by Bill Ballou || AHL On The Beat Archive
John McCarthy has never been and will probably never be the best-looking new car in the showroom, but Consumer Reports would love him.
The Worcester Sharks rookie left winger has been one of the best players since their first game of the season. Yet if you were looking at his performance from a distance and just saw the raw numbers, you really wouldn’t know it.
In his first 39 games, McCarthy has only seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points, half of which have come in the last six weeks. However, the number that comes under plus/minus (a team-best plus-14) is a much better barometer of McCarthy’s value.
“He really is a coach’s kind of player,” Worcester head coach Roy Sommer said. “He learns well. He’s a quick study. You tell him something once and he takes it from there. You don’t have to tell him the same thing 100 times before he gets it.”
At the start of the season, Sommer installed McCarthy as the left wing on a line with Andrew Desjardins and Dan DaSilva. Desjardins, DaSilva and Frazer McLaren was Worcester’s best line during the 2008-09 Calder Cup Playoffs, but McLaren began this season in San Jose. The trio was Sommer’s stopper line, the one he put on the ice after an opposition goal or to drain the momentum from an opponent.
It’s also the line Sommer has on the ice when his team is protecting a one-goal lead.
“He’s fundamentally sound, responsible in both ends and defensively detailed,” Sommer said. “It’s not something you see in a rookie all that often. You look at his plus-minus and it’s a good one, then you realize he’s on the ice against the other team’s top line and that makes it look even better.
He scored 14 goals in 154 varsity games at Boston University and had just two goals in his first 28 as a professional.
“It’s definitely something I need to work on,” he said, “and it’s something I’ve talked to the coaches about. I think it’s a case of being able to relax when I get the chances – not gripping the stick too tightly, because I do get my chances.”
“For the role he’d play in the NHL,” Sommer said, “he really doesn’t have to be a scorer. But if you look at the guys who get the chance to play that role, somewhere along the line they’ve usually shown they can score.”
McCarthy grew up in Andover, Mass., a little northwest of Boston. McCarthy was a huge Bruins fan as a kid and saw them play in the original Boston Garden. Being a forward, McCarthy’s favorite Bruin was Cam Neely.
McCarthy went to high school at St. John’s Prep in nearby Danvers and was a standout in hockey and football. While he was a star football player, hockey was always No. 1.
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“For as long as I can remember,” he said, “it’s been hockey for me. Both my brother and my dad played it and I’ve liked it more than any other sport I’ve played.”
His father, Frank, actually preceded John as a college hockey player, and preceded him in Worcester as well, skating for Holy Cross in the late 1970s.
The McCarthys still call Andover home. That makes it convenient for John, who has family and friends at most of his games – even on the road, with the Sharks playing much of their away schedule in New England.
With Boston University being just down the road from where he went to high school, McCarthy has essentially been playing at home for most of his hockey career. The one exception was 2004-05, when he played a year of junior hockey with Des Moines of the United States Hockey League.
McCarthy began his college career after that winter in Des Moines and his four seasons at Boston University were memorable ones. The Terriers won the Beanpot Trophy in three of his four years. And last season, with McCarthy as a co-captain, Boston University captured the school’s first NCAA Championship since 1995.
In that run to the title, McCarthy set career highs in goals, assists and points and received the John B. Simpson Award for enthusiastic leadership and was the team’s Unsung Hero for the second time.
“When you win the Beanpot the first time,” he said, “that’s huge. And you never get tired of winning it, but after that first time, you start thinking about having that same kind of feeling at the end of the season, too. So to be able to do that last year and especially since it had been so long since BU won (the NCAA title), it was pretty amazing.”
San Jose drafted McCarthy in the seventh round in 2006 and that’s been a lucky round for the Sharks. Joe Pavelski was a seventh rounder in 2003, McLaren went in that round in 2007 and Jason Demers in 2008.
McCarthy seems to have all the essentials to follow those guys to the NHL.
A two-time winner of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Award, Bill Ballou covers the Worcester Sharks for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.