after following his progress all season long. “Coach Murphy had reached out to Dartmouth early in the year because he, along with my advisor Todd Carroll, thought it was a good fit for me. Their staff came out to see me play in the fall for Yale and again in the winter at Taft. They really did their research and talked to each of my coaches after the games to see if I was the right fit for their program.”
As a young prospect on the rise we asked why Dartmouth? Why now?
“I had a great experience on my visit. I loved the campus and the benefits of attending Dartmouth. One thing that sold me was the coaching staff. Coach Gaudet and his assistant coaches Rose and Lassonde were very honest and experienced and fit my needs as a student athlete. Also both my parents and a lot of my family work in education so going to an Ivy League school, where I would be the first person in my family to have that opportunity, was special to me. The decision was a lot like my decision to attend Taft where I put a lot of value in both the hockey and academics. I want to make it to the highest level of hockey possible, but diplomas from Taft and Dartmouth are great to fall back on.”
Now that he has chosen his college path, we asked what can the loyal fans of Hanover, NH expect from him and what areas of his game is he looking to improve before arriving in 2019 or 2020.
“I see myself as a player with great hockey sense and vision. I see the ice like few can and I use that to my advantage. I might not be the tallest or biggest guy on the ice but I don’t like to get outworked. I contribute mostly as a playmaking offensive player but I can be a solid defensive center at the other end of the ice. Everyone can always get bigger faster stronger, which I plan on doing before I arrive at Dartmouth, but the biggest thing for me to improve upon is my skating ability. I can get from point A to B but my skating is not pretty and can be a lot more efficient.” An honest assessment from an honest player.
He will play in Chowder Cup this upcoming weekend for the NH Knights and work out at MB sports until the fall season starts. He’ll return to Taft (where he expects to stay until he graduates) and also play split season for Yale, as he did last season. With the college commitment out of the way he sets his next goal on the prep season. “My main goal right now is to make Taft a playoff team, and I think we have the tools to do so.” If the National Development Camp this summer is any indication with three of his teammates showing well (Jordan Tonelli, Billy Dobensky and Finn Walker) he may be right.
The last question we ask every prospect who has recently committed NCAA or CHL is what advice they have for the next group of players just starting out on their NCAA/CHL recruiting process. “I would say everyone’s path is different, but I’ve been around winning teams and successful players and the common thread is an unbelievable work ethic. You might have it in you, but the only way to find out if you do is by putting everything into your development.”
With this commitment, their first for the class of 2019, Dartmouth moves into the Top 20 in Recruiting Class Rankings for the Class of 2019.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images