Megan Deary, the Scituation
Playing against much older competition should never be easy for a teenager, but Conor Garland made it look elementary this year when he poured in 94 points, including 42 goals, in his first season of junior hockey with the Boston Jr. Bruins.
"I went into the season knowing that this was when the 'real hockey' starts," said Garland via phone from his hometown of Scituate, Mass., which is about 30 miles southeast of Boston. "I expected to have a good season even though it was my first year at that level."
The 5-foot-6 Garland tore up the Tier III Empire Junior Hockey League, displaying a comfort around the net traditionally displayed by more sizable players. Lumberjacks Assistant Coach Steve Palmer raved about Garland's finishing touch on Tuesday night, when Muskegon chose him in the third round of the USHL Futures Draft.
"I've always worked on [my finishing ability] since I was younger," said Garland, who skated with and against players up to five years his elder in the EJHL. "I knew it was going to be a step up from what I was used to so I made sure I was going to be ready for it."
Garland first caught the attention of the Lumberjacks last October when he shined in an under-17 tournament in Detroit. He rode that strong start into a spectacular offensive season, and that experience as one of the youngest players on the squad should help him excel moving forward.
Garland's eventual transition to Muskegon should be a smooth one from an least one other standpoint, as he comes from a similarly hockey-mad state in Massachusetts. Although the NHL's Bruins were knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs last week, the resurgence of the franchise has stoked a fire that began burning a century ago.
"It seems like you have a lot more people and kids at the rink when the Bruins do well," Garland said. "It makes it more fun when more people are excited about it."
Judging by Garland's tone of voice, he's excited to get his first look at Muskegon and L.C. Walker Arena during Tryout Camp in mid-June.
As a bonus, USHL Director of Communications Brian Werger joined me on the latest edition of the Port City Podcast, recorded this afternoon. We discussed how the league goes about marketing itself and spreading the word about its unique mission within the sport we love. He also addressed Tuesday night's inaugural Futures Draft broadcast and how the USHL looks to utilize various media platforms going forward.
Brian also worked in a similar role for the United Hockey League when the Muskegon Fury were tearing it up, and he had some kind things to say about West Michigan hockey fans. He also shared what he would say to someone who is still skeptical about the value of top-level junior hockey: