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When loyalty wins out: Hockey star rewarded for choosing Merrimack
Ed. Note — This story ran in Thursday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune. You can view the story on the Eagle-Tribune’s website by clicking here.
NORTH ANDOVER — Merrimack College hockey fans have a lot to be impressed, particularly this winter, when it comes to Alex Jefferies.
He currently is 15th in the nation with 41 points (14 goals, 27 assists), third among Hockey East players — trailing just Boston University teammates Lane Hutson (44 points) and Matt Brown (43).
He became the fifth Warrior in 35 years in Hockey East to make the first team, and the first in a decade (Mike Collins, 2013).
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But there is a more impressive fact about Jefferies, at least from a North Andover perspective.
As Merrimack made a coaching change in the spring of 2018 and Jefferies’ stock was rising — 33 goals, 36 assists for 69 points in just 32 games at Gunnery School as a senior in 2018-19 — other schools inquired.
“We had a coach there watching and Jerry York (of Boston College) was there, too, offering him (a scholarship) right there, on the spot, in front of our coach,” said Borek.
So what we’re saying is Jefferies chose Merrimack over Boston College.
“When Coach Borek came on he continued to stay in touch with me and my family, reaffirming the fact Merrimack wanted me,” recalled Jefferies. “It wasn’t an easy decision, but for me it was the right one.
“Merrimack took a chance with me when I wasn’t a top player (in prep school),” said Jefferies. “I also liked what Coach Borek was trying to create here. Coach was a big reason I wanted to be a part of it.”
Well, he’s a very big part of it, arguably the biggest.
Merrimack’s last great team had that player, the one teams talk about a lot come breakdown time. When Merrimack last made an NCAA tourney, in 2011, said player was Stephane Da Costa, a native of France.
Da Costa, who 13 years later is still playing professionally in Russian, had 14 goals and 31 assists (45 points) that year, his last as a Warrior.
Jefferies is right on par with Da Costa.
But it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, the climb to the first team All-Hockey East was methodical, probably due to the fact he came to Merrimack straight out of prep school, never playing junior hockey.
“Alex came to Merrimack with all that ability to be that guy,” said Borek. “There were some growing pains. Like a lot of guys with that much skill, defense isn’t second nature. You learn at this level, playing offense isn’t enough at this level.”
He had 10 points in 12 games as a freshman and 23 points in 33 games last year.
While his offensive numbers didn’t grow as a sophomore, his hockey IQ did, as in his dedication to defense.
“When I was growing in U16 hockey, all I cared about was scoring goals or getting assists, believing that’s how you win games,” said Jefferies. “But last year was a big step for me. I looked at the game differently, all 200 feet (length of rink). I got to play on the penalty kill, which I loved. You can do so many things to help your team win.”
This season has been Exhibit A for Jefferies.
“Ben Brar is a very good player, mature,” said Borek. “Filip Forsmark and others. I could list six more. They helped bring out the best in Alex, made him uncomfortable, asking him to be responsible defensively. I believe that’s one of the reasons he’s so productive. Ironically, he is now one of the first guys over the wall for our PK.”
But offense — particularly his speed, vision and hands — is what makes Jefferies special.
In Merrimack’s 22 wins, Jefferies has a goal or assist in 19 of them.
Though he is quick to point out he didn’t tally a point in the 1-0 double OT win over Boston College in the Hockey East Tournament quarterfinals last Saturday night.
“We have such a great team, with so many guys that can score and contribute,” said Jefferies. “I don’t feel like there is pressure to score. As coach always has said to me, ‘Play your complete game and the opportunities will come.’”
Jefferies said the Merrimack “aura” of winning, which has included several sports, like football, the soccer teams, the basketball teams and hockey, have created an environment where it is kind of expected.
In fact he was at Lawler Arena when the Merrimack men’s basketball team won the NEC Tourney title over Fairleigh Dickinson, the first official tourney title as a D1 program.
About 200 students stormed the floor, including Jefferies.
“It was so much fun, the entire game, the atmosphere and then the win,” said Jefferies. “We have a lot of great things going on here at Merrimack. Hopefully, we can continue it.”
Borek said while Jefferies’ talent and production are appreciated by his teammates, they aren’t the only things that have won them over.
“When I left the rink today, about a half-hour after practice, I see Alex working on his one-timers. He does that all of the time,” said Borek. “His passion to get better and his drive to be not only a great player here but at the next level, is special.
“Honestly, though, he’s a special person,” said Borek. “In a time when people come and go as they please, and commitment doesn’t mean much, Alex stuck with us. He’s one loyal young man.”
The next level will have to wait. and while the awards and honors appreciated, that’s not what drives him at Merrimack.
“The other stuff is a really cool accomplishment,” said Jefferies. “But I’m looking to win a championship. That’s what I want.”
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.