Our first Leagues of Their Own interview of the season is with uncommitted (#7) NTDP defenseman Jack Dougherty, winner of two MN Class A State Championships with St. Thomas Academy, in 11-12 and 12-13 respectively. The 6’0, 185 puck-moving blue liner from Cottage Grove, MN, was previously committed to Ohio State, but after a coaching change Dougherty opted to decommit and re-consider his options. With most players committing at a younger age nowadays, Dougherty holds a lot of the cards in the process as a top uncommitted prospect still available for next year and would provide a big boost to any class of 2018 that can garner a commitment from him.
After starting his high school career by paying his dues on the junior varsity for St. Thomas, Dougherty’s meteoric rise as a player started in sophomore year as he started to skate in international play for the USA, and this past season turned a corner developmentally into a top blue liner in all of high school hockey. We’re lucky to have Jack on board for this feature series. We touched base following a few weeks after settling in with his new team, the NTDP U18s.
So you’ve moved into the NTDP. Let’s start with that whole process – when they got in touch with you, when you thought that might be your destination for this season?
They called me about two weeks before the national camp, said that I’d have a spot, then probably the last couple days of national camp I decided that it was something I wanted to do.
What was it that drew you specifically to the NTDP this season?
Just the opportunity to wear the USA logo and the pride to wear it everyday. Obviously the international exposure and the scouts and all of that, but I thought developmentally, it was a good route.
I assume you’re billeting this year since you’re a Minnesota guy, do you have a roommate?
I’m living with Shane Gersich (North Dakota commit from Holy Family).
You guys played together at the 5 nations tournament last year right? Was that the first time you two had played together?
Yeah, yeah. Uh, I had played with him and against him over the years. We definitely got to know each other there (at Five Nations) though.
I saw you got a secondary assist on Jack Eichel’s 1st period goal against Youngstown and Shane got the first. A little roommate chemistry already? Do you remember the play, what happened?
Yeah, I just got the puck on the point, faked to the middle, stayed to the outside…threw it to the net. Shane got it, passed it to Jack and he buried it.
You came out of that Youngstown game with a team-leading +4 on the night. Who have you been playing with right now and do you think that’s helping you out?
Yeah, I was with Fortunato, Brandon Fortunato (Harvard commit), but then Johnny Macleod (BU commit) got hurt so I was playing with Ryan Bliss (Cornell commit) too and we were rolling seven D.
Fortunato’s a pretty offensive guy. I know you can be, too, so how has that combo been working out so far?
You know, he’s very underrated defensively. Not the biggest guy but he’s got great positioning…
So he complements you in that sense?
Yeah. We complement each other – he can trust me to get back when he jumps up, I can trust him to get back when I do.
Awesome. How about against Indiana, a little tougher competition, looks like they took it to you in the shots category as the game went on. What was that game like?
They work extremely hard, the first forechecker went all out and it was kind of tough to beat him. I thought we as a team played well. They had some good goaltending.
So your roommate, Shane picks up the go-ahead in the third and then you get an assist on the PP to put it away – can you describe what happened there?
Did I get an assist on that one?
I’m just looking off the boxscore, (laughing). They did, Shane got one then you got an assist on Louis Belpedio’s PP tally to go ahead by two.
Haha. I don’t remember it. That was a tough night for me, not a game I want to remember particularly.
Hahaha. So they threw you a phantom assist on that one?
Yeah, they might have..
Oh well. How big was Minney’s play for you guys that night, I see he stopped 33 of 35? He come up big down the stretch?
Oh yeah. He did. I don’t think we played the best defensively. He was really sound back there. Yeah, he had a huge game.
Going back to last year, you won a state championship with St. Thomas, and one the year before, completing the three-peat for the Cadets. Can you describe that experience a bit?
It’s something I’ll never forget. You know, playing in front of whatever it is, 17000 people… Playing with some of those guys, three years, I’ll never forget it. All of them were very supportive of my decision. I think that showed the true character of the team. I’ll remember them the rest of my life.
How tough is it going to be for them, moving up the division to class AA this year?
I think they’ll do fine. The coaching staff knows how to handle their players, play ‘em right, they’ve shown the success over a number of seasons. I don’t think they’ll have any trouble because of the fact that they mostly played a AA schedule last year.
How about the win at Shattuck last year where you were sick? Were you biting your nails about the result on that one?
It was really tough. Streamed it online at my house. It was a great game. Couple minutes after winning, I get a phone call from one of the guys and they all passed it around and they were going nuts in the locker room.
Yeah, I was at that one. Crazy. STA brought down a busload of fans and SSM had all their kids there too…didn’t STA win or tie it up with a minute to go or something?
Yep, yep. Game was tied with a minute to go, Shattuck doesn’t play OT, so they line up for the handshake line and our guys stayed at the bench and they just went and won in OT.
Switching topics to another big game, last summer, out at the Five Nations (U17 tournament) in the Czech Republic. USA went undefeated, going up against Germany, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Switzerland. The Swiss especially have a reputation for being a tough draw internationally and yet at that age group you guys handed them a 5-0 loss. How was that game?
Switzerland, oh yeah. I don’t think the score reflected their team, they were a really hard working team, laid the body at all times…
What was the key to success for you guys across the pond in that one?
The mental attitude, guys knew how to adjust to european play – they kind of run the trap, so we had to dump it in instead of making pretty plays.
Then the Ivan Hlinka this year. Nick Schmaltz seemed to be the story of the tournament, what was it like playing with Schmaltz?
It was great. Certainly made my job a lot easier with all the talent up front. Schmaltzy…just give em the puck, score.
Your goalie was Alex Nedeljkovic, also your goalie at the AAPG this year – alongside teammate Ed Minney. What’s it been like playing games that actually count with those two in net?
It’s great. They’re both crazy good goalies.
How was Nedeljkovic for you guys in the Ivan Hlinka?
It was amazing. He was just so reliable back there, made huge saves. Just stood on his head – unbelievable.
The other team has some fierce names, another teammate Blake Weyrick and Boston College’s Thatcher Demko… which team you think has the edge this year in the nets, having played with most of them now?
Weyrick is really good. I don’t think there’s a bad goalie in this game. I haven’t played with Thatcher.
Back to the Ivan Hlinka for a bit, you guys had some nice results but the USA ended up finishing second, what happened in that game against Canada?
I think we kind of got screwed a little bit there. We came out the first seed in our pool, but ended up having to travel an hour bus ride, which isn’t what the top seed usually has to do, for a seven o’clock game vs. Czech Republic, then we had to play at three PM the next day. But it was a quick turn-around for them (Canada) too.
Who did Canada play that night?
They played Russia, where we were supposed to play.
Having now had success at the U17 level, and maybe a little tougher end to a tournament more recently, how have you felt about wearing that USA jersey overseas before the NTDP? Was there ever a bit of ‘I’m just so happy to be here’ or were you always just thinking ‘OK. This is just another big game, time to get to work’?
It’s kind of both. You just wanna soak it in, but you’re here to play hockey and win.
What kind of attitude are you taking going forward in international competition? Is there still some awe in wearing that jersey by now or has it become more routine?
It’s not really awe – it’s more like pride. They’re wearing their jersey, you’re wearing yours. It’s two countries, at war for sixty minutes.
With just one USHL game left before you take on a few college teams, the first being Northern Michigan, how are you feeling about that?
Can’t wait. Really excited to get a taste of college hockey, the atmosphere, the arena, before I actually go in.
I know last year you were talking with Minnesota, Notre Dame, UNO, RPI, Michigan Tech and ended up with Ohio State. What about (former coach Mark) Osiecki’s pitch got you to commit to the Buckeyes?
He’s a Minnesota guy, so he understands, I think, that Minnesota guys think about hockey in college a little different than other kids so he understands that. He said I could come in and play big role, which was important. Don’t want to be a healthy scratch. He was just straight-up with me, completely honest with me, not trying to lie to me.
Do you know what you want to major in or any idea in that regard?
Well, I’ve kind of always wanted to be a teacher. Or, actually, maybe a biology major.
What kind of role are you currently playing (with the NTDP)?
I think we’re all contributing equally, me and Fortunato play on the powerplay, and then we kind of roll 8, or 7 D at even strength.
What about as a player, like for example, two-way defenseman, good first pass type of player?
Yeah, actually, that’s pretty much it. Two-way defenseman, makes a good first pass..
What about offensively, do you think of yourself a potential powerplay QB? You mentioned that you and Fortunato are on the PP and to me he’s the type of player born to run a powerplay, too, so what kind of role are you playing there, outlet or are you QBing?
He quarterbacks it. I don’t mind being in a different role there. But I do love to QB. In college, I’d like to play that type of role.
Well, Jack, thanks for doing this and best of luck in the All-American Prospects Game this Thursday.
Thanks for reading. We’ll touch base with Jack again in a little while, probably after he’s chosen his collegiate home.