Coach Tim Whitehead of Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire thinks he has a pretty good trio playing for him this season. In fact, the combination of Tyler Bird, J.D. Dudek and A.J. Greer might just be the most dangerous line in all of prep school hockey.
“The three of them are lighting it up,” Whitehead said. “You can’t really intimidate them out there. They’re fun to work with.”
Kimball Union is already 6-0-1 and their top line has a lot to do with that success. Bird and Dudek are both 2014 draft prospects while Greer, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound man-child from Montreal, has a late birthday and won’t be available to NHL teams until 2015. But all three will be worth the wait.
Whitehead, Bird and Dudek are all hired guns in their own way. The coach actually helmed the University of Maine Black Bears for more than a decade (and UMass-Lowell before that). His landing at KUA is quickly becoming a family affair, with his wife a teacher, his daughter a student and a son coming to the school in the near future. More importantly for his players, Whitehead has instilled a college-style program to the hockey team. That means lifting weights in the winter, watching video and playing more games than the team had in the past – the Wildcats now have an NCAA-style schedule.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can to prepare these kids for college,” he said. “And hopefully, for some of them, the pros.”
Bird, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound right winger, looks to be in both categories. Committed to Brown University, he has seven goals and 14 points through seven games, using his size to his advantage. The youngster began his high school career at St. John’s Prep in Massachusetts, but was looking for a new challenge this season.
“I felt the competition at SJP wouldn’t be as good as it would be at KUA,” Bird said. “And the players I could surround myself with could be better too.”
In Dudek, he found that foil. Dudek also started off his high school career elsewhere, at Pinkerton Academy with 2013 Washington Capitals draft pick Zach Sanford, where the duo won a title together. Like Bird, the skilled pivot was looking for a new challenge. Now they’re making magic together.
"We both go to the dirty areas, but I like to go in there and get him the puck,” Bird said. “He has unbelievable hands and vision and he can get it back to me.”
Dudek has elite poise with the puck according to Whitehead and is trusted enough as a center that he plays the point (and sometimes the half-wall) on the power play. He has four goals and 16 points already. The coach loves how Dudek’s playmaking complements the power game of Bird, who is more than just a basher.
“I’ve been very impressed,” Whitehead said. “Tyler’s a complete player who can play physical and put the puck in the net. He wears all the hats and he’s improving.”
One area Bird has been working on with Whitehead is his poise and quickness with the puck. But when he gets to Brown University for 2015-16, he will surely get the opportunity to make things happen, as the Bears haven’t had many recruits like him in the past. So why give Brown a shot?
“It’s hard to explain,” Bird said. “The coaches liked me and they’re building a strong program with some good recruits, like Miles Wood (Nobles prep) and my teammate, Jack McCarthy. I just had a gut feeling.”
Next season Dudek is heading to Boston College, a school that never really needs explaining when it comes to hockey.
“I grew up in New Hampshire, so Hockey East was a dream of mine and that was one of the teams that stood out,” Dudek said. “That was a dream school and when they were interested in me, I was definitely interested in them.”
Scouts are going to be very interested in Kimball Union this season and while the isolated campus wreaks havoc on cell phones, it’s the chaos inspired by the big bodies of Bird and Greer, not to mention the hands and mind of Dudek, that will make the trip worth it.
Photo of Bird (No. 14) and Dudek (No. 15) courtesy of KUA.