The Boston Junior Bruins’ Frank Ireland is certainly excited to be getting ready for his NCAA Division I college hockey career to begin. He’s happy to be pushing on to the inaugural season of the new D-I program at Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass., for four years. A four-year NCAA career, if that’s where his future takes him, would be just one season short of his tenure in the National Collegiate Development Conference.
When Ireland, a native of Longmeadow, Mass., first played an NCDC game as a call-up in 2017-18, it began a thread that saw him become the only NCDC player to skate in all five years of the league, and thus, the only 2021-22 NCDC player to have also skated in that inaugural 2017-18 season of the Tier II Tuition-Free Conference. Ireland split his most recent season between two Tier II destinations, but the latter was with his longtime team for 11 regular season games and their playoff run that saw a drive to the Dineen Cup Finals. It all paid off, as he prepares for the goal of essentially all junior hockey players - a D-I career ahead.
“I’ve talked to Stonehill for a little while now and eventually it became the right fit for me. The Coach [David Borges] likes how hard I play, and the fact that I can make plays,” said Ireland, who racked up 113 points in 143 regular season games, good for ninth all-time in the NCDC. He is sixth in all-time games played. So, a likely business major at Stonehill is no surprise for a guy who was always all business on the ice all the time.
“Stonehill is a very good school academically. If you end up there, the success in people finding jobs in their career is high,” Ireland added. “The connections and people you meet is another thing that I’m excited for. The hockey team I know is rebuilding and working to earn a spot as a Division I team, and the cool thing is I can go in there and be a part of Stonehill hockey history of the first years of Division I.”
Ireland will be one of 20 former Junior Bruins NCDC players who will begin their NCAA Division I careers in 2022-23, a fantastic track record even looking at that snapshot view.
“I think the Boston Junior Bruins is an outstanding organization. They treat players like they are pros, and are so resourceful. They have a great staff who have all played either pros or top Division I hockey,” said Ireland. “Looking back to my first year of NCDC, it was an adjustment coming from 16U and a learning period, and every year I got better and better through the help of the coaches. They’re great at moving guys on to play at the next level and I was happy to be able to be a part of their family.
“I think it’s a solid league,” said the NCDC’s foremost authority on the player side. “I think having that COVID year in Florida was big for it. Having all the big names come and play on an NCDC team helped broaden the league’s name. I think it’s a good league for young players to develop.”
It was during the 2020-21 season - one in which the Junior Bruins entered as defending Dineen Cup Champions from 2019 - that Ireland had his best NCDC season, registering 48 points in 42 games and wearing the “C.” He helped the team to the Dineen Cup semifinals ahead of this year’s return trip to the Cup Finals.
The Junior Bruins brought Ireland in at the 16U level, and he was immediately effective. From 2016-18 at the 16U level, he posted 90 points 52 regular season games, good for sixth overall - giving Ireland Top 10 scoring honors in not one but two NCDC leagues!
“It was a fun process. I still talk to a bunch of people that played 16U with me. I think most of my development comes from the players I played with and being able to watch what they do and learn what works and what doesn’t was a good learning curve,” added Ireland. “I think skipping 18U [except for five games] and going from 16U to NCDC right away and playing was difficult, but as year went on, I adjusted to it.”
And he has truly seen the benefits of “trusting the process” with the Junior Bruins over the years. He remembers how he was as a 16U player getting that 2017-18 call-up and can see the progression to his final NCDC game at the Cup Finals in New Jersey.
“I think my game now is so much better,” he said. “I don’t typically just throw the puck away. I feel like I have a third eye out there because the game has just slowed down for me a lot, so it’s easier to make plays.”
That is just the type of player that Stonehill is getting, and he’s making sure the Skyhawks get him at his sharpest.
“I think little details will help a lot like having a good stick at all times,” added Ireland. “I think continuously practicing protecting the puck will be big as well, and being able to be comfortable on the forehand and backhand is a difference as well.”
He won’t be too far from home, all within Massachusetts, but he’s already feeling at home with Stonehill.
“I’ve been to the school a couple times and, to start off, the campus is beautiful. It’s in a great location as well. The facilities are top notch so I’m excited to be a student there,” said Ireland. “I think Stonehill was just the right fit and the right opportunity for me to be successful.”
The USPHL congratulates Frank Ireland, his family, the Boston Junior Bruins and Stonehill College for his commitment.