February 22, 2014

From NYHJ: Chasing Kane

By Charles O’Brien

Freeport’s Jeremy Bracco is dishing out assists at a breakneck pace and opening eyes with the U.S. NTDP. (Photo by Tom Sorensen)

FREEPORT, N.Y. — Freeport’s been a fixture on the south shore of Long Island since the 1640s. It is best known for being an important piece of New York’s historic oyster market industry and, more recently, for its proximity to Jones Beach State Park.

Not necessarily the hotbed of Long Island sports, though, its most recognizable athletic resident might be New York Jets offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

But that might change soon.

Eligible for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, resident Jeremy Bracco (Freeport, N.Y.) is playing with the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 team and making a run at Patrick Kane’s (Buffalo, N.Y.) single-season NTDP assist record; he has a chance to eclipse Kane’s NTDP career assist mark next year.

Bracco currently sits at 36 assists in 36 contests; Kane’s current single-season assist mark is 50, a total reached in 2005-06 and one he shares with Andy Hilbert. The Chicago Blackhawks star holds the career mark of 88, with J.D. Forrest.

“Catching either of those marks would be a great accomplishment in my playing career,” Bracco said. “But truthfully, it would be a bigger testament to my teammates for being able to finish plays. I wouldn’t be able to be where I am without them.”

A longtime favorite of scouts and coaches since very early in his playing career, mainly due to his ability to see the ice and create, Bracco skated alongside many of the top ’97 birth year players in the Atlantic District, including Nolan Aibel (Brookville, N.Y.), Charles McAvoy (Long Beach, N.Y.), Steven Ruggiero (Kings Park, N.Y.) and Troy Conzo (Nesconset, N.Y.), each of whom has moved on to higher levels of hockey.

“I like his game a lot,” said Russ Bitely, a scout for HockeyProspect.com. “He skates well with speedy wheels, good vision and loves to have the puck on his blade. He shows great edge work as he circles through the offensive zone, simply handling the puck and making things happen.”

Bitely gave Bracco an ‘A’ grade during his review at the Select 15 camp, on par with the likes of Dennis Yan, Luke Kirwan (Dewitt, N.Y.) and Jordan Greenway.

After being named the Atlantic Junior Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year last year, and finishing among the league leaders in points and assists despite playing fewer games than the other leaders, Bracco skated in the 2013 OHL Cup with the Elite Hockey Group, picking up eight points (six goals) in four games.

“I know that people in Ontario were pleasantly surprised at his game in the OHL Cup,” Bitely said. “The knock on him was his size, but I warned them that he had talent and he delivered.”

Bracco’s work in the OHL Cup led to him being chosen by Kitchener in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection in the fifth round, a number that might have been higher without the NTDP and commitment to Harvard in play.

“At the end of the day, I wanted to play college hockey,” Bracco said. “The NTDP gave me the best route to do so. It’s a great program that has developed a lot of pro players over the years, and that’s something I hope to be.”

Putting up offensive numbers wherever he’s been, Bracco has arguably been at his best in international play this year, adding six goals and 17 assists to his totals and picking up Top Forward honors in the recently completed World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Nova Scotia and in the Four Nations Tournament. The United States took home championships in both tournaments.

“I really enjoy the challenge of playing against older players and in international competitions,” Bracco said. “It’s a real test of your skills to play against bigger players or guys that are used to the more open international game.”

Bracco’s commitment to defense has been evident this season, too. He has seen an increase in ice time on the penalty kill and has generated several shorthanded scoring chances, earning the trust of the coaching staff.

“All year, I’ve been working on becoming a more well-rounded player,” Bracco said. “I’ve paid more attention to details on the defensive side of things, and that’s earned the trust of the coaches to play me on the penalty kill. Any time I’m on the ice I look to create, and now that I’m more focused on the defensive side of things, I make better reads and choose my spots to try and make things happen.”

Bracco credits his father, Mike, a coach in the Long Island Gulls organization, with getting him started in the game of hockey.

“Ever since I could walk, my dad had me on skates,” he said. “That was so important in getting me into hockey from an early age. My dad’s two brothers also played hockey, so it was just in my blood — I was destined to play.

“The bond that I share with those (Gulls) guys is priceless,” he added. “It’s great to see your best friends develop in the game we all love.”

Whether or not Bracco ends up catching the assists mark, he might not be the most well-known hockey player in the Bracco family for much longer. Younger brother Donny, currently a Mite minor player for the Gulls, is already scoring goals in bunches.

“Maybe he’ll be better than me,” Bracco laughed. “If he keeps going with that slap shot upstairs that he’s got going for him — he’s got a really good shot!”

And if that develops, then there might a fun sibling rivalry down the road, one that plays out in the record books.

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