Pecararo shines against nation’s top amateurs

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Between turning 18 in April and turning heads with his play at the highest levels of American junior hockey, Canton native Liam Pecararo is having himself one heck of a spring.

Source: waterlooblackhawks.com

Source: waterlooblackhawks.com

Playing for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League — the nation’s only Tier I junior hockey circuit — Pecararo took his already refined game to new heights in his second season in Iowa, averaging more than a point per contest while helping to guide Waterloo to the brink of a USHL title.

“It’s been surreal,” Pecararo said of the Black Hawks’ 13-14 season, which ended with a heartbreaking loss to Indiana in the Clark Cup finals. “It’s been one of the hardest stretches of hockey I’ve ever been a part of, but with the players being all in to win it’s been the most fun too.”

As one of the Black Hawks’ top-line forwards, Pecararo didn’t merely go along for the ride this season; he helped steer the ship, finishing third on the team with 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) and continuing his production into the playoffs with 14 points in 12 games — good for third-best in a league littered with elite prospects and future NHL players.

All told, Waterloo finished the year with 52 wins, including a league-best 44-11-5 record in the regular season and a 8-4 mark in the playoffs. They rolled past Sioux Falls and Sioux City in the first two rounds of the postseason before falling to Indiana in a back-and-forth, five-game slugfest in the cup finals.

For Pecararo, it was a bittersweet ending to what has been an incredible two-year journey — one that took him more than 1,000 miles away from home yet brought him so much closer to his lifelong dream of playing professional hockey.

“[Going to Waterloo] was a tough decision,” acknowledged Pecararo, who was just 16 and a sophomore at Canton High School when the Black Hawks selected him at No. 2 overall in the 2012 USHL futures draft. “I thought about waiting a year — at the time I was one of the youngest players in the league — but I figured that it was the best place for me to help in my development.”

Pecararo said he also had fleeting thoughts about suiting up for the Bulldogs and wreaking havoc on the Hockomock League alongside his childhood friends; however, by the time he entered CHS as a freshman he was already playing in the Tier 1 Elite League for the Boston Advantage U-18s, one of the top midget major programs in the country.

It was also around that time that Pecararo began drawing interest from several Division 1 colleges — he would later choose the University of Maine — and by age 15 he had emerged as one of the top U18 prospects in all of New England after leading the Advantage in scoring with 52 points over a 40-game season.

Pecararo’s impressive combination of speed, playmaking ability, and good hands eventually caught the attention of several junior hockey league teams, and over a one-month span he was drafted twice, including in the seventh round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) by the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

Despite the lure of playing in Canada, Pecararo ultimately chose to suit up for Waterloo, joining the team partway through the 2012-13 season and enrolling at Waterloo West High School as a junior. He went on to play in 36 games as a 16 year old, tallying eight goals and five assists for a squad that finished third in the USHL standings.

Liam Pecararo early in his career with Waterloo (Brandon Pollock photo/Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)

Liam Pecararo early in his career with Waterloo (Brandon Pollock photo/Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)

Pecararo said he has had a lot of fun during his time in Waterloo, a small city in northeast Iowa with a population roughly three times that of Canton. He currently lives with a Black Hawks teammate in the home of a local family who are big Waterloo supporters and season ticket holders.

“They’re just like my parents,” he said of his host family. “They help me out with everything from school to hockey. They’re just great people.”

Pecararo’s biggest fans, of course, are his family and friends back home, who followed the team during the season and all throughout the cup run. He also received several visits from his parents, Al and Karen, both former college hockey players, and his younger brothers Seamus, 16, and Brennen, 10, who are both currently playing for the Boston Advantage and hope to one day follow in their big brother’s footsteps.

In the meantime, all eyes will turn toward Liam as he prepares to graduate from Waterloo West next week before returning to Canton and shifting his focus to his first season as a Maine Black Bear. The National Hockey League draft is also right around the corner (June 27-28), and this is the first year that he is eligible to be drafted by an NHL team.

At the very least there has been some buzz among scouts and analysts about Pecararo, with one writer on NHL.com pegging him as a “prospect on the rise” in a story posted in March.

Pecararo himself is also admittedly hopeful after such a strong season in Waterloo, although he knows he has plenty to look forward to regardless of what happens next month.

“Whether or not it comes down to [being drafted], it’s definitely been talked about,” he said. “If not, I will go to Maine next year and work hard and try to play at the highest level possible.”

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avatar Posted by on May 22 2014. Filed under Beyond CHS, Sports.
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