After a Long Road, Fink has Found a Home at BC
Photo Courtesy of BCEagles.com
Ben Finkelstein is no stranger to change. In the matter of a week, he went from St. Lawrence in the NCAA to Waterloo of the USHL. From living in a dorm in New York to moving in with a billet family in Iowa in seven days. Oh, and the already jam-packed week included college visits and a commitment to Boston College.
Now he faces a new kind of change, one that doesn’t involve switching addresses. In the matter of an offseason, he‘s transitioned from the new kid on the blue line to BC’s most experienced defenseman.
After sitting out the first half of the 2018-19 season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules, Finkelstein was able to ease into the BC lineup behind veteran stalwarts Casey Fitzgerald and Michael Kim. Now, just a year later, he’s part of BC’s top defensive pairing and is Jerry York’s most trusted defenseman on the power play.
Factoring in the 23 games he played with Waterloo, Finkelstein has suited up for 118 games since his debut with St. Lawrence. That number is good for third among BC defensemen, behind Jesper Mattila (124) and Connor Moore (122). Taking just his 95 collegiate games into account, Finkelstein leads BC defensemen in career goals (11) and points (54).
There’s also something to be said about the leadership traits that can be learned from a changing environment. Finkelstein has found success through the chaos, excelling at St. Lawrence and with Waterloo before ending up at BC.
Finkelstein’s collegiate journey began in upstate New York at St. Lawrence. He was recruited by current UMass head coach Greg Carvel, but Carvel left to take the UMass job right before Finkelstein arrived on campus.
“Unfortunately things just weren’t what I expected or what I thought I was signing up for, so I took a bit of a gamble and made the decision to withdraw from school and head out to the USHL, and I was fortunate enough to end up [at BC],” Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein did play a season and a half for the Saints before leaving for Waterloo. During his freshman season, he finished fourth on the team in points and second in assists, good enough for the third best offensive season by a freshman defenseman in team history.
On January 11th, 2018, Finkelstein announced he’d be leaving St. Lawrence and joining the Waterloo Black Hawks. A week later, he was on the ice with the Black Hawks, having missed the entire first half of the season.
Typically, the USHL is the step after high school and before college, making Finkelstein’s circumstances all the more unusual. He joined Waterloo as one of the older players and one of only two with NCAA experience. During the season, he’d become an alternate captain.
“Their whole coaching staff is unbelievable and put me in a position to have success right away,” Finkelstein said. “From the second I got there the team welcomed me with open arms and we just kind of clicked right off the bat.”
Following Finkelstein’s arrival, Waterloo went 20-9 down the stretch, winning the Anderson Trophy for best regular season record. Finkelstein’s numbers during the second half of the season speak for themselves. He registered 34 points en route to winning USHL Defenseman of the Year Honors, despite playing only half of a season.
It wasn’t like he was dominating a league devoid of talent either. On the contrary, he played against current college stars like current NCAA points leader Jack Dugan and UMass’ Del Gaizo brothers, as well as two of the top young NHLers in Jack Hughes and Oliver Wahlstrom.
During the hectic week between St. Lawrence and Waterloo, Finkelstein had plenty to weight with future college decisions. He grew up on the doorstep of Gutterson Fieldhouse, making Vermont a logical choice. Carvel was building something special at UMass, and the possibility of pairing with Cale Makar was certainly tantalizing. But, in the end, he decided on BC.
“For a lot of kids growing up in Burlington, VT, UVM is the peak, that’s your dream,” Finkelstein said. “But then growing up watching NESN, you see BC play BU in Beanpots and to talk to Jerry York on the phone. There’s so much rich history here, I was honestly blown away when I first got the call.”
Through all of the location changes, one thing has remained constant: an NHL dream that could start with the Florida Panthers. Finkelstein was drafted in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft following a 70 point season as captain at Kimball Union. A seventh round selection is probably fitting for a 5-foot-9-inch, small-town kid who has been overlooked most of his life.
“I’ve kind of been an underdog my whole life,” Finkelstein said. “From Burlington, VT, not a huge hockey place, not as big as some of the places these kids come from, so I’ve kind of always had that underdog mentality.”
Florida’s gamble on Finkelstein may pay off if they are able to sign him following the season.
In recent years, smaller, offensively-gifted defensemen like Torey Krug and Jared Spurgeon have paved the way for other late-round picks like Finkelstein to carve a path of their own to the NHL.
The Panthers hold Finkelstein’s draft rights until 30 days after BC’s season ends. Following that period, he has the opportunity to become a restricted free agent. Regardless of his decision, he’s been in good hands over the past few years, as the Panthers are noted for developing later-round draft picks, particularly seventh rounder MacKenzie Weegar and third rounders Evgenii Dadonov and Vincent Trochek.
“The player development there and how they run their camps in the summer is next level,” Finkelstein said. “Every single time I go there I feel like I leave a new player. I learn so much each time I go and just try to go with open arms and soak in anything I can.”
The Panthers also have plenty of BC connections. Defenseman Mike Matheson and forward Brian Boyle played for the Eagles. Ian McCoshen was also drafted by the Panthers and part of their organization until last season. Finkelstein is also playing alongside a few Panthers prospects in Chestnut Hill. Logan Hutsko was selected by Florida in the third round in 2018, and Spencer Knight was the Panthers first round selection in 2019.
“To have three of us on the same team, we can follow the Panthers together and when they come to watch us it’s nice to have a little group to support you,” Finkelstein said.
After going from Vermont to New York to Iowa to Boston, there are no stops left in Finkelstein’s amateur journey. It ends when BC’s season ends. It’s been a long, winding road, one not many have taken. But, at every stop along the way, Finkelstein has answered the call and excelled on the ice.
The end of each road on the journey thus far has been bittersweet. The decision to leave St. Lawrence was difficult, but greener pastures were ahead. Waterloo dominated the regular season but came up short in the quest for a championship. One chapter is yet to finish. This one has a chance to end differently.
“Our freshman class is unbelievable, and our sophomores have come a long way, as well as our juniors,” Finkelstein said. “Being in a big senior class, especially as someone whose played in another league and now at BC for a little over half a year, I think that we can continue to grow as one team and come together and make a serious run this year.”