In the world of college hockey, recruiting has become a national enterprise. While the majority of Minnesota’s and Boston College’s rosters are full of locals, they also have players from the Southeast, the West Coast, the Midwest, etc. The game is evolving and growing throughout the US and college rosters are starting to look the part. So how does a Beanpot baby born in Watertown, MA commit to a school in the Midwest?
Patrick Keegan Jr. grew up a hockey player, joining the in house “learn to skate” program at John A. Ryan Arena in Watertown, MA. The old, weathered rink in a nondescript location has developed many talented players. Patrick played in Watertown through mites. Soon, he was asked to play for Sean Gorman’s Middlesex Braves. That team would eventually become the East Coast Wizards when Patrick reached Bantam age.
“I learned a lot from Coach Gorman and we stayed with him all the way through. He was a great coach and was the key to my development,” said Patrick.
Through squirts and pewees while other kids his age were playing video games or hanging around, Patrick was starting a small landscaping business. He bought some equipment and his parents would drive him around to do yard work and other odd jobs. He maintained and grew that business throughout this past summer while he was dealing with college recruiters and the pressure of being a top ranked player in the country. Recently, he merged his business with a friend. Patrick reflected his business beginnings:
“I had 10 clients and my mom would tow me around and it was great. I have always had a strong work ethic and enjoyed the job and earning money.”
This past season he enrolled in Billerica HS, played split season with the Boston Jr. Eagles and some tournaments with the East Coast Wizards. Patrick was recruited to play for the BC Jr. Eagles coach Kent Hughes who was friends with Patrick’s father.
“I had a lot of friends on that team but it wasn’t close to my house so we had to travel a bit to get to practices but we made it work. Coach Hughes was a great coach and we had a good team which helped prepare me for the High School season.”
As the season came around Patrick may have been a freshman on paper but looked more like a college student at 6-2/220. On the ice he was big, strong and played a mean, aggressive game. At school, however, he was social, kind, respected and well liked among his peers.
“I loved Billerica HS. I made a lot of friends from athletes to non-athletes and it really prepared me academically for the next chapter. Massachusetts High School hockey is special. It was the first time in my life that I was playing for a school and in front of fans that were cheering you on in the stands and then talking to you about it the next day at school. It’s also a great experience to play against kids I grew up playing with on the Wizards, Braves and Eagles.”
While Massachusetts High School hockey isn’t highly scouted it didn’t take long for scouts to start noticing the big shutdown defenseman at Billerica High. Keegan started getting attention from junior and prep school teams throughout the country. He soon narrowed his search to Cushing, Salisbury, Avon, St. Sebastian’s and St. Marks.
Patrick noted, “I had been thinking about prep school for a few years, and as I started getting more noticed, we thought it was the right time to make the move. What attracted me to boarding school was that it prepares you for college, it’s a high level of play and you get a lot of development from being on the ice four days a week for practice and two days a week for games. The biggest reason though, for me, was to be in an atmosphere where you are living in dorms with your teammates, going to class together and bonding as a team and as a school.”
When it came down to making a decision, it was not easy on where to choose.
“I had friends at each of the schools and my family and I thought long and hard about it. They are all amazing schools with great teachers and coaches and facilities.”
Patrick decided to go with the school that he visited first; Cushing Academy, one of the most storied high school hockey programs in New England and perhaps the country. He knew he was in good company walking around the rink and seeing the NHL alumni who once manned the blue line for the Penguins; guys like Tom Poti, Keith Yandle and Zach Bogosian.
“Cushing was the first visit I had and right away my family and I hit it off with Coach Gagnon. He loved the way I played and was down to earth and honest with us from the start. He told us he’d be there for me as a hockey player, as a student and a person and develop me as best they could. Everything from the rink, the history of the program, the school, and the coaching staff made myself and my parents feel like it was the right place for me.”
With the prep school decision out of the way some would think Patrick could relax and focus on getting ready for the season at Cushing; but that was not the case. He would be drafted in two drafts this past spring, the USHL Futures Draft where he was taken in the ninth round by Bloomington Thunder and in the QMJHL Entry Draft where he was taken in the sixth round by the Moncton Wildcats (a team that’s done well with American players).
“I had been in touch with a some teams a few months before the draft and they came out to see me playing during the fall and winter. The night of the USHL Draft I was actually at a lacrosse game and looking at the live results on my phone while we were on the bus home. I was taken later in the draft so I was able to get home in time and hook it up to our TV. When I saw my name on the screen and got a call from Bloomington, it was a great feeling. I hugged my dad and called my mom immediately and it was just a great moment.”
Keegan went out to Bloomington’s camp this summer and had a “great experience” meeting the coaches, current players as well as some of the other drafted guys:
“Talking with some of the older guys who had already played a season or two in the league was really helpful to understand what it’s all about and what it takes to play in that league.”
Prior to camp in Bloomington, Patrick had already received interest from UNH (his first college visit) and Northeastern but it wasn’t until camp that he caught the eye of Midwest programs like Michigan and Wisconsin. The very next week Patrick and his father flew out of Logan airport to Detroit with college visits lined up at Michigan and Wisconsin.
“Our first tour was at Michigan. They have great facilities, great coaches and beautiful campus. I then drove six hours with my dad to Madison, spent the night and went on a tour of Wisconsin the next day. From the moment I walked in that rink I had a great feeling about it. Everyone there from the coaches to the rink staff to the people on campus we met during the tour were so nice and respectful. I felt at home right away.”
After the tour he went and spoke with the entire coaching staff.
“They showed a lot of interest in me and told me what they had to offer. They didn’t give me promises or try and sell me on anything, they just said this is what we have to offer. I really appreciated that.” After the meeting the coaches offered him. “Coach (Tony) Granato told me that they would love to have me and that they wouldn’t push me, but if I wanted to be a Badger they were here.”
While the young star admits he pretty much knew right then and there, he decided to go home and think about it over the weekend. Keegan told the coaches he would call on Monday and let them know yes, no or that he needs more time. He went to the Lake that weekend with his family and talked it over with aunts, uncles and his parents. He wasn’t just thinking about Wisconsin as he was also considering the QMJHL. When Monday morning came the kid from Billerica called Coach Granato and told him his future would be with the Badgers.
“I was like any other Boston kid who dreamed of playing for the Beanpot. But when you start going through the process you quickly realize that it’s not about the Beanpot or playing in front of your friends; it’s about going to the place that is the best fit and the place that will help develop you into the best player you can be. Wisconsin has three elite coaches and I knew that was where I would develop the best as a hockey player and hopefully make a run at an NHL career.”
He describes that call to Coach Granato as one of the best moments of his life, but in the midst of the excitement and joy of being committed, was also a sigh of relief.
“It’s a big relief to know where you are going to play in the future. It’s been really stressful knowing there are coaches in the stands every night watching you and critiquing you and not know ultimately where you’ll end up. Now it’s all about getting better. No more scouts, no more pressure, no more visits. Now going into Cushing that is my whole mindset is to continue to develop and improve to be the best player and best teammate I can be.”
Patrick admitted that he had a visit schedule with Northeastern and understands that if he had waited longer he likely would have had more offers, but as the term goes “when you know, you know.”
In many ways he’s a throwback, an old-school style defenseman who plays mean and physical. Keegan’s not trying to gain style points; he simply wants to shut opponents down and help his team win. His skating, his size and his tenacious mentality make him one of the toughest players in the country to get around. When asked about his style of play he attributes it to his upbringing.
“I grew up in a small town where I worked for what I got, I wasn’t handed everything. My parents were supportive but they also pushed me to be my best and prepared me to handle things on my own. When I play hockey I know my size and strength and feel responsible to set the tone and be tough to play against. I outwork and outmuscle guys because I want it more than they do.”
He also explained that the reason for some of his offensive abilities come from playing forward at an early age.
Lastly, as is custom at Neutral Zone with parents, coaches and fans reading these articles; what advice would he give the next rising star out of Watertown or Billerica who is starting to get pursued by colleges?
“I would tell them, the last thing you want to do is rush it and make emotional decisions. If I made decision on emotions I would have decided to go to UNH or the Q before ever seeing Wisconsin. Also, I would tell them that when you start getting recruited a lot of people start giving you their input. It’s important to get as much information and feedback to make the best decisions possible, but remember it’s your future, not anyone else’s.”
Patrick Keegan Jr. is the fourth player to commit to the class of 2019, making Wisconsin one of the top recruiting classes in the country that year.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images