On May 2, a representative from the Bloomington Thunder of the United States Hockey League (USHL) took the podium to announce the team’s third round pick in the annual USHL Draft. With the 38th overall selection, Bloomington drafted East Haven High School freshman phenom Nick Capone. Nick, who recently completed an excellent winter season with the Yellowjackets, was the first player from Connecticut selected in the draft.
“It was a pretty surreal moment for me. I wasn’t expecting to be drafted that high,” says Nick. “When I got the call, I was shocked. I’m very excited to play in that league some day.”
The USHL is the top junior ice hockey league in the country and has produced many collegiate and professional players. Now, Nick has to decide whether he wants to join the Thunder in Illinois or attend the Salisbury School, which is a college prep school in upstate Connecticut. Nick has yet to make up his mind, but says that he really enjoyed his visit to Salisbury.
“It’s really all up in the air right now, so I’m not too sure,” says Nick, whose advisor is former National Hockey League player John LeClair. “I visited about four schools and I liked almost all of them. It came down to which I liked more and where I’d fit better with the hockey team and academically. Salisbury separated itself from the others, which is why I chose that.”
Nick was a commodity in the hockey world even before he stepped on the ice for East Haven. Nick had already made a verbal commitment to Division I University of Maine prior to the season, and so there was a lot of commotion about how the prized right winger would fare in his freshman year. Nick delivered by putting together an 88-point campaign with 40 goals and 48 assists to lead Connecticut in scoring. Nick was an All-SCC/SWC Division II First Team selection, made the Connecticut High School Coaches Association All-State Team, as well as the New Haven Register’s All-State and All-Area squads.
“It was a great year for me. I had many points thanks to my teammates and linemates,” Nick says. “We played very well. It wasn’t the finish we wanted, but all in all, it was a good season for me.”
Yellowjackets’ Head Coach Lou Pane dove deeper into what Nick achieved this season. It was one of the best years that any athlete has ever had in the storied history of the East Haven High School ice hockey program.
“You see a kid like him come around every so often. We’ve had some good kids come through the program, including him, but we’ve never had somebody so great at such a young age. Some of those great players were juniors and seniors. I remember Bobby Coyle, the leading scorer in school history, as a freshman he had 49 or 50 points. Here is Nick, who had 88 as a freshman,” says Pane. “As far as individual years go, a guy I played with, Frank Higgins, holds the single-season record for us with 92 points, but he did it as a senior, where this kid almost surpassed him as a freshman. Those guys were much older than he was and more experienced. If we’re to say Nick was with us the next three years, he would not only break all of our records, but he would shatter them.”
Nick compiled all these points despite being constantly shadowed by multiple people on other teams. Due to his big 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame, Nick went toe to toe against opposing upperclassmen to continually create scoring chances for both himself and his teammates.
“I just approached it open-minded, knowing two or three players would come at me. When they did, I’d pass it away to set up my teammates to score,” says Nick. “My speed and size together is a tough matchup for defensemen. Being a bigger guy, I like to be the first to enter the zone and hit people around to get possession.”
Nick played up on the first line with senior Joe Aloi and fellow freshman Jake Aloi, and the trio proved a dominant force this season. Nick wasn’t surprised at how well the three of them meshed because they all grew up playing hockey together.
“Jake and I have always been best friends, Joe and my brother have always been best friends, so we’d always be together,” Nick says. “It was a lot of fun playing with them while it lasted. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Nick not only enjoyed competing alongside the Aloi brothers, but he also loved suiting up for his hometown.
“This was the best experience I’ve had so far. Seeing them all day in school and then going to the rink with them, going to pasta dinners together, I don’t think anything can add up to it,” says Nick. “It was one of the best times of my life and I’ll never forget it.”
Coach Pane says that he’s excited to see what the future holds for Nick, whether it’s in the USHL or beyond.
“I just can’t say enough about him. I personally see the kid as a pro going forward, baring any injuries. I see him getting drafted in a few years when he’s eligible for the NHL like he was just taken in the USHL,” says Pane. “Someday, hopefully, I’d like to call up Nick Capone for some tickets to the NHL game he’s playing. That will be really rewarding for me.”