The Rockets Hockey Club’s Johnny Wescoe is a walking symbol of the effectiveness and success of the USPHL’s multi-tiered development model, starting at the USPHL 16U level, working up through 18U hockey and he will now be going into his second year in the National Collegiate Development Conference.
Next fall, he moves on to NCAA Division I hockey with Niagara University. Following the popular hashtag “#trusttheprocess” mentality, Wescoe has continued to improve at every level, culminating in winning the 2020-21 NCDC Rookie Of The Year Award.
“I definitely have come a long way,” said Wescoe, who moves on to a second full NCDC season with the Rockets in 2021-22, his fifth USPHL campaign. “Every little piece of my game has gotten better since I started working with Jason [Kersner, former Skipjacks Hockey Club Head Coach and current Rockets NCDC Head Coach].”
After the 2020-21 season ended, Wescoe began his conversations with Niagara University, who had seen him several times on HockeyTV.
“They talked to me a lot and really seemed interested in me. We did a lot of phone calls and Zoom meetings,” said Wescoe. “They have a great coaching staff at Niagara, and they really take the time and effort to put a lot of work into their players and help them advance skill-wise and hockey career-wise.”
Wescoe was unable to take a tour of Niagara, but did get an online tour that also helped to win him over.
“The campus is beautiful. It’s a smaller school, but very nice, and educationally, their players seem to do very well when they are there,” added Wescoe, who said he’ll take the next year to explore and focus in on a potential major.
Wescoe first came under the guidance of Jason Kersner in 2017-18, playing his first season for Jason and his brother Jared Kersner’s Skipjacks Hockey Club, starting at the 16U level. He tore through the 16U league, posting 30 points in 25 games, along with four points in a pair of playoff games.
The next mountain to climb was the 18U level, where he remained for two seasons with the Skipjacks, eventually setting the record for most points in an 18U career for that organization, with 56 in 45 games, a mark that is also tied for 12th overall in USPHL 18U history. Additionally, he provided 13 points in nine playoff games, second all-time in the USPHL 18U Division.
The Skipjacks 18U squad reached the 2019-20 final, falling to the Jersey Hitmen. When Kersner took the Rockets’ job in the 2020 off-season, there was no question Wescoe would be a big part of his plans - and no doubt in Wescoe’s mind where he would play.
“It wasn’t really a hard decision. Jason is just an incredible coach, he knows his stuff, he’s very smart about the game. As I advanced in my career, he told me from Day 1 that I would be a Division I player, and it turned out I was,” said Wescoe, who posted 22 goals and 21 assists for 43 points in 44 regular season games. Four more assists in four playoff games followed.
The Rockets players enjoy a great deal of autonomy to be themselves and be creative on the ice, which helped Wescoe to his impressive totals.
“It’s the players’ team, that’s our motto. It’s our team, he always says, which is pretty cool,” added Wescoe. “‘Everyone is a leader’ is another motto. As long as you’re accountable for something, you’re a leader. It’s not typically one person who will stand up in the locker room if something needs to be said - everyone talks, everyone owns up together. That’s why our team was successful this past year.”
The Rockets launched from second-to-last in 2019-20 to second place in the 2020-21 NCDC, as well as a trip to the Dineen Cup final, where they fell to the Hitmen.
Wescoe and the many other newcomers were a big part of the 2020-21 turnaround, but the Rockets didn’t leave behind veterans, either.
“A couple kids on the team the year before said how different it was and how much more fun they were having,” said Wescoe. “We have a lot of guys coming back this year again, so we just have to play the best we can all the time.”
The Rockets’ season - and that of the entire NCDC - was almost derailed in the fall of 2020 due to restrictions by nearly all of the states in which the NCDC operated, banning interstate travel. USPHL leadership, spearheaded by former Commissioner Richard Gallant, came up with Hub City Tampa, moving the entire NCDC (as well as a number of USPHL Premier and Elite teams facing the same issues) to Florida. There, players all lived and ate all their meals at Saddlebrook Golf and Tennis Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla., and were restricted to traveling by bus only between rinks and the resort, which offered all manner of recreational opportunities during downtime.
“It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Seeing the NHL do the bubble [for their 2020 playoffs], then you do a bubble-like atmosphere, was amazing,” said Wescoe. “We were able to go and play 20 league games each when few other junior leagues were playing games at all.”
With COVID-19 (slowly) fading as an everyday menace, the 2021-22 season promises to be much more normal, with all teams more than likely able to play their regular slate of home games with fans. Although his college commitment may be set for the year after, Wescoe is still going to charge into Year 2 of his NCDC career with the same determination to improve and be a top contributor as he did last year, and get even better in the process.
“Definitely strength and size, I’ll have to work on that, and I would say also just little things,” he added. “Overall, being able to play my best every single shift, never taking a shift off.”
The USPHL congratulates Johnny Wescoe, his family, the Rockets Hockey Club and Niagara University for his commitment.